Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Path of Phillip

 Phillip 1877, pastel on butcherpaper, 8"x10", 2013

Phillip 2013, oil on vintage wallpaper, 8"x10", 2013

I first saw Phillip nestled in a drawer with others like him.  His rounded belly and toucan beak fit together like two perfect building blocks and his eyes looked like the head of a screw turned to off.

I was photographing animal specimens from Fort Worth Museum of Science and History's collection to gather reference material for drawings and paintings.  It was the moment when I met Phillip that my project shifted, then narrowed and focused.  I wanted to know of the journey that led him to that drawer.

How many hands had he passed through?  What changes had taken place in the world as he traveled from one museum collection to another?  What exactly did his existence mean since having become an object?  He was now a commodity that could be gifted, traded, or sold.

This may not be Phillip's true history, but it is my story of Phillip constructed from the information on the small three handwritten tags that bind his feet.

Phillip is a Collared Aracari (ahr-uh-sahr-ree) which is the smallest species of toucan and native to Central America and Southern Mexico.  He was collected in Panama by Adolphe Boucard in 1877.  That's right folks, Phillip is 136 years old.

Boucard (1839-1905) was a French ornithologist/specimen tradesman, which in today's society would make for an interestingly conflictive vocational combination.  Selling scientific bird skins to natural history museums to build collections and promote public education while at the same time supplying the plume trade which facilitated the demise of many bird species...hmmm...that's pretty jacked up.

According to his oldest tag, Phillip belonged to Museum Boucard for roughly 23 years. I'm not sure if I'm translating this correctly to mean Boucard's personal avian collection perhaps in Paris or not.  Unfortunately no Facebook posts for Boucard could be found and he had yet to register for a Twitter account.

Around 1900 Boucard sold off most of his collection and Phillip was moved to the U.S. National Museum in Washington, D.C. (a.k.a. Smithsonian) where he resided for about 67 years.  At least a portion of his time was spent in the school collection.  It is my hope that Phillip was surrounded by some hot co-ed Aracaris.

He migrated to Westport, Connecticut in the spring of 1967 to Mid-Fairfield County Youth Museum, renamed Earthplace, where he did a short stint of less than a year.

Then in the fall of 1967 it was on to his current home, Fort Worth Children's Museum now Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

It was on May 6, 2013 that our paths crossed.  I took him out of his drawer and ever so delicately set him on a nearby table.  I looked at him from every angle and dreamed of his life.  How many people like me had come across Phillip thinking they had discovered him for the very first time?

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