On the creation of natural collections, dermoplasts and the art of dissection

Włodzimierz Tomek was a representative of a wide group of experts and aficionados of nature. He worked as a forester, and his hobby was hunting. Having linked his life to Ciężkowice, he decided to create a natural collection representing the flora and fauna of the Pogórze Ciężkowickie region. The collections were enlarged by him over time are now exhibited in a museum established in his name. They have also become a historical image of the nature in this region – many of the exhibits obtained represent species which no longer inhabit this area any more. Another aspect of his activity was collecting objects related to natural history. The creation of private collections (exotic animals and plants), the activities of scientific institutions in the form of scientific exploratory expeditions to various regions of the world, interest in natural history (for example, palaeontology) resulted in the creation of collections which encompass both animate and inanimate nature. Furthermore, the collection was connected with the development of modern natural sciences, an important part of which was the development of taxonomy. The acquired exhibits were used in research and widely-created exhibitions of natural history which were extremely popular in the 19th century. The largest collections and the most famous museums, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Humboldt–Museum in Berlin, the Natural History Museum in London, date back to this period. Using these experiences, local amateur researchers began to create collections covering the fauna and flora from their immediate area. Many of these people were hunters, and their area of interest was the creation of hunting collections, presented in the aptly named hunting rooms. It is currently a separate branch of hunting culture, with its own typology of trophies and ethical principles (the hunter, when creating such a room, should only place trophies obtained by himself in it). Both collecting hunting trophies and creating natural collections is associated with the development of preparatory activities, that is, the ability to anatomize the exhibits skilfully in order to preserve their durability, and in the case of hunting collections, also skills related to the ability to depict the “living animal” in the most faithful manner possible, for example, while hunting. The objects from the Museum in Cieżkowice presented in the collection of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums have the character of the so-called dermoplasts. This type of dissection involves stretching the skin of a given animal (properly protected against being damaged by the used chemicals – in the past, among others, this included arsenic) on a specially shaped (wooden or plastic) mould corresponding to the physical body of the animal. Next, the exhibit is stitched and supplied with accessories such as glass eyes, teeth etc. Dermoplasts are then often used in natural dioramas, i.e. special exhibition panels showing some fragment of the environment (a forest, lake) or a scene from wildlife (feeding, hunting). In conclusion, the collection from Ciężkowice is ideologically based on the idea of both a scientific collection and hunting collections. It has evolved from a hunting collection into a scientific collection.

Elaborated by: Piotr Knaś (Małopolska Institute of Culture),
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 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Discover exhibits in the collection of the Krystyna and Włodzimierz Tomek Natural Science Museum in Ciężkowice:
The European bee-eater
The European roller
Short-toed Eagle
The Albino magpie