Should Vassar invest in more taxidermy? (a neutral report)

Nicholas Tillinghast/The Miscellany News.

Over break, I had a run-in with the Buffalo Museum of Science and witnessed various excellent animals from around the world, all of whom were dead, but, through the magic of taxidermy, were in many ways alive. Sure, the taxidermied lion may not have looked like the king of the jungle, but much of the taxidermy appeared accurate to my understanding of what animals look like. 

On a side note, the museum also had this inflatable life-size rhino that would deflate and fall over every couple minutes to represent declining rhino populations, but in order for it to periodically do that, the rhino would constantly have to inflate again and revive itself. Regardless of some mixed messaging on rhino resurrection, the Buffalo Museum of Science’s animal representation (especially with taxidermy) is rather impressive and admirable—the sort of footsteps Vassar could follow in.  

To truly consider Vassar’s taxidermic potential, it might be useful to first ask, “How much taxidermy does Vassar have right now?” While I haven’t necessarily scoured every last corner of this campus for preserved animals, but I’ve certainly found the epicenters of taxidermy on campus, those being the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences and the Museum of Geology and Natural History and the Olmsted Hall of Biological Sciences, the latter of which I have restricted card access for. You read that right—I don’t have the credentials to see the extent of my own college’s impressive taxidermy collection on a Saturday morning. Regardless, I have been told they have a variety of dead birds, a particularly unruly creature to taxidermy.

The Bridge, on the other hand, features a small display case with a preserved scarlet ibis, a cane toad and a furry little guy. Additionally, there is a fine snapping turtle on the second floor.  I walk by those first floor critters just about every day on campus, which has created a rather unique relationship. The more secluded Museum of Geology and Natural History features a replica of a Great Auk, which maybe isn’t technically taxidermy, but it sure looks like it.

Now, it’s maybe worth considering what Vassar could be like if there were much more taxidermy, and if it were more publicly available. You might assume that the business of taxidermy is quite niche and small, since it is utilized only by hunters and museums. The surrounding Hudson Valley could not possibly accommodate such a large-scale collegiate-level taxidermy project, right? And yet, believe it or not, there are at least nine different taxidermy studios in a 40-mile radius of Vassar. I’m not saying I have all of the answers, but I do think it’s maybe worth starting the conversation. 

Maybe a room, like the Villard Room, could be spiced up with a mounted moose. Maybe a drumfish in the Deece, a nighthawk in New England, a lemur in the Library (they don’t all have to be alliterative combos, but it certainly ups the intrigue.) It also begs the question, if taxidermy really is an art form, why don’t any of the art buildings have taxidermy? Again, I don’t have all of the answers, but I do think it’s worth starting the conversation. 

Amongst Vassar’s numerous ongoing building plans, not only do none of them include plans for taxidermy, they also don’t involve any on-campus jacuzzis. Unrelated to taxidermy, it’s worth considering what Vassar could look like with more hot tubs. Would it improve the campus? Could an already depressed space like the Noyes conversation pit simply be filled with hot water? Could a boring room like the Villard Room instead feature a mounted moose and a jacuzzi? The question is certainly begged.  

Maybe taxidermy’s not your thing, and that’s okay. I think an alternative plan might involve a Rainforest-Cafe-type situation where we add some animatronic growling tigers and hooting apes and some dense foliage in the Old Bookstore. That might sound like a sound solution to you, but I’m still left asking one question: Who has all the answers? Certainly not me, but it’s worth starting the conversation.

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