Warning: Taxidermy process pictures below.
I remember that, as a young child, I was drawn to dead things. A bird that met its untimely fate with a reflective window, maybe a tree frog that was unfortunate enough to bake in the Florida sun. I was a quiet observer with many questions.
Fast-forward 30-something years – my love for dead things hasn’t diminished. They are regular muses for my paintings, and my collection of bones, skulls, and etymology species has expanded. I took college level Anatomy and Physiology while in high school and had experience dissecting everything from earthworms to house cats (our group named ours Rick O’Mortis). I even write about other people’s dead things, like the gorgeous taxidermy of Les Deux Garçons or the beautiful, crystallized insects and bones of Tyler Thrasher.
When I realized one of my favorite local haunts, Carmine Boutique, was hosting a taxidermy workshop, it was a no-brainer for me.
Divya Anantharaman, the taxidermist who instructed us, is an award-winning artist, taxidermist, and is a taxidermist-in-residence at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, NY. Pulling from self-taught and professional training, she uses ethically-sourced specimens in her work to communicate her fascination with science, mythology, and the significance of context in mankind’s relationships with animals.
As a whole, I was pleasantly surprised at the entire process. All of my preconceived notions about taxidermy going into the workshop were incorrect. It was not “bloody” and there was next to no smell during the entire process (which took around 8 hours), as long as there weren’t any accidental punctures to the muscles or organs. (Unlike the chemical preservative smell from A&P when dissecting Rick O’Mortis over a decade ago, which I swear is seared into my brain and nostrils for eternity.) I was also surprised at how easily accessible the majority of the materials to produce a small taxidermy animal are – with the exception of a few items, nearly all supplies could be picked up at a craft or grocery store.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Diyva’s teaching style is relaxed and very hands on – if we got stuck, or needed a professionals’ eagle eye, she was just an arms length away during the class. If you got to a point where you felt stuck, she would take over, and often used other students’ rats to illustrate the next step in the process, or use a “here’s how you fix this kind of problem” example. She showed different techniques and materials to achieve a good end product, while noting her preferences for specific techniques and why they work better for her style of preservation.
Do I want to do taxidermy as a new art form or career path? Perhaps at some point – this kind of “sculpture” requires a delicate touch, patience, and a lot of practice to become adept at the art form. I feel pretty confident in the process involving skinning and the armature; however, positioning the body and its parts to stay as I intend for them to is much more difficult than projected. The skin shrinks as it loses moisture and cures, moving the smaller features like face and hands in unexpected ways. I would certainly want to take a couple more workshops (perhaps when Diyva visits Orlando for a future workshop), and need some additional practice of my own to hone my skills before I can take my #taxiderpy to the level of realism I’d prefer. However, it’s an experience I learned a lot from and am fascinated to learn more about.
Super big thanks to my husband for taking the process photos while I got my hands dirty, and to Diyva for the fun educational experience!
Follow Diyva and check out what she’s working on via her Instagram.