Off-Ramp for May 18, 2013

PHOTOS: A look inside the taxidermy lab at The Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

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Taxidermist Allis Markham works on a female Cooper's hawk at the Natural History Museum on April 24th, 2013.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

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Allis Markham's working space has Great Blue Heron wings and death masks (left) which are cast on animals at their time of death.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

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Allis Markham creates birds and other taxidermy creatures for exhibits at The Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

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Allis Markham and Tim Bovard are staff taxidermists at The Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. Bovard made the Corriente cattle in the background for the upcoming Becoming L.A. exhibit that will open in July, 2013.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Allis Markham puts the finishing touches on a female Cooper's hawk at the Natural History Museum on April 24th, 2013.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

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The office space for the exhibits crew is lined with donated game heads from museum patrons.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

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An office companion at The Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

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An education technology specialist created this prototype for an interactive exhibit at The Natural History Mueum.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

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Taxidermy skunks in the office of the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

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Allis Markham displays a casting used under a taxidermy skunk.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

Mae Ryan/KPCC

A wax infusion orangutan in the offices of The Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

Mae Ryan/KPCC

A rattlesnake skin that will be used on a taxidermy display.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Ostrich legs on a shelf at the office space for the exhibits crew at The Natural History Museum.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

Mae Ryan/KPCC

The Natural History Museum is over 100 years old and patrons have donated game heads over the years.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

Mae Ryan/KPCC

A pencil holder at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

Mae Ryan/KPCC

A taxidermy cat in the offices of the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.

Natural History Museum Taxidermy

Mae Ryan/KPCC

A spiderweb that will be used in an exhibit at The Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.


The Natural History Museum is celebrating its 100th year this summer. They’ll celebrate with two new exhibits, Becoming LA and Nature Gardens which will feature dozens of taxidermy animals including birds, possums, and cows. 

Off-Ramp’s Mukta Mohan talked with taxidermist Allis Markham to find out what it’s like behind the scenes at the museum and to learn about the art of taxidermy.

In the North American Mammal Hall at The Natural History Museum, families gather around dioramas and watch rare animals in their natural habitats. There are jaguars, bison… even polar bears. But unlike at zoos where the animals roam around, all of the animals here are preserved and made to look alive through taxidermy. Allis Markham is the newest member of the museum’s taxidermy team.

Markham describes taxidermy as “science meets art.” She says, “At the end of the day, we’re artists. We’re creating sculpture. It’s model making. You’re just working with this organic material that is essentially an animal.”

On the fourth floor of the museum is a temperature controlled taxidermy lab with no windows—that keeps the skins from fading in the sunlight. Death masks line the walls. Thousands of reference photos lie in drawers, and a full-sized Corriente cow stands in the middle of the room.

All of the museum’s animals either were donated or found dead in the wild by staff members like Markham. The space is cluttered with tools used for taxidermy — steel brushes, thread, glass eyes. Markham uses scalpels to skin animals and prepare them for mounting.

“I mean it’s like the old phrase, ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat,'" said Markham. "I can tell you first hand, that there is. There’s several different types of incisions.”

In her lab, a parrot lies on a tray with its wings spread out. All of the bird’s insides have been removed, revealing the slimy skin underneath the feathers.

Markham gently holds the parrot skin up to a fleshing wheel, a rotating wire brush that shaves off the fat from animals.

“It’s almost weird for me that people are like, 'oh grossed out, that’s dead.' Well, it ceased living, but it’s still very much organic and there are things happening with it, and I’ll make it look alive again,” says Markham. “It’s all just science, and it’s all anatomy and nature, and I think that’s beautiful.”

To view some of Markham’s recent work, visit the new Nature Gardens exhibit opening in June and the Becoming LA exhibit which opens in July at The Natural History Museum.


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