A new exhibit celebrates the life and work of Carl Cotton, the Black Taxidermist Who Made History at Chicago’s Field Museum
IN A GRAINY, 1950S FILM from the Field Museum of Natural History, in Chicago, a man tenderly washes the remains of a weaver bird. The bird is dead, but the act is tender. He dries it with compressed air, stuffs it, and mounts it with wire in the museum’s diorama of African marsh birds. The film shows a number of people working on the diorama; all of them are white, except for the man stuffing the birds. His name is Carl Cotton, and he was the first African-American taxidermist to work at the Field Museum. For nearly 25 years, until his death in 1971, Cotton helped immortalize many of the animals that are currently on display at the museum.
Cotton has now become the subject of an exhibit at his former workplace, A Natural Talent: The Taxidermy of Carl Cotton, which is open until October 4, 2020. “The exhibit shows the human history behind displays that have been here for decades and decades,” says Kate Golembiewski, a science communicator at the Field Museum. “It’s amazing to be able to show a person who bucked the mold and made such a huge impact on the museum.” Tori Lee, an exhibition developer at the museum who curated the exhibit, adds, “Carl was unique in his ability to do everything well.”
"Lee is hesitant to call Cotton the first black taxidermist in Chicago, though she hasn’t found any others just yet. She doesn’t know whether Cotton was aware of other taxidermists of color, such as John Edmonstone, a formerly enslaved black man who taught Charles Darwin how to taxidermy birds."
Continue reading the post: The Black Taxidermist Who Made History at Chicago's Field Museum on Atlas Obscura to learn more about Cotton.