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Carl Akeley, considered the father of modern taxidermy, was not only a taxidermist, but also a naturalist, sculptor, writer and inventor. Over his long career he worked for several different museums, including the Field Museum from 1896 to 1909 as Chief Taxidermist. Akeley made two expeditions to Africa for the Museum--one in 1896, the other in 1905-06--to collect specimens, and through them, to educate the public about the continent's vanishing wildlife. His famous piece, the Fighting African Elephants, is still on display in Stanley Field Hall. A man of vision, Akeley’s dream was to “give a dignity and fineness to taxidermy which should lead men of great genius to be attracted to it.” (Continue reading here from The Field Museum''s website for more about Akeley's early years.)
In addition to innovations in taxidermy, Akeley invented a process using wax for creating scientifically accurate, realistic foliage as the backgrounds for his habitat groups. When he left The Field to go to work for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York in 1909, he left behind a group of talented protégés who carried on his practices. Just two days before his death in the Belgian Congo in 1926, Field Museum trustees acknowledged Akeley's contributions by electing him as a patron, an honor then accorded persons who had rendered "eminent service" to the institution. Akeley was instrumental in convincing King Albert I of Belgium to establish Virunga National Park, the first wildlife sanctuary in Africa; he is buried only a couple miles away from where he encountered his first gorilla in 1921.
Akeley's techniques, forward thinking, and adventurous nature inspired many people from various disciplines. His legacy lives on in the form of his excellent craft here at The Field Museum.
Field Museum Publications
Image from Akeley, Carl E.1920. In Brightest Africa. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
© The Field Museum, CSZ5974c. Carl Akeley with bandaged arm and dead leopard that he killed with his bare hands, 16 August 1896.