C. Suydam Cutting and East Africa

December 20, 2018 at 11:40 am Leave a comment


The Newark Museum. Collection of C. Suydam Cutting. Gift of Mrs. C. Suydam Cutting 1988.

Born into a wealthy New York family, Charles Suydam Cutting (1889-1972) graduated from the elite Groton School in 1908 and from Harvard University in 1912. He began his engineering career with M. W. Kellog Co. where he specialized in sales. During World War I and II, he served in the U.S. Army.


The Newark Museum. Collection of C. Suydam Cutting. Gift of Mrs. C. Suydam Cutting 1988. 88.1052

An avid sportsman, Cutting became a champion of indoor tennis, both on the court and off. In 1925, he and his brother won the national doubles title. However, it was his interest in the natural sciences that led him to participate in a number of expeditions to Central Asia, East Africa, and the islands of the Indian and Pacific Oceans in the 1920s and 1930s. Under the sponsorship of several museums, especially the Field Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History, where he later served as a trustee, Cutting and his colleagues collected some remarkable examples of the flora and fauna of the lands that they visited. He also took countless photographs and made several motion pictures of some, but not all, of these travels. In a series of articles for Natural History between 1931 and 1941, he recorded his experiences, and later in 1940, he published his book, The Fire Ox and Other Years.


The Newark Museum. Collection of C. Suydam Cutting. Gift of Mrs. C. Suydam Cutting 1988. 88.1075

Through the generosity of John H. McFadden and his wife Lisa D. Kabnick in honor of his sister Mary McFadden, a great-niece of Mr. Cutting, who inherited his sense of adventure, the Newark Museum is pleased to announce the digitation of some of his photographic work relating to his trip to Ethiopia in 1926.

Sponsored by the Field Museum of Natural History and financed by the Chicago Daily News, this expedition included Jack Baum, the newspaper’s representative; Dr. Wilfred Hudson Osgood, the Field Museum’s curator of mammals, and his assistant, Alfred Bailey; the famous ornithologist and artist, Louis Agassiz Fuertes; and Mr. Cutting. Fuertes’ Album of Abyssinian Birds and Mammals, published in 1930, became one of the most important – and most beautiful – scientific treatises on ornithology and mammalogy in Eastern Africa.


The Newark Museum. Collection of C. Suydam Cutting. Gift of Mrs. C. Suydam Cutting 1988. 88.1182

In Addis-Ababa, they secured the permission of the Regent, Ras Tafari Makonnen (later Emperor Haile Selassie), who entertained them in the royal palace. The southern journey took them to the Arussi plateau, “the home of the rare mountain nyala, the black bushbuck, and other rare game.” The northern journey led them to the Amharic plateau, “a complicated pattern of mountains and mile-deep canyons,” between which are “good rolling prairies.” Among the many specimens of mammals and birds that Cutting and his colleagues brought back to the United States was an alive baby dog-faced baboon, Tinnish, and three Gelada baboons, all destined for the Chicago Zoo.

Donated by his widow, Mary Pyne Filley Cutting, in 1988, these photographs document the experiences of Cutting and his colleagues. They include Galla men and women at work on the Arussi plateau, festive receptions by one of the local chieftain, Ras Hailu, in the Gojam province, scenery from the Amharic plateau and its mountains, and other aspects of life in eastern Africa in 1926.

— William A. Peniston, Ph.D., Librarian/Archivist


Credit: C. Suydam Cutting, The Fire Ox and Other Years (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1940), p.348.


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December 2018


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