Lee Marchalonis, “The Mystery of the Musty Hide”

Mystery of the Musty Hide: Tales of Skin Thievery, open

Title page (copper-plate photogravure and hand-set Lydian)

First Spread (linoleum)

Text page detail (Hand-set 8-pt New Century Schoolbook and linoleum)

Elephant Skin (Handmade flax paper treated with ink and beeswax)


Lee Marchalonis (Detroit, MI)

The Mystery of the Musty Hide
copper-plate photogravure, linoleum, hand-set type, handmade flax paper treated with ink and beeswax
Edition of 35
36 pages
Dimensions, open: 8” x 10” x 3/8”
Dimensions, closed: 8” x 5” x ¾”

This book reflects the results of an investigation (research project) I undertook after viewing a particularly beautiful and emotionally-moving mounted zebra specimen at the University of Iowa’s Natural History Museum. Around the same time, I visited Chicago’s Field Museum and was struck by the quantity of taxidermy zebra on display. Surely one grouping of six or seven would say everything the museum needs to communicate to a viewer about the animal? I had the impression of multiple entire herds of zebra placidly standing in featureless plexiglass boxes. I wondered: how did the museum get all these zebras? Do they need them? Why are so many on display? And whose names are listed on the label?

During a joint residency last summer at the Ora Lerman Charitable Trust Foundation, Alison K. Greene wrote the text that is presented here on the right hand side of the spreads. Greene’s text contextualizes and describes the theft of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker mount from an exhibition on extinction. I have presented her text in hand-set 8-point Century Schoolbook, surrounded by another text which has ben carved into linoleum and printed. The surrounding text is excerpted from Carl Akeley’s autobiography, and describes an elephant hunt and subsequent skinning of the animal in the field in order to prepare it for inclusion in the African Hall of Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Included in the book are three images: a photogravure of a Grevy’s Zebra from the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, collected and taxidermied by Akeley, the stoic expression of which led me to further research into Akeley and the early 20th century naturalists, a sheet of paper I made from flax fiber and treated with ink and beeswax to give the impression of elephant skin, and finally a photograph inkjet printed on Japanese lens tissue taken in the archive of the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History of the remaining two Ivory-billed Woodpecker skins mentioned in Greene’s text.

The Mystery of the Musty Hide refers to the Nancy Drew books I read voraciously as a child. I have positioned myself as a “spunky girl detective” (as opposed to a high-level researcher), presenting a narrative concerning Carl Akeley’s life and work, in relation to my personal experiences and understanding of the natural and the museum world. The narrative is made up of six parts, beginning with a copperplate photogravure of the zebra that inspired this investigation. Two main texts are printed side by side, and make up most of the book. Excerpts from Carl Akeley’s ghostwritten autobiography create a framework for A. Kendra Greene’s text. Greene’s text presents a nuanced set of questions about extinction and the nature of possessive love. As both texts progress, Akeley’s text fades from prominence. The artist statement is titled, ‘Case Notes’ and is at the end of the book.