Mr. Akeley’s Movie Camera

Crafting original narratives

Carl Akeley (1864-1926) was the Field Museum’s Chief Taxidermist between 1896 and 1909. Though he is often described as “the father of modern taxidermy,” Akeley was also an artist, naturalist, and inventor who worked in sculpture, still photography, and motion-pictures. Across mediums, Akeley tried to capture motion—the natural world, after all, does not sit still.

In 2018, I was the lead exhibition developer of a small exhibit built around a movie camera Akeley invented in 1915, called the “pancake camera.” The camera’s size and mobility were revolutionary. Akeley cameras were used to capture the first ever footage of mountain gorillas in the Congo, as well as to film Nanook of the North (1922), one of the first ever documentary films. During the era of silent films, it was widely used in Hollywood.

This exhibition was developed for display in the Field Museum’s Brooker Gallery, an intimate gallery space recently dedicated to exhibits that showcase the Field Museum Library’s collections.

-Interdisciplinary research, with an emphasis on archival research
-Narrative construction and content curation
-Writing, editing, and revision of exhibition text
-Coordination with design, media, production, and other team members

“The Field mounted big, thoroughly engaging shows on “Mummies” and “Antarctic Dinosaurs” this year. But one that was unexpected — and especially fascinating — was this modest, one-room look at the museum’s taxidermy pioneer Carl Akeley (he did the fighting elephants in the main hall) and the portable camera he invented for nature filming that became a Hollywood standard.
Chicago Tribune “Best in Chicago Museums 2018”

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