As we open the new year and welcome 2022, the APEX hour begins with our Faculty Distinguished Lecturer, Julie McCown and her study of Martha Maxwell, the frontier taxidermist who has been rediscovered in recent times. Join us to hear about Martha’s life and work, as well as the new critical edition of her biography!
Dr. Lynn Vartan 00:00
Hey everyone, this is Lynn Vartan and you are listening to the apex hour on K SUU thunder 91.1. In this show, you get more personal time with the guests who visit Southern Utah University from all over, learning more about their stories and opinions beyond their presentations on stage. We will also give you some new music to listen to, and hope to turn you on to some new sounds and new genres. You can find this here every Thursday at 3pm or on the web at suu.edu/apex. But for now, welcome to this week's show here on thunder 91.1. Hello, everyone, Happy New Year. I'm so happy to be back. It is January 2022. I can't believe it. My name is Lynn Barton. You're listening to the apex our we're so happy to be back for our spring semester. Every year, once a year we do an event that features one of our very own faculty members. And today I have Julie McCowan here in the studio with me because she is our featured lecturer for this year. Julie is a professor of English at Southern Utah University. She teaches courses in literature, critical theory, composition, and all kinds of other things. We are going to talk about her new book and her research topic, which is so amazing. But before we get to that, I just would like to say welcome, Julie.
Dr. Julie McCown 01:32
Thank you. Happy to be here. I'm just excited to talk to you.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 01:37
Yeah, I mean, were you surprised to win faculty lecture?
Dr. Julie McCown 01:42
I was surprised it was you know, I was happy to throw my hat in the ring, so to speak, and you know, take a shot at it. And I was just very pleasantly surprised and thrilled to be chosen for this honor.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 01:53
Yay. Well, you have been teaching here for five years. And we were talking about some of the interesting classes that you're teaching this semester. And yeah, do you mind just telling me again, what you're teaching this semester? I think they're really cool.
Dr. Julie McCown 02:06
Yeah. So this semester, I'm teaching English 2010. That's our intermediate writing class. And I'm teaching it with the theme of writing about feminism. So we're kind of exploring feminism and like, you know, how it's kind of contested term and hard to, you know, sometimes hard to understand. Then I'm teaching an English 4210. This is a literary literary history course. But we're doing it on American women writers taking kind of a broad historical look at the history of women writers in American literature. And then I'm doing literature senior capstone, this is our senior class for our literature majors, kind of helping them fine tune papers and get them ready for conference presentations, that sort of thing.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 02:44
I've two questions based on that, first of all, women writers in over this huge course of time, do you have any favorites? I know, we're going to talk about a woman writer and all that. But do you have any other favorites? Or, like if somebody was listening and said, Yeah, you know, actually, I'm not sure. You know, who maybe I need to brush up and I want to get into some women writers who do you recommend that people try reading?
Dr. Julie McCown 03:07
Oh, wow, I could give you such a long line? No. But I think one of my favorites is actually one that we just started reading and talking about in that class this week. It's Hannah Webster Foster's novel, The Kokott. Oh, I didn't know it at all, most people don't. So this is an early American novel. And that's kind of since I'm made I specialized in early American literature, in my doctoral work, but yeah, it's this seduction novel published in 1797. It's written in epistolary form, this is like a novel that's written in a form of like letters back and forth to people. And so it's got kind of like a it's like at this entry. Again, it's like this sort of love triangle, like trying to decide like, Are you Team Boyer or team Stanford, and it's a really has a lot of these really interesting things about the kind of gender politics and relationships in early American society that I really love teaching it and that, you know, I've taught it several times before, and students really get into it. They're sort of surprised by how how fascinating it is because you wouldn't think you know, novels from that time period, they get a bad rap. Yeah. Yeah. And this one actually kind of dispels that myth. Oh, my
Dr. Lynn Vartan 04:16
gosh, tell me then the Cool Cat and then tell me the author one more time.
Dr. Julie McCown 04:20
Hannah Webster Foster.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 04:21
Okay. Um, I'm definitely going to check that out. Thank you for that recommendation. My other question regarding the classes that you're teaching is, I was curious, you know, when you're working with, you know, particularly seniors who are, you know, about ready to go off and kind of do their next thing? Yeah. And you're working with them on how to refine their research and refine their writing or find their voice? What are some of the common things that you find that that level of writers struggles with? Are there any sort of general things that you find that that people are struggling with?
Dr. Julie McCown 04:54
Um, I don't know if it's necessarily struggling with but maybe it's something that they haven't had to do before? Because I think most students when they're writing papers for their classes, it's kind of a one and done. They write it sometimes, you know, write it in a very short time period, they turn it in, and then they never think about it again, right. And so for, you know, the class where I'm teaching, you know, working with the seniors on their capstone papers, it's like, well, let's go find a paper that you wrote for a class maybe a year ago, two years ago, and, you know, maybe you were, you didn't give it its full attention, and you really wanted to, you know, dive back into it and do more research. And we can look at writing as this recursive process, it's, you know, you're never done with a piece of writing, like, you talked to any writers, it's like, you're always fine tuning it, they're always tweaking it, there's always something they can do more. And a lot of times, you know, students don't get that opportunity to really experience that kind of writing process. And so that's why I love this senior capstone, as students really get to experience that process of being a writer and tweaking things. Oh, that's
Dr. Lynn Vartan 05:52
so cool. Well, now you're on the teaching side of it. And on the professional side of it, let's talk a little bit about how you came to it. So how did you come to the discipline of English, you know, as as a kid, what, what led you to want to be a professor and in writing and in English,
Dr. Julie McCown 06:12
um, I, that's interesting. I don't know if I was ever, like, dreaming of being a professor, as a small child. I don't think that was kind of a thing. It was really kind of a matter of just, you know, trying something because I think when I started, especially when I was an undergrad, and I was thinking of what major to declare, I was thinking, Okay, do I want to do political science? Do I want to do history? Do I want to do English, I couldn't really decide. And I think I actually hadn't decided until the night before orientation. Oh, it was kind of like, Oh, I'll do literary studies that that'll work. And it was just kind of that well, I'll try that. And we'll see. And, you know, it was, you know, sort of that I was like, Okay, this is something that's good. And then I thought, Oh, well, they'll try graduate school in English. And, and it was just one of those things of, you know, I tried it and realized, Hey, I actually really like this. And you know, when I started teaching, you know, it was, oh, I'm in the classroom. This is actually not necessarily something I thought of doing. But now that I'm doing it, I realized I was really engaged and passionate about it. And it was like, Okay, this this works. Were you always a reader growing up? Oh, yes. I was always a reader. My mom loves to tell the story of when I learned how to read I'd follow her around the house. We're getting books to her while she was cleaning the house. Oh, my, like, annoying way that I mean, like, maybe cute and annoying. That's adorable. I was just so proud of reading. And so I'd follow her around. And you know, we're always going to libraries and getting stacks of books. So yeah, I've always always been a reader. And are you still that way? I am. I've switched a lot of the reading to ebooks now to try to save space. So I don't get like a house covered and books Exactly. But no, I always try to do a little bit of leisure reading, you know, not for work my own for fun reading every night. Just because that's just a way to unwind. For me.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 08:01
What's the best most recent thing that you've read in that sort of more fun reading area? Ooh,
Dr. Julie McCown 08:07
a lot of good options there.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 08:12
Good readers always find good things to read, I think.
Dr. Julie McCown 08:15
Yeah, no, right now, I'm currently working as a finishing Jenny Lawson's book broken. I don't know that her latest one broken. That's what I've been reading right now. And I just absolutely love it. It's both it's hysterical. Because if you've read any Jenny Lawson, she just has these absolutely hysterical stories that she tells. But then also in broken. She's really open and honest about mental health and kind of really trying to work to dispel that stigma. And so I've really been interested in that.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 08:44
Okay, cool. Well, thank you for that great, like, way into who you are as a scholar and all that. But the reason that you are the faculty Distinguished Lecture, the way that process works is that faculty submit papers of things that they've researched and and then one of them is chosen for presentation. And so your work in this area is on a fascinating woman. So give us the you know, the first in snapshot, and then we'll get into details. Tell us about your person that you've written about.
Dr. Julie McCown 09:18
Yeah, so you know, my work is about this woman named Martha Maxwell. She was a taxidermist and the at working in the 1860s and 1870s. She was largely working in Colorado. So she's this you know, trailblazing groundbreaking taxidermist who, you know, was highly skilled taxidermist doing all of this really great, innovative work. But after her death, she was just sort of forgotten and lost a history. And so you know, part of my work was publishing this new critical edition of a book about her, trying to bring attention back to it because it's always when I tell people about Martha Maxwell, it's like, she's amazing. I've never heard of her. Right. And yeah, I just think that's Kind of sad. And the
Dr. Lynn Vartan 10:01
book was just published and it is called on the plains and among the peaks or how Mrs. Maxwell made her natural history collection. And it's a critical edition. So the original author is Mary Dart. And then Julie McCowan has really given us the the deep dive into it as we go through it. So that book just came out. And it is remind me the publisher, University of Colorado press, University Press of Colorado, University Press of Colorado. So as you're getting to know this topic, listeners, definitely check out that book. It's available wherever you can find it. Um, okay, I want to just talk about that first image in with Martha Maxwell with her exhibition. And that's kind of the that was sort of your first in with her. Right? Yeah. And so this is an image of this massive exhibition, this tableau, you can explain what it is that she did tell us about that. Yeah, so
Dr. Julie McCown 11:03
that's her most famous work is this taxidermy exhibit. This was part of the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. So like the celebration of the centennial of the of the US. And so it was this giant taxidermy display. It consisted of like 47 mammal species over 200 bird species. So you most people think of like smaller taxidermy displays. This was this massive thing that took up this whole side of the show building it was in, you know, just going way up high. And so it's just this massive thing that is just chock full of taxidermy sort of set against this kind of artificial background. So you'll Maxwell had like a cougar leaping through the air chasing after a deer. So yeah, it's just this really kind of awe inspiring, taxidermy display. And like, that was the first photograph I saw of her taxidermy, and I was just captivated by it. Do
Dr. Lynn Vartan 11:55
you remember the moment you saw it and where it was?
Dr. Julie McCown 11:58
I think I was in my office, my office at UT Arlington. And I was just thumbing through stuff, you know, looking for, you know, an example of a woman naturalist working with animals. And it's like, I saw that photo and just kind of stopped me in my tracks. Yeah.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 12:12
And you showed that photo earlier. And it just so amazing. She, there was like a cave in it. Also, tell me about the cave.
Dr. Julie McCown 12:19
Yeah, so there was a cave in the center of it. That was this sort of little den that maxvill could retreat to. And she would actually stay there at times during the during the centennial. It was partly a way for her to save money. You know, she didn't have to go, like put herself up someplace in a hotel, she could just stay in this little cave that she built in the back of her exhibit. But yeah, it's just it kind of again, shows you that sort of massive dimension of the exhibit.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 12:44
Yes. So she was kind of there to answer questions and to talk. And then when she got tired, she'd just go in the cave. I mean, almost in a way, like part of the exhibit.
Dr. Julie McCown 12:54
Yeah. And I think, you know, people did kind of treat her almost as much of an object of curiosity as her animals, like they were, you know, as much as they were questions about the actual animals. There were questions about, like, oh, well, who is she? Like, how did she do this? You know, what is like, you know, is she an Amazon? Like, that was a question that people would ask. So they were just really fascinated that this woman, and she was actually very small statured, that's what I was gonna ask. She was not just like big, you know, big kind of physical persona, like presence. She was a very diminutive woman. And actually, in a lot of reviews, they talk about her as like, a little lady or a little lady of refined sensibility. So it really kind of clashes when you think of like, all of these giant animals that she went around hunting, and then, you know, skinning and turning into taxidermy, oh, my gosh, I mean, it's just a lot to think about visually, and I can, I can see why it was such a spectacle and why people were so curious about it. So that gives us a great way in there. It's time for a first musical break. So we're gonna we're gonna let that that topic sit for a second, we're absolutely going to come back and talk about it more. And we talked about some different musical tastes. And Julie, you have awesome musical tastes. I took some recommendations for you, from you. And you have also taught a class on women in hip hop as well so and so you have a wide range of incredible female artists both in hip hop and indie style music that you're really interested in. And the first one I'm going to play is one that I also like, which is artists, Sudan archives, and the song that I've got is not for sale. That's one of her singles. And you're listening to K SUU thunder 91.1.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 18:18
That song was not for sale by Sudan archives. What a cool end to that song with like the strings coming more and more upfront in it. And as always, I want to remind you that there's a playlist that's available on our website, which is su.edu/apex. And if you go to the podcast tab, you can opt absolutely subscribe to the podcast. But also, if you're interested in the music that we play, there's a open source Spotify playlist that's called played on Apex our if you want to hear more of the music that we've played on the show, I am in the studio with Julie McKellen and we are talking about her research into Margaret Maxwell, who was a frontier taxidermist, and all of the different things that come along with that. And so welcome back, Julie.
Dr. Julie McCown 19:06
Dr. Lynn Vartan 19:07
So I want to get into more of how your research into Margaret then led to this book. So you see this picture and you discover that there's this naturalist taxidermists and then how do you go to find that her sister wrote this book about her?
Dr. Julie McCown 19:31
Yeah, so you know, once I realized there was this book that was gonna offer kind of background and history about Martha Maxwell I thought, Okay, I have to get a hold of it and I interlibrary loan it and they actually got me like a first edition copy of it and sent it to me like through the interlibrary loan, which I was like, Are you sure you want to do that? Like just give me a random like it because it was like this really antique book and I thought, you sure you want me to take that home? But then I read that and was sort of taken with it. I ended up writing about Martha Maxwell The Book of my dissertation and it was always just kind of in the back of my mind as I was learning more about Maxwell and Dart, I was realizing, like they're not talked about in any, any kind of major discussions of taxidermy. Like there's an excellent book on taxidermy, Rachel Pollack wins the Breathless zoo, is this super comprehensive look at the history of taxidermy. But it doesn't mention Martha Maxwell
Dr. Lynn Vartan 20:21
and and that's written by a woman. Yes, yeah. Interesting. And so that's a book on taxidermy written by a woman and not acknowledging. But Martha is not the only woman in taxidermy. Yeah,
Dr. Julie McCown 20:33
yeah. But it's like, you know, she wasn't mentioned in that book. I thought, that's just such a travesty, because she's so amazing, and was such a pioneer. And that just kind of had that thing stuck in my head of, I want to get this book out to more people or get it to be more accessible so that more students, more scholars can read this work learn about Maxwell, and you'll kind of restore her to her rightful place in the history of science in the history of taxidermy. And so that was just a project I had in the back of my mind. And then when I came here to Suu, I was looking for a research project. I'm like, Hey, I'm gonna do that.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 21:07
So she was a taxidermist of great skill. It wasn't that she's not known, because she just wasn't that good. Right? So talk about her, her skill and her prowess in this area. Yeah, so
Dr. Julie McCown 21:21
she was really, you know, very highly skilled, very talented at taxidermy, she invented a lot of new techniques and new sort of innovations that your other taxidermist at the time were also developing new techniques, but no one really had read had recognized her for what she was doing. So
Dr. Lynn Vartan 21:39
was this time a time of great growth in that in that area, in general,a little bit.
Dr. Julie McCown 21:45
So with taxidermy, it was, you know, it had been practiced pretty extensively by that point. And there were some, you know, what would come to be big name taxidermist who were working in the later 19th century. But taxidermy as a field at that time, wasn't as kind of professionalized and seen as like this serious like, credit to art and taxidermy until like the early 20th century, so. So maxvill is really working, kind of at the forefront of all of this.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 22:14
And so she developed some new techniques, what were some of those,
Dr. Julie McCown 22:17
so she designed some plaster body molds that she would use to, you know, drape the skins over, if you're thinking about, like how the taxidermy is actually created, you skin, the animal, and then you drape it over a plaster body mold, and the plaster body mold, that allows the animal to look more lifelike. Because if you look at really, really early examples of taxidermy, they're kind of scary looking, it's clear that, you know, the recreation of the taxidermy that's not anywhere close to capturing what the animal look like in real life. So having those kind of plaster body molds was a new thing. She also developed a special pickling solution that helped the the hides, stay soft and prevent them deteriorating, prevent insects from eating them, because that's always a problem with taxidermy, insect predation. And she was also really well known for putting her animals into natural habitat groupings. So you know, rather than just have here's a taxidermy an animal and a glass case, with nothing around it, she would put collections of her animals like in these artificial landscapes to try to recreate what they would look like out in the wild, and sort of give people that kind of vicarious experience and really a kind of more holistic understanding of these animals.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 23:32
And so talk a little bit, you know, you you mentioned you were looking for a naturalist, and I wonder if you could sort of share how she fits the mold of naturalist or maybe how she doesn't,
Dr. Julie McCown 23:49
well, she fits of mold, you know, kind of the thing there is you in the, you know, in this time period, the 19th century and earlier, you a lot of women naturalist, were really working with plants, working with botany, know, working in fields that were kind of keep them close to home, and sort of keep them within the domestic sphere. And so in that way, as a naturalist as a female naturalist, Maxwell was really this kind of, you know, outlier, and that, you know, she was working with animals, she was going out and traipsing through the Rocky Mountains climbing up like sheer cliff sides and, you know, shooting these animals and, and that way that was unusual for a woman at the time to be doing that. But that was a pretty kind of standard practice for a natural history for someone like John James Audubon, like that's what he was known for is just spending, you know, weeks and months on end, you know, trout, traipsing around the wilderness of the United States collecting bird specimens.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 24:42
So I guess when I think of the word naturalist, I think of more, you know, one who studies by drawing and that kind of thing, rather than hunting and then doing taxidermy, is that also part of what makes this Situation unique.
Dr. Julie McCown 25:01
Well, natural history natural, like natural science in America in early America. So, you know, 19th century and earlier, you know, this was all new, these were all new animals that Europeans and European settlers they'd never seen before. So it wasn't like, they couldn't go look at a textbook, they couldn't go look at illustrations, because no one had seen them before. So a big part of it was getting people to just go out like you think of like the Lewis and Clark expedition, like it was all about, okay, we have to go out into this new country or new to new to the, you know, the Europeans, you know, go out to this new place and find these animals. And you know, of course, you know, without, you know, video cameras, or, you know, rotos it was really, that was what they had to do would have to go out and, you know, shoot to the animals, and you actually bring back the, the specimens to study,
Dr. Lynn Vartan 25:53
right. And then going back to the the gender aspect of it. So, you know, how common was it for a woman to be involved in in taxidermy at that time? We talked about the naturalist angle that that was more plants for women. What about the taxidermy side? There are some I think there are
Dr. Julie McCown 26:12
some I believe, I'm forgetting her name. But there was a British woman who would did who did taxidermy a little bit before Maxwell. But really, you know, having these women doing this taxidermy was kind of this really novel, new unusual thing at the time. And that was that was part of why Maxwell had such notoriety in her day, because it was like, Oh, well, we've never seen a woman doing this kind of stuff, let alone doing it really well.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 26:39
Right. And so her, you know, her legacy was, is more or less forgotten until now until you and and why do you think that is? Like, what why has nobody stumbled upon her? Why wasn't she in that woman's book on taxidermy? And what's what do you think? Oh,
Dr. Julie McCown 26:58
that's a good question. And it's one I've thought a lot about, as I've been working with Martha maxvill. Trying to think okay, well, why, like, clearly I look at the, you know, the photographs of her taxidermy. And I'm just amazed that I'm sad that we don't have like, all of those taxidermy specimens are gone now. I think, you know, it's hard to maybe pinpoint exactly why I think some of it is obvious, and sadly, you know, is sexism is that, you know, she's a woman. And I think even though people acknowledge that she was really talented, I think there was still that sense of being dismissive or thinking of it as merely this curiosity. But I also think it's unfortunately, that Maxwell died. So Young, she died in 1881, she was only 50 years old. And I think had she lived longer, she probably would have First off, she would have kept better care of her specimens been more proactive and focused on, you know, getting getting them into a museum, getting them into a university collection, she probably would have kept on building her specimen collection. And so, you know, and she would have, you know, she had lived long enough for, you know, people to finally realize that, oh, we should save these taxidermy specimens for history and posterity, you know, then I think would have been a different story. But I think because she died when she did so young. I think that's largely maybe why we don't we haven't heard about her.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 28:15
It's so interesting, because that the image of the exhibition, you know, for the Centennial is just so striking, you would just think that somebody would have picked up on that and found that and put that in the books before now. Yeah, was it so extreme? Maybe was her work more extreme than others where she because she was doing such large scale landscapes?
Dr. Julie McCown 28:38
Um, I don't know if it was necessarily that it was so extreme, because you did have other taxidermist at the time. Like, I think maybe the most famous one is Carl Akeley. He did a lot of the taxidermy at the Natural History Museum in New York. So he did these big huge taxidermy Tablo. So I don't know if that's necessarily why it is really kind of that puzzle that, you know, all of the scientists that the day you were really intrigued by her taxidermy, they like talked about how skilled it was. I think it was just one of those things that they didn't really think about the need to preserve or save it until it was too late. Because it wasn't Yeah, it wasn't really until like the early 20th century that you had the State University of Colorado be like, Oh, we want to save this we want to go like let's go get that taxidermy now. You know, they finally recognize the value of it, but then it was unfortunately at that point, gone yeah, the collection hadn't been taken care of it been like left out in the snow like during an epic Blizzard one year and it was just Yeah, it was kind of they realized what they were had too late.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 29:41
Yeah, interesting. Fascinating. Yeah. Well, that's so cool. I have millions more questions. Um, but one more question before we we leave this in play another piece of music is that you do you think I was wonder with with people who you know really get deeply interested Do you think that she was obsessed with her work?
Dr. Julie McCown 30:04
I think that's a fair assessment, I think she was kind of very obsessed, or very sort of very focused, very driven by this. You know, she saw it very much passionately, like, you know, it was something that she was just very into and very excited about. But then she was also very aware of, you know, kind of trying to like she saw herself as this role model where she was trying to, you know, be this example of what women could achieve. And so, you know, she was trying to make sure that was she was presenting that correct public face to people and, and but yeah, I would say calling her sort of, you know, an obsessive taxidermy collector would be
Dr. Lynn Vartan 30:43
in her motivation for the work was was for knowledge. Yeah, absolutely. And that was, that's very clear in her quotes, and in the right, yeah,
Dr. Julie McCown 30:52
yeah. So she wasn't just going out and doing taxidermy like to have cool trophies on her walls or like to show like how tough of a woman she was. And like, look at all these feats of strength. I did. She was
Dr. Lynn Vartan 31:02
really opposed to that. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Julie McCown 31:05
Yeah, she was really very interested. Like, it wasn't so much like, Oh, that's such a feat of strength to go out and shoot this massive buffalo. It was, Oh, look at all of the careful observation and study and like, patient work that goes into this, and, you know, how that, you know, that's just producing this, you know, fantastic Natural History knowledge that, you know, otherwise wouldn't be there. So it was all about that pursuit of knowledge all about, you know, the sort of craft and skill that she was doing.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 31:33
That's cool. Awesome. Well, it's time for another song. And so another group that you and I share an affinity for is Isla bomba. And the song I have from them is Gabriel. And once again, you're listening to KSU youth thunder 91.1 All right. Well welcome back everyone. That was Gabriel by Isla bomba, and you're listening to KSU youth under 91.1. I am here with Julie McKellen. Welcome back, Julie. And we are talking about her research into Margaret Maxwell, the frontier, taxidermists. And, and her new book and the book is called on the plains and among the peaks, or how Mrs. Maxwell made her natural history collection. Julie, you have edited, you've done the critical edition of this book. And that means that you have made commentary, additional research and extensive introduction and really gone into more detail. But the author is Mary Dart. Tell us about Mary.
Dr. Julie McCown 35:50
Yeah, so Mary Dart is actually Martha Maxwell's half sister, and Martha and Mary were, you had a very close relationship throughout their life. And actually, shortly after Martha and her husband, James moved out to Boulder, Colorado, Mary came out to join them. And actually, Mary and Martha are Mary would accompany Martha on a lot of the hunting expeditions. And like she be right there with Martha Maxwell while she's hunting and, you know, going after all of these specimens, so she really was a big sort of supporter and and sort of source of the and was the inspiration but sort of a support system. Yeah, Martha Menya, she did, you know, help her at the Philadelphia Centennial like she would take shifts where you're, she'd be the one standing in front of the taxidermy exhibit and fielding the relentless questions from people. And so then it was also after the Centennial Exposition, you know, Maxwell with darts help decided to publish this book. And so dark kind of took the lead, but Maxwell would sort of work with her and kind of help her, you know, add stuff to the book, you know, but she was the one that really kind of spear or Mary was the one who really kind of spearheaded that, and, you know, trying to get this book off and running.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 37:09
And so the book actually starts out with quotes from the public who were at the show, is that right?
Dr. Julie McCown 37:14
Yeah, yeah, it does. It starts off with all of this kind of incredulous, like, almost disbelief like, how could you? How could a woman do this? But then it was also kind of questions about, well, how did she kill it? Like, did she kill the animals? How did she kill them? I don't see any bullet holes on them. So it was a lot of just this complete, utter fascination with it.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 37:35
What do you have any favorite stories from the book or favorite moments?
Dr. Julie McCown 37:40
Um, I think there's, there's so many moments that I think are, you know, really interesting, there's, you know, a couple of really kind of harrowing storm scenes like there's one where Martha and her daughter Mabel, were trying to descend a very steep mountain in like this raging storm with you know, it's it was at night, so it was dark. And there was these, you know, just torrential rainfall that was flooding the creeks and they're trying to descend down this mount this very sort of narrow, winding mountain path. And, you know, Mabels horse was kind of acting up and then the burro that they had was sort of being stubborn as their want to do. And, you know, Mabel almost fell off the cliff side and then almost got swept away in a flash flood at one point. And so is this like, really kind of dramatic thing, and I thought it was interesting, because it really does kind of highlight, you know, this was like, dangerous work. This wasn't just like, oh, go sit out on your porch and shoot some animals and make some taxidermy. You know, it was rough stuff that she was doing,
Dr. Lynn Vartan 38:34
and maybe it was her daughter. So she was taking her daughter along as well.
Dr. Julie McCown 38:38
Yeah, she did. She would take her daughter on these trips. Often, her husband James would follow her often Mary would come. So yeah, they they did kind of us like family camping trips that also turn dangerous and involved. Shooting animals.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 38:53
Wow. And was there any particular story that or something that you can remember from the book that was really surprising, or, you know, maybe even shocking.
Dr. Julie McCown 39:05
Um, I think the one thing that kind of really shocked me I mentioned this passage in my in my presentation earlier today was the scene where Maxwell had shot a mother bear and you know, turned this, you know, Mother Bear into a taxidermy specimen. But she had also taken the bears two cubs with her. And then she was wanting to I guess test how accurate or taxidermy Wasn't she lets these two baby bear cubs out to see her their taxidermied mother and it's this like really kind of horrific but then strange scene of like these two, baby bear cubs like first so happy that they found their mother again, but then they realized that their mother is like, not alive as a taxidermy specimen and they're just yo just beside themselves and like horribly upset and then your Martha gets upset and starts crying and takes the bears away. But that was just such a met like a surprise. prising seemed to me because it's combining, you know, the sort of violence of taxidermy and this kind of McCobb disturbing imagery. But then it's like cute, cuddly bears. And it's this weird kind of juxtaposition that, that I just found really kind of fascinating.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 40:15
Yeah. As you did this research into really both all of these women, but but and Martha in particular, do you have any sort of takeaways did it? Did it change you in in your professional life at all? Did you learn from her and in any particular way for yourself or anything we can learn now?
Dr. Julie McCown 40:40
That's interesting. I think he really maybe something that's admirable about Martha Maxwell is kind of her passion and her drive, you know, the fact that she found this, you know, this talent that she had for taxidermy and natural and natural history. And she just ran with it. It was like, This is what I want to do. This is what I was meant to do what I was put here on the earth to do and that's what I'm going to do it, you know, and she did it with passion and zeal. And you know, she did it up until she she died. And I think that's kind of you. I think that's really admirable. And she did it. You know, I mentioned in the presentation, also, she never really found financial success doing this. So it's not like she was getting rich doing it. It this really was sort of a labor of love and passion on her part. And I think there's something really admirable about that.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 41:27
Yeah. Fascinating. What would you like to see, develop in her legacy going forward? Would you like her to be world renowned? I mean, what like, where did where do we go from here? You know, you have the book. And it's out there in the world, like, what what do you hope for her legacy?
Dr. Julie McCown 41:45
I mean, I would hope that you I don't know if she will ever be world renowned. I mean, you know, girl can hope. But you know, and I think part of that is because we don't actually have her taxidermy specimens anymore. So I think that's unfortunately always going to kind of limit her reach, right? We can't see what it actually was. Because with a lot of other taxidermy pioneers, like their taxidermy specimens are saved, you can go to museums and look at them and take pictures of them. But I would like to see her kind of be restored to her rightful place. So that, you know, when people talk about taxidermy pioneers, they don't just talk about Karl Akeley. They don't just talk about these these male taxidermists, they, they talk about Martha Maxwell, and they sort of give her her do and give her her credit.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 42:31
Awesome. So I asked you this over lunch, but I'll ask you on air. Are you do you feel satisfied with what you have found from Martha? Or is there more work to be done? Do you feel like there's more information out there to find?
Dr. Julie McCown 42:48
I mean, I think when it comes to sort of archival research of lost figures, you there's always that question of, maybe there's more out there, and maybe, but I do feel satisfied with what I've accomplished with what I've put together with this book that, you know, it's really, you know, doing what I can to sort of help elevate her story and bring her to more people's attention. You know, I have hoped that maybe sometime in the future, maybe there'll be some last taxidermy specimen of hers that we can authenticate. And then I can go like, look at it and stare at it and have that kind of experience. But you know, that that's more of kind of wishful thinking on my part, I think. Yeah,
Dr. Lynn Vartan 43:27
that's cool, though. I mean, wouldn't that be amazing? If somebody came and found you and said, I think we found one is that I know, that would be remarkable. How do you authenticate taxidermy?
Dr. Julie McCown 43:37
I don't know, if I ever probably be a matter of trying to establish provenance. Yeah. Right. You know, figuring it like trying to, like follow the chain of owners. Right, right. And see if you could
Dr. Lynn Vartan 43:47
say don't sell. I mean, there's no signature or special thing or something. Yeah.
Dr. Julie McCown 43:51
And unless it was like a really distinctive thing, like if we had a photograph, and you could like, or distinctive technique that we Yeah, noticeable,
Dr. Lynn Vartan 43:59
I think it would be really difficult. Well, thank you for sharing that. Once again, the book is on the plains and among the peaks or how Mrs. Maxwell made her natural history collection. And the book is by originally Mary Dart and the addition, the brand new addition is by Julie McCowan, but you've ever done lots of other interesting research and I want to ask you about some other things. Absolutely. Okay, so stop motion puppets. Yes. Tell me about that.
Dr. Julie McCown 44:27
Yeah, so that was actually the first article like peer reviewed article labor had published. So it came about from a class I took on my doctoral work at University of Texas at Arlington. I was taking this class on animals and animal studies with the amazing Stacy Alaimo. And so I was trying to come up with you know, a paper idea like the the big seminar paper for the end of that class. And I had initially been looking at like, I don't know if you know, Wes Anderson's movie, fantastic, Mr. Fox. I was kind of taken with that and sort of playing around with the idea of maybe Writing about that film, because I really liked the look of those animals as I was wanting to look to see like, Okay, are there other films that look at that kind of have that same visual aesthetic and you know, late night research one night led me to you know, this 1937 film Taylor the fox by this filmmaker Ladislaus star vich. And yeah, it's this kind of star which is often called like the sort of anti Disney, you know, because he worked a lot like he did stop motion. He was a stop motion filmmaker, and he did a lot of work with fairy tales and folk tales like Disney does. But he doesn't go with the warm fuzzy Happy Ending fairytales he goes more with the sort of darker creepier like original Rypien stories. So yeah, the Taylor the fox that came out the same year, Snow White, and the Seven Dwarfs came out really? Yeah, yeah. But of course, it's like, you know, one of those, like, hardly anyone outside of like, really specialized film circles knows about it. But yeah, I watched a cut a version of it that was on YouTube. And I saw the animal puppets in that. And it was a similar kind of, like, fascination that I have with taxidermy. It's, you know, something that looks so much like animals and has this illusion of life. But it's an inanimate object. But actually, his puppets were made from like deer skin, and like fur for wild animals. So it kind of like blurs the lines a little further. But yeah, it was just something that, you know, kind of just ticked all the boxes. For me as a scholar. I was like, this is fascinating. And it's kind of creepy, but it's super cool. And I want to write about it.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 46:35
Wow, that's amazing. So do you like the film?
Dr. Julie McCown 46:39
I like it. It's a very weird film. So it's one of those like, if you ever do watch, I don't know if it's still on YouTube or not. I think that's really the most accessible way to find it. But yeah, you watch it, and you're going like, Oh, that's cute. You that's kind of weird. Like, wait, what this this is a kid's film. Like, it's just kind of like, you know, some like really oddly violent, creepy moments to it. And that really kind of talks about sort of speaks to animal materiality, and like how we think about and conceive of animals, so, so if you like, kind of weird off beats films, and you're like a stop motion animation, you know, kind of nerd like that, then yeah, you might like it.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 47:17
So writing about animals, researching things that have to do with animals, this seems like a common theme that you've explored in other areas. And and you taught a class about writing about animals also, is that right? Yes, yeah. So tell me a little bit more about, you know, your relationship to exploring animals and the project with animal you know, tell me more about your fascination with that. And and maybe, are there other areas you want to explore in that way?
Dr. Julie McCown 47:50
Yeah, I think my fascination with animals and animal studies, you know, I think it's partly that it's, I'm really interested in those sort of divides or binaries between animal and human and like, how we understand those categories of like, you know, well, you know, our, you know, how are humans animals? Or how are we close to animals? Or, like, what's that division? How do we think about animals? Or how do we think with animals and I just think it's a really ripe area for you know, scholars to think about these kind of big, like, almost sort of philosophical questions about, you know, how we're defining categories how we're kind of making sense of the world and, and animals really kind of highlight a lot of those like big, almost sort of existential questions
Dr. Lynn Vartan 48:37
cool, that's fascinating. Awesome. All right, we have one more song and this song is some of the great so we're gonna play energy by that artist and again, you're listening to KSUU you thunder 91.1. All right. Well, welcome back. We are going to end that song a little bit early. Because I forgot that I totally want to ask Julie about something else. But that song was energy by some of the great. This is Lynn Barton, you're listening to KSUU thunder 91.1. On the apex our if you're interested in other events and other things that we do, our website is suu.edu/apex apex. Welcome back, Julie. Thanks. Okay. I want to ask you about this amazing part of your history, which is that you discovered a last poem. Yeah. Tell me about that.
Dr. Julie McCown 52:48
Yeah. So I think this is kind of maybe one of the more interesting parts of my academic background. So my first semester, when I was at my Ph. D. program, I was in a class and we were a part of a project we were having to do, we were looking for copies of texts by this African American poet, Jupiter Hamon, who was the first published African American poet in the US. So my group was trying to find a particular document that he wrote, and I was trying to find that and I kept, you know, failing to find that. But through that path, I ended up finding this other poem that didn't fit the bibliography we had for Hammons known works. And I remember going to my professor Cedric may in that class and being like, I got this I'm not sure. Like I saw this, you know, lying in a finding aid at the Yale archives? I'm not sure. And he's like, I'm not sure either. Why don't you follow up. And it turned out, it was this poem that no one had heard of, because Jupiter Hammond has a very small body of work. But this poem was just completely unknown, it had sort of slipped through through the cracks.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 53:53
And how did you find it? I mean, you just stumbled on it. I mean, was it what did you have to dig for
Dr. Julie McCown 53:58
didn't have to dig. So what happened was I was emailing librarians, I believe, at the New York Public Library. And it was kind of like this lesson in failure. Like, I would email them, like, do you have this that I'm looking for? They'd say, No, but I'll email I'll email someone else. And then they would contact me like, Nope, don't have what you're looking for. And this kind of went on, and I just kind of kept feeling more and more like a failure. And then finally, a librarian was like, I don't have what you're looking for. But I found this entry and a finding aid. That, you know, here, here's the link to it, do what you want with it. And so it was kind of like it was hiding in plain sight, but no one had really, it never dawned on anyone what it was until I looked at it, and I took it to my professor and we're like, oh, this is something new. And it was obviously his I mean, yeah, it was obviously hasn't actually, you know, a couple months later the next semester, he and I took a like week long trip to Yale and like, went to their archives, and we did the whole authentication process. Like we actually got to look it was a handwritten document, so we got to look at it. And we like, did research into watermarks and paper styles and ink so that we could really authenticate that. Yes. And, you know, it was also things like we would compare the writing style, like there was common phrasing and things where it's like, clearly, you know, without a doubt, this is a Jupiter Hammond poem,
Dr. Lynn Vartan 55:16
I mean, to have that happen in school must have started this great sort of search for you. Because one of the things that's so great about your career is that you seem to really love going in and finding things, you know, you sort of find things and to have this experience early on. Seems pretty exciting.
Dr. Julie McCown 55:34
It was really exciting and unbelievable that it was just, you know, one of those things where it's like, you if I hadn't followed up on that, if I hadn't kept asking about it, if I hadn't taken that class, you'll all of those what ifs of it could have slipped through the cracks. And actually, that discovery is what led me to specialize in early American literature and you know, then kind of set me on my path from then.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 55:55
Fantastic. Well, thank you for sharing that. I definitely wanted to get to that. And I was like, Oh, we don't have any time, but I'm gonna get to it anyway. So my last question that I asked everyone is, is really just something that's, that's exciting you right now, and it can be anything it can be, you know, a movie or a TV show or food or whatever. But Julie McCowan, what's turning you on right now?
Dr. Julie McCown 56:18
Yeah, so a sort of silly thing that's made me happy this week. So you know, yesterday I got a new sweatshirt. I know that sounds like dorky. No, so backstory like I'm a super big fan of Golden Girls. That's like one of my all time favorite TV shows. Yeah. So yesterday, I got a sweatshirt that had it has Sophia Petrillo on it. It says like a tropical background. And she's wearing like a Gucci tracksuit. Oh, fabulous. Yeah, it's fabulous. And it was just my favorite thing. It made me so happy yesterday. And I Loki wanted to wear it for my lecture today. But I'm like it wouldn't have if it hadn't made sense. I would have but it didn't. But yeah, that was just something that just put a smile on my face when that arrived in the mail. Yeah.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 56:58
Oh, that is good vibes all around that. I mean, how can you have a bad day wearing that?
Dr. Julie McCown 57:02
I know, right.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 57:03
Thank you for sharing that. Okay, well, that's all the time we have now the book is called on the plains and among the peaks or how Mrs. Maxwell made her natural history collection by Mary Dart. And the addition is by Julie McKellen, who is an English professor at Southern Utah University and our faculty distinguished lecture for this year. Julie, thank you so much for spending time with me.
Dr. Julie McCown 57:26
Thank you. It was wonderful. Awesome, everyone.
Dr. Lynn Vartan 57:28
We will see you next week. Thanks so much for listening to the apex hour here on KSU. US under 91.1. Come find us again next Thursday at 3pm for more conversations with the visiting guests at Southern Utah University, and new music to discover for your next playlist. And in the meantime, we would love to see you at our events on campus. To find out more, check out suu.edu/apex Until next week, this is Lynn Barton saying goodbye from the apex our here on thunder 91.1