Blog Posts

06
Dec

More Than Stuffed Animals: Remembering A Master Taxidermist

Forget what you think you know about taxidermists. David Schwendeman did not simply stuff inanimate roadkill–he brought nature to life.

The job of a taxidermist, officially referred to as “mounting,” is a complex process. The task involves cleaning and reassembling the animal’s skeleton, sculpting synthetic internal tissue, and restoring the creature’s exterior to a meticulous and appealing likeness. David Schwendeman was a master of these skills.

Schwendeman served as chief taxidermist for the Natural History Museum for 29 years.

Schwendeman’s work is famously featured at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. One of his coworkers at the museum, Steve Quinn, described Schwendeman as “An extraordinary artist, an expert sculptor.” Quinn praised, “He could pose animals accurately and scientifically, and at the same time make them aesthetically beautiful. He saw as his goal to inspire wonder and nurture concern for nature.”

Schwendeman devoted his life to the art of mounting, starting at a young age. He learned the trade from his father, who, in 1938, opened Schwendeman’s Taxidermy Studio in Milltown, New Jersey. The studio is still open, now in the hands of David Jr–the third generation of Schwendeman mounters (see Schwendeman & Schwendeman in action here). Leaving behind him a museum of specimens and a family business, Schwendeman’s legacy is well preserved.

Read Schwendeman’s Times obituary here.

Tell us what you think on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

CShure-Photo

Caitlin Shure

    Caitlin is a contributor to the Secret Life blog. She is also a student at Columbia Journalism School, completing her master’s degree in science journalism. Caitlin does not love all science equally; favorite topics of rumination include neuroscience, genetics, and evolutionary theory. Caitlin draws inspiration from James Watson and Rupaul Andre Charles.