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MLA Full: "Carl Akeley's Four Seasons." YouTube, uploaded by thebrainscoop, 4 December 2013,
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The Brain Scoop is written and hosted by:
Emily Graslie

Created By:
Hank Green

Directed, Edited, Animated, and Scored by:
Michael Aranda

Filmed on Location and Supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

Photo Credits:

Carl Akeley with bandaged arm and dead leopard that he killed with his bare hands: © The Field Museum, CSZ5974, Photographer Carl Akeley.

3 women drinking tea. 1 has an interesting bird tail hat. Hall 4, Indian America exhibit opening. Members and press, Tea party event: © The Field Museum, A95829.

Charles Suydam Cutting breaking out his tripod and motion picture camera [invented by Carl Akeley].: © The Field Museum, CSZ55302, Photographer Alfred M. Bailey.

Four Seasons of the deer, winter. Carl Akeley diorama. 4-H Club day. Raymond Foundation staff (2 women, Harriet Smith?) and boys and girls in Hall 16 American Mammals.: © The Field Museum, RF79250.

Nanook of the North directed by Robert J Flaherty, 1922:

Image of a bird hat (C) Ben Fink and The National Audubon Society:

Enrico Cioni, Mariano Cepeda, Katerina Idrik, Tony Chu, and Seth Bergenholtz are the best ever for providing subtitle translations!

There are a few people from history who I would love to bake cookies for and #1 on that list is Carl Akeley. You may recognize him from this picture that was taken soon after he was surprise-attacked by a jaguar on a field expedition in Somaliland. In a fight to the death Carl Akeley managed to strangle and kill the jaguar with his bare hands. Surprisingly, this instance wasn't even the most remarkable thing that Carl Akeley accomplished in his life. Who am I kidding; it comes pretty close.

Before Carl Akeley came around, taxidermy was basically a type of glorified upholstery. The same amount of care was taken between preparing an exotic bird or mounting a large specimen as it was to stuff a couch. Today, Carl Akeley is known as the father of modern taxidermy, although, when he was growing up he was destined to be a farmer. The popular folk tale surrounding Carl Akeley's introduction to the world of taxidermy came because a neighbor of his had a pet canary that died. Carl, being an empathetic person, decided to 'fix it' for her. He ended up gutting it, stuffing it, and giving it glass beads for eyes, and thus, a master was born.

Akeley had a long history of working all kinds of unfulfilling jobs before he ever hit the big time. He worked for Ward's Natural Sciences in New York before getting fired for sleeping on the job, probably because he had been up all night making new innovations in the field. After being fired from his job at Ward's, Akeley went on to become essentially an assembly-line worker for a commercial taxidermist. These were the guys responsible for mounting exotic birds for lady's hats and creating taxidermied models of squirrels riding unicycles. And, just like a predictable romantic comedy, Ward eventually wrote to Carl Akeley begging him to come back because he had realized too late that he had given up something really great.

Kind of as a bonus reward for being so awesome and innovative, when P.T. Barnum's prized elephant Jumbo got hit and killed in a freak train accident, Carl Akeley was the one who was called upon to skin and mount the beast. And at that time it was the first time ever an elephant had ever been taxidermied. But it sure wouldn't be Carl's last.

After Akeley eventually left Ward's, he went on to work for the Milwaukee Public Museum, and then finally The Field Museum. He became their first chief taxidermist in 1896. During his time with the Field he got the chance to go on many collecting expeditions, and he used these intimate glimpses in to nature in order to study how animals moved. Because he was so obsessed with capturing accuracy he even went so far as to invent an early motion-picture camera - simply called the Akeley. Not only did this make Carl Akeley one of the first naturalists to also become a wildlife documentary film-maker, but his camera was also popularly used in early 1920's Hollywood. And it was used by news agencies in order to capture the front-lines during World War I. In addition to this, the first-ever full-length documentary film, "Nanook of the North", was filmed on an Akeley.

Carl's obsessive attention to detail led him and his wife to collaborate on creating the most intricate, compelling, and scientifically accurate diorama of its time. This series is a set of four dioramas placed together in a unit and depict a single family of deer as they change and grow throughout the seasons. Carl and Delia spent four years planning and preparing the series- that's your entire high school career. For one, it required going out and collecting four deer for each season, sixteen total, in order to have a representation of a buck, a juvenile, a doe, and a fawn. In 1902, whitetail deer were considered an endangered species, so this made them a little tricky to find. Carl had the idea to create these dioramas in such intricate detail so that future generations would be able to appreciate these animals and their habitats, even after they had already gone extinct.

He saw the importance in using dioramas and taxidermy as educational tools, not just a different way to display trophies. This, consequently, also made him one of America's first conservationists. Each deer in the group was collected at the height of its season in order to most accurately show the phases of the changing months. With each individual Carl aimed to breathe life into all aspects of the animal's physiology. He paid attention to how the fur would have looked after walking through the trees, to the angle of the ears as they followed the deer's gaze. He tried to step into their skins - not literally, that'd be weird - and imagine the life those deer led: what every day must have looked like and what they would have done in the face of change and danger. In Fall, they're surrounded by the evidence of a seasonal fire - a symbol of the unstoppable ecological change that is unavoidable to the forest's inhabitants. It's like Fantasia's "Firebird Suite" 100 years ahead of its time, and without the magical, glowing fairy nymph.

Not only do the deer reflect the changing seasons but the foliage in the dioramas does, too. Before it was customary to buy all of your fake plants at Walmart, these things had to be created by hand. Every stump, pine-cone, branch and all 17,000 leaves were created by hand. Delia poured hot wax into molds and painted each individual leaf. More intricate items, like pine-cones and flowers were cast into metal and then sculpted together afterwards. In Winter, the effect of snow was created by using granulated sugar, with a delightful layer of arsenic to keep the pests away.

Carl and Delia's relationship eventually went sour, but the Four Seasons remains as a testament for the love they once shared. Aww. Stay tuned for the next episode of The Brain Scoop, in which we'll make sweeping assumptions about the Akeley's marriage and try to figure out why Carl spent so much time hanging out with elephants.


It still has brains on it.