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Artist Photographer, Graphic Designer, and researcher focused on the history of taxidermy and natural history collections, with a special interest in 19th century culture.

Please note: Annick @Aldoworkshop is not affiliated with the Royal Museum for Central Africa, rather a natural history enthusiast dedicatedly passionate about the museum and its mission.

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Rowland Ward - RMCA

It was many and many a year ago,
In a Kingdom by the sea,

The Kasai elephant mounted in the public rooms of the Museum (shoulder height 3m40, ear height 1m80, body length 8m80) - 2013. ©Annick Aldo
The African bush elephant, Loxodonta africana, has long been a symbol of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren. What were the historical process and spatial practices that led up to the transformation of this animal from Africa to Brussels and from previously living animal into museum display of nature ?
In 19th Century Europe taxidermic animal displays became useful and interesting in natural history museums and international exhibitions for educational and entertainment purposes in an age long before the advent of wildlife photography, motion pictures, television and computer technologies.
Taxidermy is a fundamental method of preserving animals and has long played an important role in building museum's zoological collections for scientific study rather than exhibition. Natural history collections are a source of knowledge and many contain unique specimens that cannot be collected again easily – or at all, in some cases. Despite changing social attitudes to the display and use of an animal's dead body, the museum's scientific collection continues to function as an essential resource for study both now and for future generations of zoologists.
The art of taxidermy – a profession often overlooked and misjudged – is not about reanimation of a dead animal. Zoological collections provide an invaluable insight into both the social and the scientific role taxidermy has played over the years. The work of a taxidermist is a technical and highly artistic skill with the object of producing an animal that shows the beauty and drama of a living animal. On closer inspection, the mounted specimen reveals the secret of its assembly: showing how materials and techniques employed by taxidermists have evolved through time, with examples of high quality mounts alongside early nineteenth century styled specimens.
Left: Bongo specimen, 1910. - Right: Bongo mounted by Rowland Ward in 1957.

Musée Colonial

The Museum was originally conceived by Belgian King Leopold II with an aim to promote commercial and public interest for the Congo Free State at the Brussels World's Fair in 1897. The Colonial section was set up at the Palais des Colonies in Tervuren. Following its huge success, the temporary exposition evolved into a monumental project for a permanent museum, which became the Musée du Congo Belge. In 1960, following the independence of the Congo, the museum's name was changed to its current title: the Royal Museum for Central Africa, more commonly known as the Museum of Tervuren.
In its 100 years of history the Royal Museum for Central Africa has developed from a typical colonial institute into a museum and important study centre for Central African research and collections, including all aspects of cultural anthropology and the natural science of botany, geology, and zoology.

L’Expédition Zoologique du Musée

In July 1956, The Royal Museum of the Belgian Congo embarked on a zoological expedition, led by the noted ichthyologist Max Poll, to Kasai and Ituri. The principle mission was to collect good-quality specimens for exhibit in the "Pavillon de la Faune" of the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi section at the Brussels Universal and International Exhibition, named Expo 58 and was the first World's Fair after World War II.
A typical mammal-collecting field trip involves a great deal of preparation, a tremendous assortment of supplies, proper field care of specimens and a dedicated crew of people. To ensure the success of the mission, Max Poll was accompanied by the taxidermists Armand Opdenbosch and Louis Poelman, who were in charge of data collecting, all objects that could potentially be used in the reconstruction of different backgrounds and preparing large game animals in the field for museum purposes. This was the first time a scientific mission of the museum was accompanied by technical staff.
The Elephant was found on the River Bushimaie in South Kasai. It was an old solitary bull of exceptional dimensions, that ravaged the villagers' cassava plantations at night, and disappeared during the day in the nearby forest, where it eventually was shot. The mighty beast fell against a huge tree; this was too though to be cut down, and consequently some eight hours' work were needed to drag the animal clear with tackle. The naturalists then turned to the formidable task of skinning the dead elephant and drying the skin, which took many days to accomplish. Once dried, the skin and the skull with tusks and bones were shipped to Melsbroek, and then flown to London, where Rowland Ward Ltd., one of the leading taxidermists of his day, completed the processing and assembly of the pachyderm.

1958 Brussels World's Fair

Rowland Ward Ltd. supplied mountings to museums all over the world, including the Museum of Tervuren. Documents, photos and a collection of letters between Ward and the Museum can be found at the museum's archives, such as Ward's detailed instructions for proper field care, agreed purchase orders and letters of transactions between Ward and the different keepers, giving prices and showing precisely the kinds of specimens Ward was producing.
The giant Kasai elephant, an example of Ward's superb taxidermy work, is one of a number of large mammals which were mounted for the Brussels World's Fair, Expo58 and was held from 17 April to 19 October 1958.
Belgian-Congo section, Le Pavillon de la Faune, Brussels 1958.
The exhibition featured Congo's most important and rare animals in habitat groups of the four major ecological environments in the Congo: the Southern and Northern Savannah, and the Central and Eastern Forest-Savannah. The various animals were placed against a background of large photomontages, enlivened with jungly plants to simulate their wildlife habitat, introducing the mysteries of the African bush.

Royal Museum for Central Africa 1959 - 2013

Habitat diorama Congo Forest – Royal Museum for Central Africa (dismantled 2013).
When the World's Fair closed on 19 October 1958, the animals transferred to the Musée Royal du Congo Belge, which would ultimately become The Royal Museum for Central Africa in 1960. As part of the museum's exhibit modernization program a series of natural history dioramas were created, presenting the taxidermied specimens in an illusionary wildlife habitat arranged according to the geographical origin of the animals.
The construction of the 15 dioramas began in 1959, under the direction of Armand Opdenbosch, Chief Technician and taxidermist (1929-1977), with a final installation in 1972. Max Poll, Curator of the Department of Zoology (vertebrate section) and a skilful watercolourist, painted the backgrounds and designed the scenery elements. The habitat dioramas remained on view for a quarter of a century until they were destroyed in 2013, when the museum embarked on an extensive and drastic refurbishment.
† The museum is currently undergoing its first significant renovation process since colonial times and is expected to reopen in mid-2018.
  • Dr. Max Poll, 'L’Expédition Zoologique du Musée', Congo Tervuren - Vol.3-6, 1958
  • Gerald Best, 'An Elephant is Created' - MPM