Taxidermy? Really? Yes, we do indeed have an incredibly interesting, passionate, successful, taxidermist among the ranks of our Oldfields alumni!
Meet Brant McDuff '03, former All-School President, who delivered an incredibly entertaining and well-received presentation, The History of Taxidermy, to our community on Tuesday, January 25. His talk had it all: adventure, heroes, villains, and numerous crazy stories about eccentric historical figures responsible for the conservation movement in America. As a taxidermist, conservation historian, and soon-to-be-published author, Brant has worked for museums, and aquariums in addition to traveling the country in hopes of inspiring activism for wildlife and wildland conservation. He speaks at schools, businesses, private events, outdoor retreats, and gives “backstage” tours at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, focusing on the taxidermy comprising the ever-popular museum dioramas.
Admittedly, at first glance, some are put off by the topic, but as Brant shared the history, science, and artistry involved in the field, our view was broadened. Beginning with Charles Peal, a famous portrait painter and taxidermist, who greatly contributed to scientific classifications via his museum in Philadelphia in the late 1700s. Other taxidermists of interest included John J. Audubon who preserved birds so he could better paint them, William Temple Hornaday whose greatest motivation was to save the population of endangered American bison, and Carl Akeley who developed a method resulting in more lifelike specimens which he displayed in natural settings. His work with gorillas had a huge impact in de-vilifying the species and helped turn the tide in their systematic destruction.
In Brant’s own words, “The more that people feel personally connected to nature the more they want to see it protected. I’m hoping my passion for animals, history, and the outdoors can motivate people into not only becoming more involved in the natural world but also give them a better understanding of their place in it.”
The photos, stories, and experiences kept the audience mesmerized, with students asking questions right up until the end of our time together. When asked if he would ever consider undergoing taxidermy himself, Brant responded “Of course! Maybe I could be placed in Miss Nan’s Library!” While we aren’t so sure about that, we would love to take Brant up on his offer to come back again to delve deeper and to take one of his tours when our students are in NYC. He also teaches classes on taxidermy. Check out his website at https://www.immortalanimals.com/.