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Field Museum Exhibit Tells Story Of Barrier-Breaking Taxidermist Carl Cotton

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In 1947, it was more than just rare for a Black man to work as a taxidermist at a world class museum. In Chicago, at least, it was unheard of – until Carl Cotton came along.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas shares the story of a taxidermist who didn't let anything stop him from his dream.

Maybe you haven't heard the name, but if you've toured the storied halls of the Field Museum of Natural History, you have seen the work of Carl Cotton.

"It was pretty rare for a Black man to do that kind of work during that time while he was here (from 1947 to 1971)," said Latoya Flowers, an exhibition media producer at the Field Museum.

Cotton's work now is enshrined in a different way – through an exhibit about the taxidermist himself.

"I feel like, for us in this museum, it's really important to highlight our stories as Black people; and our contributions in museums, in art, and in history. So having a story like Carl Cotton is like a major bonus," Flowers said.

It's one of several experiences the museum is highlighting for Black History Month, and if you're not quite ready for a day at the museum, the staff is making sure people can enjoy the exhibits from home.

They've put together virtual tours and even live seminars and Q&A sessions on certain topics, including Carl Cotton.

The museum paints the picture of a passionate man from the South Side who wrote to the museum's director after serving in World War II, offering to volunteer as a taxidermist. He listed a few of the most renowned in the craft, and said he wanted his work to be comparable to theirs. "not doing just average taxidermy," he wrote.

Cotton's offer was accepted, and a month later he was promoted to full-time. Keep in mind, this was still years before the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

The exhibit on Carl Cotton originally opened early last year, but when the pandemic limited attendance, the staff decided to extend it to this year.

"Now everybody knows about Carl Cotton, and they can see his work, and appreciate it just as much as we do," Flowers said.

Work done against all odds.

The museum is also encouraging people to check out their Africa exhibit and plenty of other educational discussions, including a live Zoom panel discussion with four Black graduate STEM students on their professional paths and experiences in academia.

Check out all the museum has to offer at


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