Currently viewing the tag: "Carl Akeley"

Today I had the chance to look over a collection of anonymous stereographs from a wide-ranging African expedition, 1906-1911, with the goal of writing a finding aid. I am eager to find out, if possible, who wrote the very consistent captions on these photos, most of which are of locations and local people. My only clues are: some of the captions are initialed: VSK, 1911; the person misspelled the word “ant” to read “aunt,” and I wonder if s/he is not a native English speaker; and most importantly there is a photo of Carl Akeley posing with a giraffe head, leading me to wonder if this collection is documentation of his African expedition. Diane led me to a book entitled African Obsession: The life and legacy of Carl Akeley, by Penelope Bodry-Sanders. Skimming the book, I was able to find quite a number of the locations cited in the stereographs, but not a name to match my initials. I am happy to have found a possible link, if not to the collector, then to Akeley’s expedition. It is a great luxury to be able to spend some time in this kind of research.

In addition, there is one photo captioned Duke Abruzzi’s caravan. I found that The Duke d’Abruzzi was a known mountaineer around the turn of the 20th century. One gets a sense of these expeditions linking up or crossing paths as they moved through the continent.

However, the most heart-rending find of the day was a group of images from the Kisubi Mission Station in Uganda devoted to the care of people in the final stages of “sleeping sickness.” One is captioned “a man gone dangerous “ whose “foot is put through a log” presumably to hinder his movements should he become violent. The photo shows that his foot is padded from the roughness of the log, and he has ropes to help him lift it to get around. I am struck by the combined brutality of the shackling and the consideration of protecting his foot from damage and maintaining his mobility.

This morning Phoebe and I, as well as Becca, Iris, and fellow Special Collections Interns Sean and Jenny, had the privilege of attending the repeat performance of Stephen Quinn’s presentation on his expedition to revisit the site of inspiration for Carl Akeley’s mountain gorilla diorama. Akeley’s expedition to Africa was led in 1921, when the sketch was made that would serve as the background of the well-known diorama in the Hall of the African Mammals. Quinn’s presentation, which utilized various historic images and video footage from his own expedition, related his effort to communicate to Museum visitors and staff alike that the backdrops of the dioramas are in fact actual landscapes subject to the changes caused by natural processes and human activity. This notion was highlighted by Quinn’s updated depiction of the diorama site. In Quinn’s 2010 painting of the site refugee camps, a radio tower, and evidence of agriculture are clearly visible in place of untouched wilderness. Quinn’s presentation was truly moving and thought provoking, especially in regards to the need for wildlife conservation and the important role the Museum can play in educating the public about such an issue.

This afternoon, our work on the Curatorial Field Notes Collections continued. We encountered some very interesting collections, including those of Nels C. Nelson, Gordon F. Ekholm, and Junius Bird. Being very well-traveled, Nelson’s collection covered a diverse range of locales. A sizable portion of his collection though, came from the American Southwest. Ekholm’s collection focused on Mexico and Central America and contained a fair amount of photographic material. Of note were a collection of postcards depicting native peoples and scenes, as well as some amazing color glass slides of Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. Unfortunately these didn’t lend themselves very well to being photographed. As for the overall scope of the project, our transition to Room 14 has allowed us to get a better sense of the ground we will need to cover in order to complete the cataloging phase of the project in the projected time frame.