Dunedin-based Australian artist Michele Beevors is calling on the immense Otago Museum collection to provide the skeleton of a new artwork – literally.
Beevors is about to begin work on her next project, knitting a full-size replica of a giraffe skeleton. Curator, Natural Science, Emma Burns received the access request in August this year.
“I’d just seen Michele when she had given a talk for the Otago Institute of the Royal Society on her anatomical knitting project. I’d quipped to Dr Jane Malthus, our Honorary Curator of European costume and textiles that it would be great to get Michele to visit to look at the collection and do something that combined the natural sciences and textiles. Luck should have it Michele was already thinking about visiting and got in touch the following week,” said Ms Burns.
The Otago Museum skeleton is in fact a subadult, despite standing four metres tall. Michele will be scaling up the measurements, sketches and photographs of the Otago specimen, making this sculpture one of the largest she’s ever produced.
The skeleton was first registered in the Otago collection in 1887, under the curatorship of Thomas Jeffery Parker, and was originally displayed on the ground floor of the Ross Building. Parker’s curator role was also a joint teaching appointment at the University Zoology Department and the displays accumulated in the Museum during that time reflected his strong background and teaching programme in comparative anatomy. Despite having a famously long neck, the giraffe has the same number of vertebrae as humans (and many other mammals), but in giraffe these have become elongated in shape and enlarged in size.
Sadly, the specimen was missing its atlas bone, the first vertebrae of the neck. That is, until curators from the Paris Museum reached out to Otago Museum curator John Darby in the 1980s – they had a giraffe atlas bone but were missing the rest of the giraffe! Nearly 100 years after joining the collection here in Aotearoa, the skeleton was reunited with its long-lost bone.
Originally scheduled for display in the biggest section of est. 1868, the Otago Museum’s 150th anniversary exhibition, the skeleton proved too challenging to display.
Ms Burns said, “Its condition, like many of the historic display skeleton collection, needs a lot of conservation work to restore, repair and, with these large mammals, rearticulate them for display. In the meantime though, in its current form, it’s perfect for studies – like Michele’s anatomical knitting.”