Before His Name Was Known At All, Seuss Put Creatures On The Wall

Nov 17, 2016
Originally published on November 18, 2016 10:18 am

Decades before he became a best-selling children's book author, Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodor Geisel, created a series of sculptures he called his "Unorthodox Taxidermy." Using real horns, beaks and antlers, he fashioned whimsical creatures which look like they jumped right out of his books.

A traveling show of replicas, called "If I Ran the Zoo", has landed at a gallery in Long Island. Today we bring you that story (how else?) in verse:

When Dr. Seuss was three — or two,
his family lived by the zoo.

And as he lay in bed at night,
loud noises gave him great delight.

Jeff Schuffman reps the Seuss Estate,
and says that Ted would stay up late:

"At night, he can hear the tigers roar and the elephants bellow and so forth. And he was always drawing animals."

(While Jeff was generous with time
alas, his comments do not rhyme.)

As Ted got older and he grew
He never did forget the zoo.

For art that pulled out all the stops,
Young Ted relied on good old Pops:

"His father was in charge of the zoo and when Seuss moved to New York City, his father started sending him various beaks and horns and antlers of animals that had met their natural demise for him to create something with. And then he decided to turn them into the Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy."

And — oh! — these creatures on the wall
are not like ones you've seen at all.

But don't despair, or get too squirmy
This is Seuss-y taxidermy!

Doesn't it seem strange to you
For fish to look like caribou?

Or take this happy looking fawn
With eyelids green and antlers on.

But Schuffman's favorite of the group
has eyes that shine and ears that droop:

"We have Anthony Drexel Goldfarb, with his inquisitive look and forlorn smile. Actually, the original was constructed with rabbit ears. And then he would take, you know, papier-mâché and clay and mount it on these wood mounts to create this incredible, very unique and actually limited collection. He only made 17 sculptures that we're aware of."

Still, since the ones the Dr. made
are delicate and somewhat frayed,

the animals that go on tour
are copies, (as we said before).

For kids who see this silly show,
they do not care or do not know --

like Alexandra Thompson, who
adores a fish that's red, not blue,

with razor teeth and pointy snout.
She loves it, (she could almost shout):

"The Sludge Tarpon ... It looks weird!"

And if you think there's nothing worse'n
missing seeing these in person ...

If strange creatures bring you cheer,
we've posted photos for you here.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now a moment away from politics and into the world of Dr. Seuss. Long before he became a bestselling children's book author, Theodore Geisel created a series of sculptures he called his unorthodox taxidermy. He used real horns, beaks and antlers to fashion whimsical creatures like the ones that would later populate his books.

A traveling show of replicas has landed at a gallery in Long Island, Jeff Lunden decided to check it out and report back in verse.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: When Dr. Seuss was 3 or 2, his family lived by the zoo. And as he lay in bed at night, the sounds filled him with pure delight.

JEFF SCHUFFMAN: At night, he can hear the tigers roar and the elephants bellow and so forth, and he was always drawing animals.

LUNDEN: Jeff Schuffman reps the Seuss estate and says the doctor's dad was great.

SCHUFFMAN: His father was in charge of the zoo, and when Seuss moved to New York City, his father started sending him various beaks and horns and antlers of animals that had met their natural demise for him to create something with. And then he decided to turn them into the collection of unorthodox taxidermy as what he thought they'd be reincarnated as.

LUNDEN: And, oh, the creatures on the wall are not like ones you've seen at all.

SCHUFFMAN: On the Sea-Going Dilemma Fish, we have the horns or antlers from a caribou. From the Goo-Goo-Eyed Tasmanian Wolghast, we have rams' horn - and then the Semi-normal - you can imagine what he looks like - Green-lidded - in terms of his eyelids - Fawn so that you have deer antlers and just hysterical, joyous look on this Semi-normal Green-lidded Fawn's face.

LUNDEN: But Schuffman's favorite of the group has eyes that shine and ears that droop.

SCHUFFMAN: We have Anthony Drexel Goldfarb with his inquisitive look and forlorn smile. Actually, the original was constructed with rabbit ears. And then he would take, you know, papier-mache and clay and mount it on these wood mounts to create this incredible, very unique and actually limited collection. He only made 17 sculptures that we're aware of.

LUNDEN: Still, since the ones the doctor made are delicate and somewhat frayed, the animals that go on tour are copies, as we said before. For kids who see this silly show, they do not care or do not know, like Alexandra Thompson, who adores a fish that's red not blue with razor teeth and pointy snout. She loves it. She could almost shout.

ALEXANDRA THOMPSON: The Sludge Tarpon.

LUNDEN: And what is it about the Sludge Tarpon that you really like?

ALEXANDRA: It looked weird (laughter) - its nose. It kind of reminds me of a swordfish.

LUNDEN: And if you think there's nothing worse than missing seeing these in person and you're fond of things bizarre, go to org.npr. And when you get there, you will see some photos and some history. Prepare to be amused and stunned and smile. I did, and I'm Jeff Lunden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.