The power of these material traces and the desire to preserve and touch them animates the lifeless menageries of Rachel Poliquin’s beautiful new study, The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing. The book tracks the history of whole animal and animal specimen preservation, particularly taxidermy, which refers to the stretching and mounting of the skins of vertebrates, from the seventeenth-century European explorers to the present, with a heavy focus on Victorian practitioners and collectors. From a technical perspective alone, this history is fascinating; it begins with piles of feathers preserved in spirits, smoke-dried in ovens, and inexpertly stuck together in approximations of natural forms, and ends with slowly freezedried “perpetual pets,” lifelike inhabitants of a particularly uncanny valley. A fascinating section describes the innovation of wet clay placed under skins of animals for precision molding and a feeling of fullness, vibrancy, and weight.Coats for Cubs is a program to repurpose fur products to create environments for injured and orphaned animals.
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