The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

Cleaning the elephant skin

Museum staff cleaning an elephant skin at the American Museum of Natural History, June 1933.

Museum staff cleaning an elephant skin at the American Museum of Natural History, June 1933. Image: Thane L. Bierwert, via the archives of the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Museum staff cleaning an elephant skin at the American Museum of Natural History, June 1933.

Museum staff cleaning the skin of an elephant at the American Museum of Natural History, June 1933. Image: Thane L. Bierwert, via the archives of the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Museum staff cleaning an elephant skin at the American Museum of Natural History, June 1933.

Wooden framework for mounting an elephant, American Museum of Natural History, June 1934. Image: Thane L. Bierwert, via the archives of the American Museum of Natural History.

Museum staff cleaning an elephant skin at the American Museum of Natural History, June 1933.

Museum staff mounting an elephant skin at the American Museum of Natural History, March 1935. Image: Thane L. Bierwert, via the archives of the American Museum of Natural History.

My last post on the inflatable skins in James Lomax’s Untitled (Me and My Friend) (2011) reminded me of this ridiculously interesting series of photographs from the archives of the American Museum of Natural History.

Taken between 1933-1935 by Thane L. Bierwert, they show museum staff engaged in the task of cleaning and re-mounting the skin of an elephant for display. As well as offering a great (and I suspect rare) behind-the-scenes glance of a 1930s natural history museum, that deflated elephant body is also a powerful and unsettling image of our strange relationship to death and display.

// Images via the online research library of the American Natural History Museum. More images of elephants in the archive can be found here.

4 comments

  1. Pingback: James Lomax’s inflatable skins | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  2. So fascinating! To me, besides the disconcerting sight of a deflated elephant, one of the most startling things about this is the way the conservator in the top photo is standing on it! I have no special knowledge of museum operations, but I’d imagine workers today using machinery to hover over the skin, regardless of how tough the skin actually is, not to mention they’d all be wearing gloves.

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