MUSEUM ARCHIVES

In case you haven't noticed by now, I'm a huge museum nerd. I haven't dedicated much of my blog to posts about what I get to see behind the scenes, so I want to start a new series. I can't promise that it'll be a regular thing, but I do believe that these are things that should be shared!

On average, about 1% of any museum's holdings are ever on display to the public. Most museums have archives that are viewable by staff and volunteers, some museums have portions that people aren't allowed to photograph (and some portions that are completely off-limits to anyone but a curator) while other museums offer behind-the-scenes tours. As a museum volunteer as well as a traveling educator, I get to peek at things that a lot of people don't get to see EVER because I work closely with collections managers, education department heads, and curatorial staff.

Unfortunately I wasn't great at keeping track of digital files because I didn't realize how much those photos would eventually mean to me, but here are a few random images before I delve into museum-specific archive posts. A few were taken on old film cameras, but I love them because they're so unique.

Left: human fetus. Right: chimpanzee fetus. Taken at the Field Museum, October 2013. Canon Demi (half-frame) camera with expired film - excuse the dark exposure.

Left: human fetus. Right: chimpanzee fetus. Taken at the Field Museum, October 2013. Canon Demi (half-frame) camera with expired film - excuse the dark exposure.

Left: cyclops deer fetus. Right: six-legged kitten. Taken at the Field Museum, October 2013. Canon Demi (half-frame) camera with expired film - excuse the dark exposure.

Left: cyclops deer fetus. Right: six-legged kitten. Taken at the Field Museum, October 2013. Canon Demi (half-frame) camera with expired film - excuse the dark exposure.

Left: two-toed sloth study skins. Right: platypus study skins. Taken at the Field Museum, October 2013. Canon Demi (half-frame) camera with expired film - excuse the dark exposure.

Left: two-toed sloth study skins. Right: platypus study skins. Taken at the Field Museum, October 2013. Canon Demi (half-frame) camera with expired film - excuse the dark exposure.

Left and right: pangolin study skins. Taken at the Field Museum, October 2013. Canon Demi (half-frame) camera with expired film - excuse the dark exposure.

Left and right: pangolin study skins. Taken at the Field Museum, October 2013. Canon Demi (half-frame) camera with expired film - excuse the dark exposure.

Sambar selfie at the Houston Museum of Natural History - December 2013

Sambar selfie at the Houston Museum of Natural History - December 2013

Posing with an elephant tusk in the educational archives of the Audubon Zoo - April 2014.

Posing with an elephant tusk in the educational archives of the Audubon Zoo - April 2014.

Skulls and skull replicas - Audubon Zoo, April 2014

Skulls and skull replicas - Audubon Zoo, April 2014

Archival study skins from birds via the Burke Museum at University of Washington, on loan to the Henry Art Gallery as part of artist Ann Hamilton's  The Common S E N S E  - a large-scale installation for which I was a guest speaker on sourcing and taxidermy in education.

Archival study skins from birds via the Burke Museum at University of Washington, on loan to the Henry Art Gallery as part of artist Ann Hamilton's The Common S E N S E - a large-scale installation for which I was a guest speaker on sourcing and taxidermy in education.

I'm sure I'll share more as time goes on. I've been hoarding my large collections of archival photos but I didn't know where to put these one-offs, so I hope you've enjoyed them!

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JANUARY (LIFE LATELY)

Well, we're a month into 2016 and it's definitely off to a much different start than I expected. I don't share a ton about my personal life but I am absolutely #blessed (as much as I love sarcasm, I really do feel so lucky) to have so many wonderful people who are my perpetual cheerleaders.

My broken rib is finally starting to heal, or maybe I'm just getting used to the pain, but I'm finally able to pick things up and dance again which is a plus. However, I suffer the perils of being a person who is constantly injuring herself and now I'm missing half a fingernail from a leg-shaving incident. With the amount of times per day that I run into things or draw blood, you'd think my life was an audition for a one-woman version of The Three Stooges.

Riff Ratt has been having seizures and now has a permanent head tilt. He's now over a year old and since feeder rats typically only live between twelve and twenty-four months, I'm trying to mentally prepare myself for that.

I taught myself how to (badly) make mochi ice cream and didn't take photos but imagine some magenta goo-covered ice cream that tastes like roses and that's all you need to know.

Finally, I spent the last week of this month preparing for and filming a really cool project - I can't wait to share the end result, but for now here are some photos I took at the Nature Museum during location scouting with the producers.

I hope everyone else has had a great start to this year, and that February has just as much in store for us! ALSO this is a reminder to make sure you are registered AND that you take the time to vote in your state's primary elections. If you don't know how, Google your state + your political affiliation + primary election registration. Even if I don't agree with your opinion, I will still encourage you to fight for your right to vote!

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PREVENTION OF COMMODIFYING PROTECTED ANIMALS

When people meet me and find out what I do for a living, they very quickly try to find a relatable anecdote or tell me about their collections of taxidermy. I think that's how everyone is, but rather than connecting based on music or art or television, the easiest thing for new acquaintances to grasp onto is my taxidermy work and knowledge. Sometimes I hear about an uncle who hunts, or an interior designer looking for a European mount on velvet, but occasionally I hear about someone’s own taxidermy collection. Today in particular, I got to see photos of a man’s collection of owl, eagle, and hawk wings, feathers, skulls, and skeletons that he found. I’m disgusted.

I’m all for certain things that are illegal. Going ten miles over the speed limit, smoking a joint at a party, poking around in a long-abandoned building where no homeless people have taken shelter - all pretty much fine in my book. Collecting migratory bird parts, especially raptors, is not only illegal but it’s morally unsound. Legally speaking, collection and possession of those parts is poaching and amounts to years or decades in federal prison along with big fines. I uphold all wildlife laws because they’re in place for a reason, and also encourage others to do so. Morally speaking, though, there’s another layer here.

The collecting, display, coveting, etc. of illegal animal parts commodifies them. If you don’t know what that means, essentially once a handful of people start to think something has value, others hop on the bandwagon. It’s like shark fin soup (which is bland and renders the shark dead for a small part) or rhinoceros horn (not an actual aphrodisiac) - commodifying animal parts means people begin to seek out that species and kill it for vanity purposes. While you may think it’s fine to keep a bird skull you found, it becomes coveted and when that “cool” factor affects the wrong person, they begin to hunt and kill protected animals.

After pointing out not only the legal but also the moral implications of the issues at hand (which he was already aware of) and why this man should cease to collect illegal parts of animals, it was like a switch had flipped. I was no longer “adorable” or “amazing” - I was just a bitch with an opinion that didn’t coincide with his fantasy world where it was fine to traipse around and pick up dead and dying birds to display them in his home. I don’t accept that. My education in the natural world has been influenced by work with many museums, zoos, universities, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as well as friends who do wildlife rehabilitation. I’m not out to get anyone - I stand to educate and if me being “bossy” prevents even one protected raptor from becoming a commodity and a hipster decoration, I’m fine with being a “bitch.”

There are probably a few readers wondering what the difference between what I do and what this man is doing actually IS. I work with specimens that are 100% legal - this means that if they were hunted or trapped, they were harvested in season. Feeder animals are raised in abundance by small-time breeders here in Illinois, or Indiana, and are given quality living conditions for the duration of their lives. Domesticated animals like cats and dogs are euthanized after illnesses or accidents, or die of natural causes on their own. When working on birds, it is done so with the blessing of the USFWS and all specimens further scientific research and exploration on everything from evolution to the effects of pesticides on species. I do not work on mounts of protected (illegal) specimens for personal or client use because I respect wildlife laws and I do not believe in commodifying anything that’s protected. Furthermore, even when things are legalized (like the wolf hunts that have been happening the past few years) I still look at population numbers and if presented with work on a specimen with detrimental population statistics, I’d probably turn away the work unless it was a natural death for an educational institution.

To break it down even further and put it into terms that are easier to understand, I’ll talk about human specimens. We tend to understand comparisons to humans better than animals because let’s face it, most people don’t care that much about wildlife. In terms of human beings, I’ll use an example of my friend who works in a mortuary. There are often unclaimed bodies which, after being held for a certain amount of time and then used for scientific research, get cremated and then discarded. Just because these people are being essentially thrown away does not give me a license (figuratively or literally) to harvest bits and pieces of them to decorate my home. Commodifying illegally harvested human body parts is a terrible idea - both legally and morally, it’s not a good choice. Taking parts of protected birds and other animals, even if found dead of natural causes, is no different. The only difference is the type of organism in question.

The TL;DR version: illegal collection of parts of protected organisms is bad, contributes to commodification and poaching, and should be prevented. Also, don't call women "bitches" just because they know more about the law than you, and/or have different morals. I'm quite sure I'm not a bitch for wanting to prevent low-population birds from getting shot to become decorations.

Bone up (heh!) on your wildlife parts laws here or here or here or here. There's no excuse to not follow the law, protect animals, and not be a complete tool - no matter what country you live in.

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2015

What a year, what a year! Talking to everyone I know, it has been twelve months of significant ups and downs. Here are my most memorable moments of 2015, some of them bittersweet.

JANUARY

Plastinated brains with friends! Read about what the facility does here.

A road trip to Tampa and then Savannah with my friend Ashley, where I got tattooed by Dean Denney for the second time.

Getting a visit from my Canadian friends and then visiting Toronto just a few days later with my friend Amy! This is the view from our very strange Airbnb.

Moving to Chicago! The weather was terrible, so instead of a picture of Chicago, enjoy this photo of dragonfruit and horned melon, both of which were kind of disgusting but probably out of season.

FEBRUARY

Exploring the frozen lake (and the rest of Chicago) with Eric.

Rescuing Riff Ratt for Valentine's Day...

...then realizing that Riff and Osiris were best friends.

MARCH

Going on the weirdest day trip ever with Eli (who I met from Instagram), my tattooer Lauren, and Eric, where I purchased twelve dead baby skunks from some guy in his garage (they were euthanized according to law, pretty sad but they now live eternal life) before we stopped at Culver's as well as the Mars Cheese Castle. "Whatcha gonna do with all those skunks, all those skunks inside your trunk?"

Visiting Boston (and the Harvard Museum of Natural History) for the first time. I'm hooked.

APRIL

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Getting the cover of the RedEye and a feature in the Tribune.

Flying to Houston, driving to Austin, staying with my friend Connor, celebrating my 100th taxidermy class with a big brownie and pushed-down "9" candles for zeros, driving back to Houston, teaching four more classes, and heading home all within six days.

Signing the lease on my storefront!

ICELAND! It's really hard to choose a favorite photo because everything there is so beautiful, but this is the glacier lagoon. We spent seven days in Iceland and two days in Toronto on either side of the trip eating at Momofuku and exploring Queen West. Definitely one of the most epic adventures I've ever been on.

MAY

A Tigers game with tall cans and great seats as a (very) early birthday present from my grandpa.

Rescuing Milhouse!

Hanging out in Ojai with Chuck and working on a menagerie of animals from baby monkeys all the way up to elk. I need to make time to go back!

JUNE

A perfect day of Chicago fun including my first visit to the Lincoln Park Zoo!

Drinks at Cindy's on the rooftop patio with Sterling & Eric. This was my first time actually seeing the Bean because despite living in Chicago, I almost never venture downtown.

JULY

A trip to Portland to teach at Portland State, a drive up to Seattle, a weekend jog over to Second Beach and down the coast with my college buddies, back to Seattle to teach for a weekend, and a drive back to Portland just in time to catch a flight home.

Settling back into Chicago, and my new apartment which I apparently have no photos of.

AUGUST

Drinking and losing at pool with some of my closest friends from grade school at Emporium.

Another visit to Boston, and a trip to St. Louis before returning home to take in a pregnant cat from a high-kill shelter.

After she was dropped off at my house, Maria hung out for less than 24 hours before giving birth to seven kittens. She was an absolute trooper through everything.

As the kittens approached seven days of age and their eyes started to open, they slowly started losing weight and getting very sick. Unfortunately Maria had contracted and passed on panleukopenia while in the shelter before we rescued her from euthanasia, and all seven of the kittens passed away. It was hands down the hardest thing I went through this year, and I bonded with Maria a lot during the days following their passing which led to her becoming a permanent part of my family.

SEPTEMBER

Peaches from the tree in my backyard!

Photo fun with Riff Ratt.

A visit to Oakland, where I had over 50 students in two days, and a day trip to San Francisco, where I finally got to experience the highly sought-after sushi burrito. I also got to see the California Academy of Sciences as well as the Oakland Museum of California. I'm getting good at cramming entire cities into five-day trips while also working for two of the days.

OCTOBER

Getting a toast from my great-grandma (well, all she did was yell "MUD IN YOUR EYE!" and then chug her champagne) at the grand opening of the store - a long time coming since we had already been hosting classes since May.

Celebrating Randi's birthday with pizza, whiskey, and Britney Spears singalongs.

Teaching Riff Ratt to ride on Osiris' back.

NOVEMBER

A visit to Scott Smith's All-Animal Expo where I got to cuddle this pup.

Getting back into the groove of photography with outfit shots for Randi's blog.

DECEMBER

My third time visiting the Boston/Cambridge area this year and my first time TEACHING AT HARVARD! Probably the proudest accomplishment of my year.

A fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants visit to NOLA followed by a great time at the Noise FM's Noise for Toys benefit for Toys for Tots. Louis Tomlinson from One Direction was there sporting a very sk8er boi hairstyle, which he used to his advantage while making out with multiple teenage girls, racking up a huge bar tab, tipping 10%, and then not staying to watch the show. Afterwards my friends and I discovered the magical Twitter hashtag #louisisinchicago and taste-tested frozen pizzas.

Seeing The Academy Is... on their Almost Here ten-year anniversary tour (holy shit, ten years!) with Randi was the cherry on top of a very strange (but wonderful) year. I saw them on the first tour for this album when I was fifteen and it was even better this time around, because I've had ten years to grow to love them.

Not everything this year was perfect. My car took a dump and so did my phone. The ceiling of the shop started leaking and then falling down at the same time that the electricity gave out - while I was in New Orleans - rendering the entire space useless. I got three cavities.

This week, my friends are helping me move the freezer from the shop into my apartment, so it looks like I'll be going back to working from a home studio and traveling to teach classes again. I have a new car and a new phone and new job opportunities. Harvard invited me back. I am actually blessed, in every sense of the word, with an amazing support system here in Chicago and beyond, made of friends I have grown to love and who have grown to love me over the years. Not everything is sunshine, but I guess sometimes you need a little bit of shade (or perhaps a giant ice storm like the one outside right now) to make you appreciate everything good.

Thinking back to a year ago makes me wonder what kinds of things I'll be writing about a year from now. I hope it's a year of adventure, happiness, and not sweating the small stuff.

Happy new year to you and yours!

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