Marcel Mensah | Eat More Spiders
The Seldom Seen Taxidermy of Doctor Seuss
The Taxidermy of Doctor Seuss
Theodor Seuss Geisal, was an American artist born in 1904, Springfield, Massachusetts, that produced an assortment of child friendly work under the pseudonym “Doctor Seuss”. Throughout his career he effectively changed the playing field for children's publication. His work includes many of the most popular children's books of all time and many have cited his work as being the turning point in American storytelling for younger children.
Despite the hundreds of works published and Seuss’ name recognition. Seuss’ Work was met by quite a bit of criticism during his time - as many did not see eye to eye with his artstyle or wacky storytelling.
In an attempt to escape the public eye, Seuss began working on his personal projects, the one’s he used to explore his own passions, in secret. These projects were referred to as Theodor Seuss’ “Unorthodox Taxidermy'' sculptures and the “Midnight Paintings”. Both collections, being composed of pieces Seuss did not want to share with others during his lifetime, were made fully public after his death in 1991.
Taxidermy, is an art form that - understandably - gets a mixed reaction. The practice involves preparing, skinning, stuffing and displaying the carcasses of animals. It is an art form enjoyed by hobbyists and professionals around the world (you've likely seen some of this work in museums or trade shops).
Beginning in the 1930’s Seuss began a collection of “taxidermy” sculptures - but the interesting thing about these pieces? They weren't reconfigurations of the animals as we knew them. Seuss’s Taxidermy collection was actually a series of early depictions of the strange and unique characters Seuss would come to publish in his books. Characters children the world over would come to love.
One of Dr. Seuss’ most defining features was his unique visual language. Although wacky, strangely proportioned and eclectic - the overtones of his work were extremely consistent - making it easy to spot a Seuss piece when you see one. This same sense of intrigue was carried into the sculpture series.
Seuss created work based on a term coined “logical insanity” which, in simpler terms, meant to be as imaginative as possible - with constraints (counterintuitive I know). This provided a grounding for some of the larger than life themes and imagery that Seuss liked to explore. He goes on to explain this aspect of his work saying, “If I start with a two-headed animal, I must never waiver from that concept. There must be two hats in the closet, two toothbrushes in the bathroom, and two sets of spectacles on the night table.”
In the 1930’s Seuss’ father was the superintendent of a local zoo. During this time Seuss would receive horns, beaks, and skins of deceased animals directly from the zoo through his father - providing him raw material for the sculpture series. While these pieces provided some of the bases needed to execute a project like this - Seuss also used plaster and sometimes paper-mache to fill in the gaps left by the source material.
When asked about his inspiration, very early on Seuss says he made the pieces to be, what he believed, the animals would want to be reincarnated as - which perhaps speaks to how Seuss saw his own life and the world around him.
Now the part you’ve all been waiting for - the “why?”. Why is this series so interesting? Why does it stand out against some of Seuss’ other work (Other than the fact that the sculptures are made out of real animal parts of course).
To be frank, the work is flat out interesting. Seuss' life was one filled with controversy but his work left an indisputable impact not only on the American public, but the generations of people that grew up on his work. By the time of his death he had sold 600 million copies of his publications and had been translated into more than 20 languages.
Taxidermy in and of itself is a rich art form that gets a lot of mixed responses from the public and it can be a difficult art form to consume / appreciate. Seeing these sculptures become - somewhat of a template for the characters, stories and rhymes that would entrance the American public provides an interesting look into how Seuss thinks and molds the world around him. This is especially true when we look at the reasoning behind the initial collection where he talked about the reincarnation of the animal he used as raw material.
The “Unorthodox Taxidermy” series, alongside Seuss’ Midnight Paintings' also speak volumes to what it means to be an artist in the public eye. Seuss - already scrutinized for his ideas and work, chose to hide his most personal pieces - literally until he died. I believe this says something about how, as creatives, our work nourishes us. As artists, it is in many of us to create and publish, but often our favorite pieces - the ones that move the needle forward - aren’t meant to be shared, critiqued or picked apart by the public.
Sometimes it’s okay to do things for ourselves.
I hope you enjoyed this look into one of Dr. Seuss’ personal collections. I Had no idea about this side of him and his work at all and honestly, the first time I looked into Dr. Seuss’ taxidermy my jaw dropped! In researching this collection I also learned a lot about some of the controversy surrounding Seuss as well. I guess a takeaway from all of this would be that It was interesting to learn about some of the other facets of this artist's life - good or bad.