‘Tantalus’ made from Rhinoceros Foot
Created: Rowland Ward Ltd. 165 Piccadilly St. W., London, England.
Medium: Rhinoceros leg and foot, brass, silver.
Dimensions: 34 cm. height x 18 cm. diameter
Ronald Harris worked as a mining engineer in Africa from about 1900 to 1905 where he went on a rhinoceros hunt, and was photographed after he shot the rhino. He subsequently sent the rhino foot to Rowland Ward Ltd. 165 Piccadilly St. W., London, England, that was known for transforming exotic animals into trophies and display pieces for the wealthy. Preserved and lined with a brass interior, and topped with a silver armature with a lock, the rhino foot was made into a tantalus a stand for locking up spirit decanters. It is inscribed “Rhinoceros shot by Ronald Harris, Angola 1901.”
The tantalus is evidence of Ronald Harris’s connection to the Victorian fascination with big-game ‘trophy’ hunting. The rhinoceros tantalus also provides a stark contrast with artifacts such as the monitor lizard knife pouch, elsewhere in this exhibit, which is assumed to have been made by an indigenous, African crafts-person within the context of indigenous life and traditions. In contrast, the tantalus has darker origins in big-game hunting. Ronald documented the rhinoceros hunt with a photograph of himself standing proudly beside the dead animal which is seen to have his horn and feet removed. One of the feet were manufactured into the tantalus by the Rowland Ward company. When we look closely at artifacts such as the tantalus and the photograph together we see that they document colonial, white privilege. They prompt us to ask difficult questions such as what does this say about that culture, and who do these artifacts benefit, hurt, and ignore?