Deer Unmaking

Last term (Spring 2012/13) Alex Jones (BA Hons Art History 2013) and myself had the rather surreal experience of “unmaking” a deer. As part of the departmental Art History in Schools project, we accompanied Dr Gabriele Neher to Nottingham University Samworth Academy to help out with a project aimed at raising awareness about Fallow Deer and their importance.

The Fallow Deer Project is an AHRC-funded international project hosted in the School of Humanities, Department of Archaeology under the leadership of Dr Naomi Sykes who has assembled a team of experts to look at the diffusion of Fallow Deer from 6000AD to now. It includes academics from a huge array of disciplines –  archaeologists, anthropologists, biologists, geographers, and even art historians. Such input from a range of subject and period specialists has really given this project its grounding and has made it the success it is.

We began the morning by showing the group, year 7, some medieval manuscripts about deer and how they would have been hunted and prepared. We looked at images of hunting and feasting, and got a sense of the importance of deer to the social hierarchy of medieval Europe. Deer played a crucial role within medieval communities, uniting high-born and peasants in the ceremonial hunting and “unmaking”.

Image

Then, it all got a bit more hands on. Those readers who are squeamish or vegetarian may want to look away now because… we had a had a go at preparing, skinning and butchering our own deer!

The majestic creature we saw in the school’s kitchens had been shot the previous evening  in Sussex and brought up to Nottingham that very morning; it was amazing. I have never been so close to a real deer, it was just a shame it had to be under sad circumstances but in order to educate I am sure Bambi would not have minded. In fact, fallow deer are hugely over populated, because of a lack of natural predators, and as a result, they cause a lot of trouble for landowners and farmers. Culls of the deer are already underway so this death, under the banner of education, was very useful.

The children loved it! The boys, fascinated by blood and guts, were all shocked at the removal of our stag’s “privates” but everyone had a go at skinning – with the help of our trained professional of course! Even the girls were enthused, after a bit of encouragement from myself, and my good example! We then asked the children to make their own manuscripts and drawings informed by what they had learnt from us, so we knuckled down with paints, pastels and felt tips and got drawing! Have a look at an example of what they did….

Unmaking

Unmaking a deer

The whole project was very successful and we certainly taught the children a lot about Fallow Deer and their importance, as well as affirming that deer is a very healthy meat to eat – in fact our stag was used to make venison stew for the school dinner for two days!

Charlotte Noakes-Robinson (BA Hons Art History 2013; now studying for a MRes)

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