Conservation of Gilmore the Flying Lion: Making a Decision

Why is there a lion in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s collection? Known for its aviation and space artifacts, the museum has unique pieces that illustrate the history of flight. It is a taxidermied male African he-lion, popularly known as Gilmore the Flying-he-lion. As a cub in the 1930s, Gilmore made his name in aviation history as the mascot of the Gilmore Oil Company, traveling across the United States with the colorful and colorful aviator Roscoe Turner. Together they flew over 45,000 miles until the big cat outran his place on the plane. Gilmore the Flying Lion is now on display in a new exhibit room. nation of speed The museum gallery in Washington, D.C. had to address condition issues, including extensive fur loss, minor damage, and previous repairs, before putting him on display.

The humble home of Gilmore the Flying Lion and Roscoe Turner in the mid-1930s.

This is the second in a three-part blog series on conservation measures for Gilmore the Flying Lion. In our first blog, we explored Gilmour in detail to understand its structure, previous repairs, and current state issues. These were taken into consideration when determining the level of intervention needed to bring Gilmour to exhibitable condition. Here we explore how we balanced caring for the original taxidermy with the goal of making him as close to the real thing as possible.

Lion taxidermy is a very different type of craft to consider for museum curators and conservators, and we wonder how this unique object (not just an old lion, but a flying lion Gilmore) We argued many times about how best to approach

What did we need to do?

Gilmore is structurally stable. X-rays revealed he had extensive internal armatures. You can see that he hasn’t changed since he was exhibited at the Turner family shortly after he was taxidermied (1950s-1970s). Same body, same face, same hairstyle!

(Left) Photographs of Gilmour at the Turner family home, 1950s-1970s. (Right) 2020 Gilmore image before treatment.

As we detailed in our first blog, our main concern was his appearance. Minor damage had caused his fur to fade, causing extensive fur loss and ugly marks from previous repairs. Decisions about how much to address these were difficult, as they affect his final appearance and ultimately how visitors see and understand Gilmour.

Philosophical and ethical framework

The Gilmore Conservation Team began researching examples of taxidermy animals from across the Smithsonian Institution’s collections to inform the Smithsonian Institution’s philosophical and ethical framework. Animals on display have great potential to attract public engagement and attention, but they can also invite public scrutiny. We found four distinct categories representing different aesthetic results based on how the taxidermied animals were collected and their intended use.

  1. Scientific Specimens – Collected and preserved to preserve the maximum originality of the material for research and study.
  2. Diorama Specimens – Collected to faithfully reproduce the overall appearance of certain animals in order to educate the public.
  3. Trophy specimens – hunted for sport and usually intended for personal display, are presented with a degree of authenticity, depending on the skill of the taxidermist and the wishes of the client.
  4. Iconic Specimens – Individual stories of animal heroic tales are important and preserved to recognize the place of the animal in history that is understandable to the general public. These were often examples of ‘ethical taxidermy’ where animals died from causes unrelated to the collection, in Gilmore’s case senility.

These categories range in levels of intervention from minimal restoration (for scientific specimens) to complete restoration (for trophy specimens). The iconic specimen category obscures these levels. This is probably due to the low number of these examples. The Air and Space Museum’s collection includes only two of his, Able, a female rhesus monkey, who left Earth’s atmosphere aboard a Jupiter rocket’s nose her cone in 1959, and his Flying Her Lion, Gilmore. increase. Our research explored what approaches other Smithsonian museums have taken to address iconic animals and what is the rationale for their exhibits.

Able (pictured) and a fellow squirrel monkey named Baker were placed in the nosecone of a Jupiter missile and launched on a test flight in May 1959.

Symbolic Animals: Therapeutics and Philosophical Frameworks

Curators at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum believe that Owny the Dog was adopted as an unofficial mascot by the staff of the Railroad Postal Service, and was identified with a particular “dirty mongrel” who rode railroad post office cars in the late 19th century. Decided not to recognize. The goal of restoring more ‘personality’ to the dog justified a more complex approach, such as having the face fully reconstructed by a professional taxidermist based on historical imagery.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History houses Cher Amiwas, the homing pigeon who saved 194 Americans during World War I. Sher Amiwas was shot through his leg and chest during his heroic mission and later died from the wounds. He has been displayed in his original taxidermy condition for many years.

Sher Ami, a taxidermy carrier pigeon.
Ownie the Dog, the taxidermied “sloppy mongrel” undergoes a major transformation.

Looking at these two objects alone, we can see that there is no clear one-size-fits-all approach to iconic specimens.

What should Gilmour look like?

Our Gilmore treatments run anywhere from minimal interventions, such as surface cleaning only, to full-scale restorations that aim for a more authentic look.

Changes in Gilmore’s appearance over time.

It could be argued that even if Gilmore was shown with his current disfigurement, he would still be recognizable as the African lion that was the mascot of Roscoe Turner and the Gilmore Oil Company. But can he be understood as the flying lion Gilmour? In his taxidermied state, Gilmore doesn’t look like he did when he was alive, raising questions about what he was doing. should do it It seems.

Our main questions are:

  • What is Gilmore’s ideal figure?
  • Based on our research and historical research, what evidence is there for or against changing his current appearance?


The final decision and goal regarding Gilmore’s treatment was determined to give her a more lifelike and well-groomed look as much as possible. He was structurally stable, so no changes were made to his overall shape or morphology, and we focused on his appearance. This meant getting rid of the previous fur fill, which was visually distracting and not true to Gilmore’s look in life. This philosophy carried over to his decision to compensate for fur loss and areas of light fading, which he explains in more detail in his third blog post (coming soon).

*All images are the property of NASM Conservation Staff unless otherwise stated.


The ethics of taxidermy intervention and preservation also exist in the contemporary art world, and can be seen in this article discussing the work of Damien Hirst.

Reproduction and Decline in Damien Hirst’s Natural History – Tate Papers | Tate

For more case studies on how taxidermy can be approached in museum collections, see:

Afterlife: The Museum Zoo – Google Books

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