National Geographic : 2015 Aug
taxidermy 105 variant called a re-creation—an artificial ren- dering of an animal that does not use the original animal or even its species. In 2006, 25 years after Samson’s death, she began fashioning the ape’s synthetic doppelgänger from scratch. Christensen molded a silicone face using Samson’s plaster death mask and thousands of photographs. She ordered a replica gorilla skele- ton from a vendor called Bone Clones and a mix of yak and artificial hair from National Fiber Technology, the company that supplied fur for Chewbacca, of the Star Wars movies. For Sam- son’s hands she took molds of gorilla hands from the Philadelphia Zoo and reproduced them in silicone, right down to the fingerprints. Next, she rimmed his synthetic eyes with false eye- lashes bought at Walmart. Then Christensen put herself on display. She spent a year at a raised workstation in full view of museumgoers, implanting hairs in Samson’s silicone face and neck, while children asked questions and parents shared fond memories of seeing the gorilla when they were young. Among taxidermists, opinions are mixed on the use of synthetic versus actual animal materi- als. Bovard says that when he chats with visitors to his museum’s animal exhibits, they often ask him “which of our animals are real and which are not, and they do react differently to the two.” In an era when media and technology serve up versions of reality 24/7, Bovard says, there is still something powerful about the genuine article. But that is only one perception. A judge at the World Taxidermy Championships wondered privately if the art form had gone too far. In the hunt for trophy-quality animals, he said, “we take the best genes out of the gene pool” to the detriment of the species. When Christensen brought Samson to the championships, she was competing not only against other re-creations but also against the world’s best real-animal taxidermy. She won the top prize in the re-creations category. She also won the Judges’ Choice, Best of Show prize, beating out world masters who’d brought their finest—and real—wildlife effigies. And she did it without harming a single gorilla hair. j Taxidermy often preserves animals in natural poses, such as the snow leopard that Canadian naturalist Ken Walker mounted and stores in a guest room, and the foxhound, Bertie, preserved by British artist Emily Mayer.