Museum Taxidermy vs. Commercial Taxidermy

posted 2023 Aug by Allis Markham

Being a museum taxidermist like myself, Allis Markham, is not merely a job; it's a vocation that goes beyond the mere act of preserving animals. It's about capturing the very essence of life, recreating history, and honoring the natural world in all its diversity and beauty. My work on the Visual Voyages Exhibit's Hummingbird taxidermy is a testament to the difference between museum taxidermy and commercial or trophy taxidermy. But how do these realms of taxidermy differ?

The Aesthetic and Ethical Divide

  1. Purpose and Philosophy:

In museum taxidermy, every piece is a delicate, respectful representation of life. It's not just about preserving an animal; it's about conveying its natural grace, attitude, and even its habitat. Commercial taxidermists may focus more on appearance and aesthetics, often at the cost of accurate representation. Trophy taxidermists, on the other hand, center on displaying conquests, sometimes leading to an over-emphasis on size or grandeur.

  1. Conservation and Legalities:

Museum taxidermy strictly adheres to ethical guidelines and conservation laws. Every specimen must have proper permits, and the goal is always to educate and preserve. Commercial and trophy taxidermists might not always follow these stringent regulations, and the primary focus might be on profit or personal display, rather than education and conservation.

Crafting With Science and Art

  1. Collaboration with Scientists:

My work with the Moore Lab of Zoology at Occidental College is indicative of how museum taxidermists often work closely with scientists, curators, and researchers. We pool our resources and knowledge to ensure that the taxidermy is anatomically correct, historically significant, and scientifically valuable.

  1. Authentic Recreation:

The painstaking research into Gould's original Hummingbird cases for the Visual Voyages Exhibit exemplifies the lengths to which museum taxidermists go to recreate history authentically. We don't just preserve animals; we tell their stories, whether it's an individual creature's life or an entire era of scientific discovery.

  1. Materials and Techniques:

Unlike commercial or trophy taxidermists, museum taxidermists often go to great lengths to use the most accurate and high-quality materials. Everything from real gold leaf for gilding to the creation of native botanicals in my hummingbird cases represents a dedication to authenticity and quality.

An Emotional Connection

  1. Passion for Education:

Museum taxidermists often feel a deep connection to the specimens they work on. Our goal is not only to preserve but to educate and inspire. When visitors marvel at our taxidermy wonders, we hope they also learn something about the natural world, history, and art.

  1. Ethical Consideration:

With adherence to laws like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1973, we ensure that our work supports conservation efforts. We don't put price tags on our feathered or furry friends; we celebrate their intrinsic value.


Taxidermy is not just about preservation; it's a journey into the heart and soul of the natural world. While commercial or trophy taxidermy might prioritize aesthetics, profits, or personal achievement, museum taxidermy like my work on the Hummingbirds reaches for something higher.

It's about art and science, history and ethics, passion and reverence. It's about understanding and celebrating the intricate beauty of life, a calling that leads us to embrace the challenge of chasing Mother Nature, knowing we may never capture anything as perfect as life, yet finding fulfillment in the pursuit.

Through the artistry of museum taxidermy, we don't just honor individual species; we pay tribute to the grand tapestry of life itself. Whether it's the iridescent magic of Hummingbirds or the rugged majesty of a Bison, each piece is a labor of love, a work of art, and a testament to the natural world's eternal wonder.