Friday, April 21, 2017

Taxidermy Cases

Whenever people think of taxidermy, the art of preserving and displaying the skins of dead animals, there are likely a few consistent thoughts that come to mind. People may think of an old hunting lodge in the forest, or a scary mansion in a horror movie, filled with stuffed animals. Often times people think it’s pretty gross, so they assume that it isn’t done as much any more. The truth is that taxidermy is actually still done by many different people, even by animal lovers who see it as a way of properly remembering them. Today taxidermists rake in $600 million a year in the United States from a number of different clients such as hunters and museums.

In the Farm House Museum we have two taxidermy display cases. Both were created and sold by Lucy B. Kimball in the 1870’s. The first one is in the library on the first floor and is filled with various Iowa animals such as birds, squirrels, turtles, and a small fish. This case is bigger than the other one, which is on the second floor in the north bedroom. This second floor case has only birds and butterflies in it. The Farm House also has another taxidermy figure. In the kitchen there are two deer hooves that are holding up the gun hanging on the wall. They are hung up to reflect the spirit of hunting and to show oftentimes how taxidermy was used by hunters.

Taxidermy was more popular back in Victorian times but this wasn’t when it first started. The first instances of animal preservation in history comes from the Egyptians. The Egyptians often mummified their cats and dogs with them in the grave, which could be considered an early form of taxidermy. During the middle ages hunters often would want to show off the animals they hunted so different forms of taxidermy appeared. During the 16th century a mounted rhinoceros was even put in a museum in Italy.

Where modern day taxidermy first materialized was in England in the 19th century. During this time there was an increased demand for leather as a fashion statement. This led to the development of tanning, which is turning animal skin into preserved leather. Tanning became so commonplace that it allowed naturalists to preserve species that they had cataloged. The first person to use the word taxidermy was Louis Dufresne who wrote about it in his 1803 reference book for the Museum national d’Histoire naturalle in Paris. Taxidermy comes from the Greek words taxis or “arrangement” and derma or “skin” which is why Dufresne used the term. Two early proponents of taxidermy were James Cook and Charles Darwin who sought to preserve the species they found while travelling.

These early attempts to do taxidermy were a bit crude and done poorly. Animal hides would first be gutted then stuffed with cotton, sawdust and rags, which caused the anatomical structure to become very disfigured. Because of this, animals often weren’t properly preserved causing some portions, like the nose and teeth, to rot. This all changed when the use of arsenic was introduced, allowing the industry to boom. Taxidermy became a staple of the Victorian period as it became a symbol of artistic skill and natural aesthetic in the household. Victorian culture celebrated presenting a worldly and cultured look achieved through the collection and display of mementos from around the world. Presenting taxidermy animals in their house was a way of doing this as it showcased wealth and prestige. Due to its popularity, a new form of taxidermy appeared during this time, anthropomorphic taxidermy. This form of taxidermy used animals posed like humans. Such examples include kittens at a tea party or squirrels studying in a class. Some of these designs were very humorous but for some people they were a little creepy.

In 1880, the United States held its first taxidermy competition in which the winner was a display of two male orangutans fighting over a female. This display changed taxidermy going into the 20th century as stuffed animals began to fall out of favor. Taxidermists instead started posing animals, as they would appear in real life. These designs were more anatomically accurate and would incorporate specific details right down to every muscle. They even created separate words to distinguish the new style. “Specimens” were defined as exact replicas of the animal in the wild, while a “trophy” was a deer head mounted on the wall.

Taxidermists also began using a new style of taxidermy called mounting. Mounting involved having a wooden skeleton made and then draping the animal skin over the skeleton. This process was more sophisticated and looked a lot better then stuffing. Taxidermists today even demand that people call their work mounting and not stuffing as they consider stuffing to be crude. Mounting also made taxidermy a more respected art form as museums began using taxidermy in their display cases like at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Taxidermy continued to be popular until the 1970s when it began to decline.

Today it is still popular among many and is still considered a sophisticated art. Some taxidermists even do recreations in which they try and recreate extinct species based on scientific data. Lots of taxidermist usually only work with non-hunted animals or will work exclusively with museums and educational institutions. Even though many practice it, taxidermy is usually under the radar for most people. That is why we show off our two taxidermy cases and deer hooves, as the Farm House is designed in the Victorian style and taxidermy was a big part of Victorian times. We also show them off because taxidermy was also used to provide an educational display of local ecology. Taxidermy animals were a good teaching method of animal anatomy so it makes sense that we have these two cases at Iowa State University. In the end, whether taxidermy is considered creepy or an art form, it is still an interesting part of history.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Warming Pan

When living in Iowa during the winter, there is a large chance that even with a heating system, your house will get cold. This was a problem for our ancestors as well, but even worse. While today we have heating systems throughout our house, that was not true for people of the past. They had to use different methods to keep themselves warm. At night, when they slept, they would have a bed with blankets but sometimes that wasn’t enough, so they invented the warming pan.

During medieval times, frost could easily get into the bedrooms, which could cause sheets to become damp and very cold. It was during the 17th century that the warming pan was invented to prevent this. A warming pan is a metal pan often made of brass or copper with a long handle attached to it. It would often be hung near the fireplace where it could be filled with smoldering embers or coal. The pan would then be brought over to the bed and put between the sheets where it could be moved around by the long handle. The earliest pans would have been very heavy as they used steel handles and solid brass. The earliest also mostly used coal so holes were added to the lid so that the coals didn’t go out when the lid was closed. This could sometimes lead to problems as the bed would smell like smoke and sometimes the sheets could get scorched.

Many of these pans would have been very nicely engraved with some having the coat of arms of the specific family that used it. Queen Elizabeth, from historical records, may have had a warming pan made of gold that was decorated in diamonds. They were first used often by the rich but by the 18th century a warming pan market emerged that was aimed at the less wealthy. These 18th century warming pans used wooden handles and cheaper copper that damaged less and gave off a greyer look. People also began using embers or hot water instead of coals, which meant they didn’t have to have holes in the top. These warming pans were everywhere on the market and were often talked about in domestic economy magazines.

Warming pans were even associated with the royalty of England at one point. In 1685 King James came to power in England and he was Catholic, which the ruling class hated at that time. The public wasn’t too worried as they thought he would eventually die, but his wife, Mary of Modena became pregnant, which worried people that she would give birth to a future Catholic king. Continuing on with her pregnancy, she gave birth a month early but some people like Archbishop of Canterbury weren’t present at the birth causing the public to cry foul. They said that she hadn’t actually given birth to a baby but smuggled one in in a warming pan. The story seems rather odd considering a baby is too big to fit in a warming pan. But because the public didn’t want another Catholic king, they declared that it was a fake baby. This story eventually led to an invasion from Holland by William of Orange and the removal of King James II. Who knew a warming pan could impact English history so much?

Warming pans would have been used all across America even in the Farm House. The Farm House does have one warming pan on the third floor. This pan doesn’t look like your average warming pan though. It is a copper oval shaped pan with a deep grey color. Instead of a long handle on the side it has a round handle on the top, which would be harder to carry. It also doesn’t have any holes on the lid but shows signs of wear and tear. This pan would probably make sense on the third floor as that is always the coldest, especially during the winter; but it would also be hard getting a pan up the stairs filled will hot embers.

While these warming pans were good at heating the bed, they could also lead to scorching the bed or setting it on fire. This was prevented by servants moving the pan around in the sheets to that it would never get to hot in one location. This was a tedious task that involved staying close to the bed. This changed with the invention of the bed wagon. This device is a large wooden frame composed of a series of bent hoops that is about three feet long. There would be an iron trivet built in the middle of the frame where a warming pan could be placed. The bed wagon would then be put under the sheets of the bed with the warming pan in the middle. This was so that the heat could dissipate under the sheets and because the pan was being held on an iron trivet, there was no need to have it moved around, so the servants wouldn’t have to wait around.

Bed wagons were known to be used on farms a lot as well, so it could be possible that one was used at the Farm House. This would help explain why there is a round handle at the top of the Farm House warming pan as it didn’t need a long handle on the side but just needed to be placed in the middle of the bed wagon. People have had a number of different ways to keep themselves warm, as the Farm House has shown. We will have to see what new warming inventions appear in the future.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hair Straighteners and Curlers

Fashion is something that exists in everyone’s life and we all use a number of different devices and products to make ourselves look good.  Something used more often by women than men are hair styling tools, specifically hair straighteners and curlers. Today we are going to look at hair straighteners in the Farm House Museum. In most households women generally have hair straighteners and curlers, as they are relatively cheap and accessible. To straighten hair today, heat is often applied between two clamps to make sure the hair becomes less curly and more stiff. That same idea was used in the past as well. Straighter hair wasn’t that important until the 1800s, except in Ancient Egypt, where straight hair was prized. During that time people would heat up flat iron plates over a fire. When they were hot enough they would run the plates over the hair shaft to create a smooth look. This method led to some problems, as woman would often get burned on their face and hands.

       This method did change for the better in the 1800s. In 1872 Parisian Marcel Grateau invented the first “straightener” device, which was a heated iron rod. These early straightener devices were heated on a stove or in a fire. However they were still dangerous as it could singe off hair or burn the user, but they were safer than the Ancient Egyptian way as they were smaller and were less likely to burn the skin. Once they were heated, people would test how hot they were by closing it on a piece of paper and seeing what color the paper turned. If the color was yellow, it meant that it was too hot. Before the invention of the 1872 straightener, straightened hair for woman wasn’t as popular, but after the trend towards women straightening their hair began to grow.

       In 1906 Simon Monroe became the first person to patent the flat iron for hair straightening. He was upstaged three years later though by Issac Shero who invented a hair straightener that used two flat irons, which could be heated and hard pressed together. Lady Jennifer Bell Schofield wanted to try something different. During the early 1900s she became obsessed with straightening hair and wanted to improve the current straighteners of the time. The tool she invented had two metal plates that rested between a hinge in the center that one could clamp and unclamp from their hair. It was basically the combination of the ideas of Grateau and Shero. This model bears a close resemblance to hair straighteners of today and in the Farm House.

       There are three hair straighteners in the Farm House, all in the strawberry room. They all are the same design as Lady Jennifer Schofield’s hair straightener. On some of them there is still the visible burn marks from when they were heated by fire, which wouldn’t have been very nice for the women that used it on their hair in the house. There is also a much smaller hair curler next to the hair straighteners. The reason it is so small is because it was used for curling men’s mustaches. During Victorian times men would often have handlebar mustaches, which they would wax and groom. Metal and wood mustache curlers were invented as well, similar to the hair straighteners for women, which would help men create their handlebar curls. This device would also be slightly dangerous as it would be heated and used much closer to men’s faces. One mustache curler was patented in 1894, but after 1910 they began to fall out of fashion as was noted in the 1909 book, A Dictionary of Men’s Wear. In it, the hair curler was mentioned as being better “left altogether to women, who have hair to burn.”

       Even after the Farm House hair straighteners rose to popularity, women would still try new methods in straightening hair. During the 1950s, when straight hair once again became popular, women would lay their hair across a flat surface and move a standard home clothes iron across their hair. This was once again damaging to the hair and did fall out of fashion eventually when the standard hair straighteners of today became popular, but it is still practiced in some cultures around the world. These devices in the Farm House Museum reveal what some women used to look good, but it also shows that making oneself look good wasn’t just something women did.