A Natural Talent: The Taxidermy of Carl Cotton

Category: Exhibitions

Exhibition Summary

Included with Basic admission

All ages


Included with Basic admission

All ages

See the impact of one man’s lifelong passion for art and nature.

When you walk through our taxidermy halls, there’s a good chance you’ll see the handiwork of Carl W. Cotton. Starting in 1947, he made realistic animal figures and exhibits for nearly 25 years here at the Field. Each of his creations, whether a bird pecking at the ground or a monkey poised to jump, tells a story about nature. 

In A Natural Talent: The Taxidermy of Carl Cotton, meet the person behind these displays. Unlike most taxidermists then—and now—Cotton was African American. After growing up on Chicago’s South Side and serving in World War II, Cotton went on to forge his own path at the Field Museum. 

Get to know Carl Cotton through his letters and photos, and take a closer look at the specimens he prepared. Gain an appreciation for the artistry, skill, and innovative techniques that Cotton used to shape each display.

You can also explore the story behind this exhibition in a blog post by Exhibitions Developer Tori Lee, who helped lead a months-long effort to uncover and tell Cotton's story.

Finding Carl Cotton

Two people look inside a diorama case containing fish, birds, and other animals.

Find Carl Cotton’s work around the museum

After exploring Cotton’s life and work in the Brooker Gallery, see more of his taxidermy in exhibitions throughout the Field. Refer to a map to find your way around. 

  • Ronald and Christina Gidwitz Hall of Birds (main level)

  • What Is an Animal? (main level)

  • Bird Habitats Hall (main level)

  • Reptiles and Amphibians Hall (main level)

  • The Insect World display (ground level)

We’re celebrating Carl Cotton and Black History Month with various events at the museum during February. Keep an eye out for updates to the calendar