Posted by: henrymcghie | November 2, 2014

Wolf taxidermy in Manchester Museum

We have three mounted Wolves in Manchester Museum, but they couldn’t be more different. The oldest one dates from the early 20th century and came from Canada. We got it from Dundee Museum, who had got a number of Wolf and Polar Bear skins from whaling ships returning from Canada and Greenland. The Wolf was stuffed by a local taxidermist, Harry Brazenor, who also prepared our Polar Bear. This Wolf is straight from Little Red Riding Hood and has red paint on its teeth to look like blood. We have it on display in our Living Worlds gallery, in a section that explores the consequences of the stories we are told as children. Attitudes to many animals develop through childhood, and fears are passed from adults to children.

Experience Scary Wolf

The second Wolf can be seen on display in the Living Worlds gallery, in a section about what kind of wildlife can we have in Britain: will people make space for large predatory animals, or, as has often happened, will intolerance, fear and ignorance win the day. Wolves were found in Britain from hundreds of thousands of years before being wiped out by people in the 17th century. Their former presence is still echoed by place-names.

The third Wolf we have was on display in the exhibition From the War of Nature. This Wolf is enormous and is a Canadian Timber Wolf. When it was being prepared, I asked the taxidermist to prepare it in a reasonably neutral pose- certainly not with fangs and red teeth. That way we can use it to explore what people think about Wolves. This Wolf was displayed on a plinth, not in a case, and was enormously popular with visitors: many visitors had their photo taken with the Wolf. It is very beautiful, and a good representation of an individual animal that was as wild and free as it was beautiful.

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Museums have an important role in constructing and interpreting images of animals. We have to be careful that we don’t promote images that lead to fear and ignorance. The Wolf with the red fangs is interesting, but needs a bit of interpretation to explain why it looks the way it does.

Meanwhile, live Wolves are increasing in Europe after centuries of human persecution. If they are to return to Britain it will need human intervention, as we are separated from the mainland by the English channel. In America, the Wolf is still a symbol of a malevolent, threatening nature and Wolves are killed as they spread back into areas from which they were formerly extinguished.

 

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