Heralding the Way to a New World

Martha Ann Maxwell (1831-1881), Taxidermist

Stereoscope of Martha Ann Maxwell

Stereoscope of Martha Ann Maxwell

Martha Ann Maxwell, née Dartt (1831-1881), also known as “The Colorado Huntress,” was the first female field naturalist and taxidermist to obtain and prepare her own specimens. After shooting native birds and mammals, she prepared them for exhibit by reconstructing their frames in plaster and stretching the treated skins over them. She set a precedent for showing the animals in lifelike poses surrounded by a natural setting. Among her many contributions to science, she was the first person to find and identify the Colorado screech owl. In her honor, a Smithsonian ornithologist named the bird for her, Scops asio maxwellae.

To support her work and her family, Maxwell established a museum and charged admission to those who wanted to see her collection. The Rocky Mountain Museum first opened in Boulder, Colorado in 1874, and the response by experts was enthusiastic. Ferdinand V. Hayden of the U.S. Geological Survey said that “it excelled every other [museum] in the West.”

Maxwell’s displays were so celebrated that she was invited to show her work at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Her display was one of the most popular at the internationally- attended event. So many of the Centennial visitors wanted a keepsake of the display that the fair’s official photographic firm, the Centennial Photographic Company, was unable to keep up with the demand for images. Some of the facsimile images shown here are from the Centennial Exhibition and some are from Mrs. Maxwell’s Rocky Mountain Museum.


In the exhibition

Visitors will enjoy the opportunity to use a stereoscope to view facsimiles of original Maxwell photograph cards in the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection. Facsimile images from the collection Martha Maxwell Photographs and Clippings, 1875-1877 and undated.