Diamond Tooth Taxidermy

Exquisite Taxidermy Art and Design

© 2013 Diamond Tooth Taxidermy
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About Beth Beverly


I am a State and Federally licensed taxidermist who graduated from the Pocono Institute of Taxidermy in 2010 with high marks. I have a deep respect for this craft and those who strive to preserve it.

It is my pleasure to work on any trophy mount, be it a shoulder, life-size, rug, or fish.

I accept custom orders for fantasy mounts, wearables, and bridal hair pieces.

Sculptural mounts and hats are available for rental provided they are in stock at time of inquiry.

Contact me describing your wish and I will be delighted to make it so.


Diamond Tooth Taxidermy Blog:



Only four months until Christmas!

Operation gosling-tree-topper is in full swing and on I'm just about on the home stretch with this project.



Dried and fluffed: that skin had to be one of the softest things I've ever felt.  Part of me wished it was mine to use as I wished; I would've fashioned a pair of earmuffs out of it.







While drying the skin I was presented with a new fronteir: molting.  I had been completely unaware that birds went through this process until my friend Bailey the Hen-Master enlightened me to this phenomenon.  While skinning the goose I'd noticed some skin peeling off his legs, not unlike a snake, but thought nothing of it.  But when the downy feathers around his neck began falling out en masse while drying, I started to panic. I looked up "goose molting" online and found out that young geese molt for the first time at 8-10 weeks, at which point their flight feathers come in. ( I also learned that geese are one fo the few monogamous species occurring in nature and mate for life.)  Molting occurs annually and is a family experience.  They try and stay close to the water at this time as an escape plan from predators, since they can't fly.  Reading this, I was reminded of a night, weeks ago, when two friends and I were cutting through a field out in the suburbs to walk to another friend's house.  There were geese everywhere and it looked like  we'd just missed a giant pillow fight.  Now I understand why.  It's molting season, and Bobby the goose must have been just entering his first molt when he passed.



I managed to handle the skin very carefully and keep the loss to a minimum.



This was not an easy mount by any means; the skin was extremely delicate and I had to handle it with surgical precision to keep  from losing any more feathers. The underformed wings presented a challenge as well, being completely new territory to me.  Needless to say, once I had him sewn up and carded, my sigh of relief could be heard from blocks away, I'm sure.











I've still got more to do, but I'm over the hump and quite pleased about it.

What are you, trying to be humane?





That is a very tiny picture of me shooting a firearm for my first time.  Another phase in the progression of me becoming a hunter, in small increments.



My friend Larry at The Firing Line in South Philadelphia was gracious enough to host myself and some friends the other evening for a shooting lesson. Some of us had handled guns before, some (me) had not.  I think I did OK for my first time; it's much more difficult that I'd imagined.  So many things to think about at once-I felt somewhat overwhelmed.    I'm comforted by recalling how intimidated I was by driving a car a first though, with that same inundated-with-information feeling, and years later I am one of the best drivers I know.  These things just take time.



That said, I think I did OK.  We shot with a very simple handgun first; at least I hit the target.  Then we moved onto a rifle, which I liked because the long barrel made aiming easier.  It was also very unthreatening: quiet, no recoil, and a simple single bullet load.  Plus it felt very marching bandy.  We then moved onto revolvers, which was like throwing fire right out of my hands.  A little more intense than I'd prefer but one had laser sights which made hitting the target a snap.  I was trying not to "kill" my cartoon robber-guy, so I shot his shoulder and hand.  I thought this was very thoughtful, but all I got was a couple chuckles from the peanut gallery.







While our group of noobs was in our little stall with Larry, there were guys coming and going, getting some shooting in after work-a sort of happy hour, I suppose.  I was initially shocked at how loud the shots were.  It took an hour or so to shake off the unnerving feeling of being surrounded by so much potential killing power.  I mean, maybe this is just because I'm so new to this but it felt like walking into that place was the ultimate excercise in trust of the sanity of strangers.  What if one of those guys just snapped and aimed his gun at someone else?  What if one of us just ran out into the range?  This wouldn't be the first time I've had morbid thoughts like this...sometimes I'm just astounded by the fact that society works.  People just...behave.  Driving on a highway, anyone could lose it and start a fifty car pile-up.  But we all keep the wheel straight and go with the flow.  And we trust that everyone else will do the same.  When I was a child in class, I used to fantasize about what would happen if someone jumped out of their desk and ran up to the teacher and punched him.  Or screamed an obscenity at the top of their lungs.  Or jumped out the window.  Perhaps I've got a touch of insanity bubbling just beneath the surface and I understand that I have to follow the rules to exist in this world, perhaps I was bored and yearning for something to break the monotony of my days.  Or maybe we're all like this and have that ingrained sense of carnal, unpredictable self buried in our psyche but the knowledge that we all are connected and what's trouble for one is trouble for all.



And then there's always the few poor SOBs that actually do snap.  Not me though: I love my life, I love my people, and I love the world too much.



So shooting.  I enjoyed it.  I want to do it again.  But what I really need to focus on is practicing my bow.  That's the next step. Soon enough...

Here's Dolly!

Yesterday I paid a visit to a friend's urban chicken farm just a mile away from my own home.  I had no idea such a vast array of hen species existed mere blocks away from me.  I imagined a few chickens in a little coop but what I saw was astounding...the back yard opened up, curled around the house and everywhere I looked, chickens, chickens chickens!  Unfortunately I didn't have the foresight to bring my camera so I grabbed a few stock images to show as examples of some of the many breeds I saw.



Baily, the chicken master,  explained to me the different types, but I'd be lying if I said my eyes didn't partly glaze over as I imagined the wonderful challenge of mounting each beautiful specimen.  The types with the feathers on their feet  (I call them Mummers), the gene mutation which results in curly feathers, the poof on the head...etc.  He had 'em all.  I was surprised at the minimal odor and noise.  Quite a feat to manage so many creatures on such a modest property.  Very impressive.











The main purpose  for my visit was to purchase some of his eggs, as his hens have been rather productive lately.  I got 2 dz (1 for my family, one for a friend) and carefully loaded them into my bag.  I had some other items from grocery shopping that I had to move around to make room for the eggs, and I have never been more nervous riding my bike home.  Such precious cargo!  I was so worried about breaking one.  I've ridden my bike with eggs purchased from the supermarket before and gotten home to find a busted one a few times, but it never bothered me much. They were just mass-produced, anonymous eggs.  But now...after I'd met all the hens, held some of them, talked to every one, called them by name....their fruit was so much more valuable to me.  This is the type of appreciation I strive to have for all things I consume someday. 



I scrambled one for dinner (seen here with cottage cheese and capers) and savored each delicious bite.







This is why I want to source my own meat.  I want to break out of my own pattern of blindly consuming with no real appreciation, knowledge or responsibility (aside from financial) for where my nourishment comes from and how it came to be.  This experience inspired me to finally get off the fence and sign up for my trapping/hunting safety course in September, a legally required step in order to obtain my bow hunting license.  Come October, with the help of some experienced friends, hopefully I'll harvest my first deer and have sweet, healthy venison to eat for many months!





Duck, Duck.....Gosling.

A few weeks ago I got a call which I'd been expecting, regarding an unusual pet a friend of mine was keeping.  It seems that his baby goose, or gosling, had passed away quite randomly.  My friend had found the little guy while out on the water one day; he was paddling around on his own and took to his new human companions well.  So well in fact, that they brought him home.  For the next few weeks this little goose dined on gourmet and locally grown fare, enjoyed plenty of love and lived what could be considered a very charmed life.  I had expressed my desire to mount the specimen once the time had come, however it came sooner than all of us expected.  One day he just croaked.  And this is where I come in.



I'm starting to think  should explore the business of pet taxidermy.  It's an aspect of the trade many people inquire about, and an extremely divisive topic in the taxidermy world.  Most taxidermists look down upon pet-mounting; in fact the first rule in my old taxi-text book was to never, ever stuff a pet.  The main reason for this is that you can't recreate the exact creature that was known and loved by its human.  I often look at my own cats and wonder if I could ever come close to replicating the little wrinkles in the nose, the expressiveness in the eyes and exact position of the mouth.  I don't know if I could, but I am so intimately familiar with the way my two cats move that if I were succeed on any creatures if would be them.  (Sometimes though I look at the way my one younger cat lays about, and the bizarre angles he puts his neck and limbs into just screams Bad Taxidermy).  If I were to attempt this on a stranger's pet, however, it would be nearly impossible, seeing as I'd never met the pet in its living days.  Sure, a photo would help but I have another, slightly twisted idea.  Suppose you know that you'll want something creative done with your animal after it passes: contact me while it's still living and we'll arrange for several visits in which I can get to know the pet, the way it moves, etc.



I understand this all sounds very far-fetched but I'm just throwing it out there.  Also, I like the idea of incorporating fantasy into the pet-mount.  For instance, this baby goose I've been commissioned to do:



He will be embellished with some angel (white pigeon) wings and a halo, and ultimately serve as a Christmas tree topper.  Does this sound tacky?  Perhaps, but I think if executed with taste could actually be a sincere and touching tribute to a lovely creature who brought happiness to many people.  This is a genre I'd very much like to explore further with pets.



Back to the goose.  I was excited to handle the premature skin, as it was still covered in down and had yet to grow any real feathers.  The wings were very much under-formed, rather cute actually:







Upon skinning I was treated to a relatively fat-free creature.  Geese are known for their ridiculous fat content, and after working with virtually nothing but ducks for so many weeks it was a relief to just find skin.  Greasy and paper-thin, delicate skin, but I'll take that over spending hours trimming fat away any time.  The humans were curious as to what had brought on the little guy's demise, but I didn't really see anything out of the ordinary.  While cleaning out the skull and beak I noticed some food still in his mouth, so I suppose choking is a possibility, but I don't know much about goose behaviour so I really can't say.  I think the fact that he was alone when they first adopted him speaks volumes, as in there may have been a reason his parents left him behind.



 



More to come!

Perhaps the only nursery I'll ever feel comfortable in.

Today I was gifted with an unexpected litter of little ones while skinning what I had initially thought was just a chubby mouse.  I was splitting her open and couldn't seem to keep the guts under wraps, so to speak.  I just kind of figured I'd have a messy one on my hands and then I really looked at what was spilling from inside the carcass.  Two little fetuses!  I gasped, apologised to the mouse and left the studio to collect my thoughts.











I'm constantly surprised at what rattles me in this practice; I'm OK with death, guts, blood, gore, just about everything that comes with the territory.  This marks my first encounter with a pregnant specimen, however, and I'd be lying if I said my heart didn't break just a little bit.  I recalled finding the mama mouse on the sidewalk while on a jog through South Philly and sticking her in my spandex so I could get home and put her in the freezer.  While I ran, I speculated on the cause of death, which I assumed to be poison seeing as it had no marks and was just lying right in the middle of the concrete.



Then I thought about how I never find female specimen; I'm always skinning male mice, male squirrels, male foxes, and lamenting over how annoying it is to work around their genitalia.  I get my first female and she's a total doozy!



I collected myself and got down to business, extracting each adorable little unborn mouse from the carcass and burning sage for every one, which totaled 8.  EIGHT!  I can't believe there was room for all of them.  Most still were encased in their umbilical sacs:











I carefully freed them all from their casing and laid them all out. Each one was in just a slightly different position; some had arms outstretched while others kept their itty bitty paws crossed.  I saw what was clearly the runt of the litter, much tinier and paler than the others with an underdeveloped left foot.  I imagined the types of personalities they might've developed had they come to term, and then I thought about something a friend said to me once' about fetal positions.  I'd been remarking to her about how I constantly sleep in this one pose with my arms up and crossed behind my head, to the point of cutting off my circulation nightly.  She suggested that perhaps I'd slept like that in the womb, and the notion stuck with me.



So what am I doing, a taxidermist assigning personalities to unborn mouse fetuses?  My instructor would laugh at me if he were to read this.  The very hunters whose business I desire might wonder just why they should entrust me with their fresh kills.  Well, I guess having emotions doesn't affect my skill set.  Perhaps this experience just triggered something in me, seeing something so tiny and vulnerable that never even got a chance.  When I resumed skinning the mouse, I saw that the cause of death was a blow to the head.  Her skull was cracked and bleeding internally.  Note the dark red spot on the head:







Maybe she fell, or got hit by something, I'll never know.  But I feel honored that I was the one to find and preserve her and her family, saving them from an undignified end like rotting on the street.  I hope my honestly as far as how this experience has affected me feel doesn't rob me of any street cred, per-se, in the eyes of potential clients.  What I'd like to convey is that I understand death is a part of the way we live, I accept it, I embrace it, and I treat the dead with respect and compassion.  I think this philosophy holds true with most taxidermists; something the general public would be surprised to learn.



As I write this, I've got my litter sitting in a jar, preserving, keeping me company.  My morbid little nursery.







Next up was a baby bird, of sorts, one that deserves his own post.  More to come!  For now, I need to turn up the volume on the Bill Burr podcast I'm listening to so I can drown out the sound of what could possibly be my biological clock ticking away.

If there WAS a hat contest, you would've won the whole thing.

Last Sunday I took my gals back out to the Brandywine Polo Club for the 1st annual Philadelphia Cup.  This time we didn't work so hard; we just snagged ourselves some VIP tickets and hung out in the tent with the open bar (where the bartenders were pouring the BlueCoat with very heavy hand, if I may say so.  No complaints!).  While bringing our own tailgating supplies is fun too, on a super hot day it's nice to have the luxury of a VIP tent and everyone else doing the work.  Plus a DJ.  You's almost forget why we were there...







Oh yes-the game!  In between getting to know some of the members and networking with my hats  (it really was too bad there wasn't a hat contest but I'll take being showered with attention any day) we caught some excellent polo-pony action, and luckily wound up rooting for the winning team!







However, I think it's agreed that we all know who the REAL winners are.  My fascination with all things anatomical has me quite interested in horses; particularly polo ponies.  It takes a certain breed of horse to play polo; one that is shorter in the back and able to turn on a dime, one who is also capable of short bursts of speed comparable/greater than that of a race horse.  I imagine they're pretty intelligent too, as some basic understanding of what they're tying to achieve on that field must be present.  I can't help but marvel at their graceful, delicate looking ankles and how they hold up all that weight while gracefully trotting, running, turning, ect.  Having dissected a horse leg myself (I'm still working on the shoe; updates next month I swear) I have  a more vested interest in seeing these muscles in action for reference, as well as appreciation.



Those bandages on the front keep them from getting hurt when they get inadvertently whacked with a stick.







Speaking of sticks, one fo the female players from the winning team happened by and chatted us up while we admired the horses.  She was a darling by the name of Kathy Whitman and even gave us a brief lesson in hitting the ball.







That's Rachel Lynn K, our photographer for the day, and as you can see a real beauty.  All the ladies wore my hats swimmingly.







And look who we ran into!  One of my adversaries from hat parade past, Lauren St. Clair!  It's more fun to compete with people you really like, so we've become fast friends.  She even invited us on one of her gastronomical adventures taking place later in the day.  If you haven't heard about her eating her way through Philly, act like you know, fool.  Where all the food goes on that little frame is beyond me, though.



I know, I need a tutorial on how to mug for pictures.  I look like some kind of crazed animal.







Here's Eva in my squirrel hat; she was gracious enough to wear it and I think it gave her super powers....the unexpected side effect of wearing taxidermy on your head!







At halftime we all went out on the field to stomp the divots and surprise a sweet little red Ferrari (OK, I know nothing about cars so that's all you get) drove out on the field with Miss. Philadelphia sitting on the back with Maria Papadakis, both of them waving to the crowd.  While they're pretty and nice and all, the REAL sweet stuff was in the trunk which was filled to the brim with bottles of Veuve!  Those were promptly opened and we all enjoyed a toast ( or two or three) on the field.



When the game resumed we all took turns imagining ourselves driving such an exquisite piece of machinery.











Back in the tent, my hat was still commanding plenty of attention.  These ladies were pretty bummed about Mexico losing their world cup game earlier in the day but I think petting my duck lifted their spirits somewhat.







Handsome creatures:















And the winners!  What a fantastic day.



Kids and guns and ducks and bikes.





Welcome to your future.

A couple Saturdays ago I spent the day out in the Great Northeast at the Holemesburg Fish & Game Protective Association giving lectures on taxidermy to the youth of America.  I tend to be very awkward around children; I don't understand them, I find them too unpredictable and difficult to communicate with so it's probably not hard to imagine me lying awake the night before wondering just what the hell I was supposed to say to these kids.  I had no idea what to expect.







What I got was a mixed bag of awesome and insane.  I set up my booth and braced myself for the impending waves of children.  They came in groups of ten, I would talk for about twenty minutes, and the next group would arrive.  Some were as young as four, and were quite enthusiastic about grabbing my deer legs right off the table and beating my coyote rug with them.







Some were as old as 19, and I found them much easier to speak with.  In fact, a good deal of the young people there were part of an organization called "Police Explorers", which is basically like young junior cadets.  The police academy was right next to the park, and these kids come out and train every weekend.  They were in full uniform, complete with polished boots and utility belts with mace and cuffs.  I found them incredibly fascinating; they were all engaging, articulate, and driven.







Very impressive.  Over at the Academy a SWAT team was performing detonation drills and one of the officials came over to warn me about the impending blasts.  I told him I'd already heard (felt, actually) the first one and he explained that no, that was an actual device being detonated and not a drill.  They'd picked it up in Germantown the day before.  I think the junior cadets were laughing at me as my jaw dropped.  "I didn't hear anything about that on the news," I said, to which one of the teens responded, "That's cause people would go nuts".



I was really starting to like these kids.



There were other stations set one, one was a fur trapper:







He was popular because he brought a trap and had kids stick their fingers in it for fun.



Then there was the local game commissioner.







Oh, and shooting.







Lots and lots of shooting.  Balloons as targets, cause it was a youth event I guess.  That's my buddy David below, he's a really nice kid and budding taxidermist!







Shooting black powder...or muzzle-loading, I'm still not entirely sure.







Cross bow shooting-I made friendly with that guy later in the day and he gave me some tips on tuning my bow.  Now I just need to get some arrows and find a place to practice.







Overall, it was a rewarding experience. I'm still editing the video footage from the day; it includes the motorcycle rally that came through out of nowhere.







Oh, and after seeing myself in my boyfriend jeans from the back, I will never be wearing them again.

Squirt.

This morning I was skinning a duck in preparation for a taxidermy demonstration I'll be giving on Saturday.  I plan on having some finished mounts as well as a cured skin to show various stages in the process.  Sounds fine right?  Except it's for children.  Children terrify me.  Last night I was envisioning speaking to them and I cringed at myself as I lay in bed, marveling at what a nerd these kids will think I am.   I was a kid once, and I know first hand they are cruel, and nothing people over the age of thirty do could ever be cool.



Wait, WHY do I care what a bunch of children think of me?  I guess at the end of the day I don't.  Amway, I'm thinking about all this as I skin my duck, and I'm at the head. I'm angling my brain-spoon around the back of the eye sockets to free the eyeball and SQUIRT!  A stream of black eyeball juice lands upon my shirt, my arm, my face, MY EYE.  I have duck eye juice in my human eyeball. This was the first time I popped one, and I never knew how inky the liquid is.  I wonder if it could be used as dye?







After cleaning up that mess I was able to focus on the task at hand, only to find a very broken wing.  Break one, humerus bone:







Break two, radius and ulna:







It's not really that big of a deal when wings are shattered like this but it does pose a challenge when skinning.  It's relatively easy to use the whole arm for leverage when working the skin off, but when the arm is just a pile of mush there isn't much to hold onto.



Thankfully I had my studio mascot there to keep me company while I worked.







Ever since I cleaned my studio and organised it in a fashion which is conducive to how I work, it's been a nonissue having the cats around. Frankie sometimes manages to sniff out any mouse tidbits I have hiding around but aside from that he doesn't care to get into the other animals.  It's very pleasant to have him sleeping at my feet in his little patch of sun while I work.



This is my newly cleaned studio.  It may look cluttered but I have a ton of stuff in a very small space.  Amazingly, everything has a home and I know where it lives.







Work table and mini freezer:







Supply shelving, windows, and Frankie!









Some of these things were never like the others...

Here are some new pieces that I just got around to getting decent pictures of, thanks to my full time live-in photographer James Coughlin.  You can see more of his work  at Snap Blam Splat.  Honestly, I don't know what I would do without him.  Well, I do actually, I would pay through the nose to rent the equipment and go insane trying to figure it all out. Dude makes a wicked tie-dye too.



This is the hen from a month back; I just got her back from the "Other Nature" how at BahdeeBahdu, which received a nice write-up on Cool Hunting.  I wound up going with the name "Nascita Typica".



















This is the hat I wore to the Polo Cup;it's a female Bufflehead which has been embellished beyond the point of no return.



















And this is the male Bufflehead hat I wore to the Devon horse show a couple of weeks ago.  He's naturally flashy so I let his real colors shine.











Never enough Chuckers

Yesterday two of my best gals and I took a field trip out to the Brandywine Polo Club for a Chester County hospital fundraiser game. It was a lavish affair and I have to say, for a crew of newbies, we really did it well.  We parked our picnic blanket in front of what turned out to be the tents of seasoned club members who took us under their wings and enlightened us to the nuances of the game.  We also brought a few bottles of champers and grapefruit juice (greyhounds, baby) and plenty of snacks.



OK, enough beating around the bush. I won.  The set-up was such that the hat ladies had to just walk around and get noticed by the judges.  Trust me, wearing a dead duck on your head gets plenty of notice.  I left a wake of cocked heads all up and down that bitch.  I posed for pictures with the other winners.  I posed for pictures with old men.  I posed for pictures that I may not have even been in.  I love cameras that much.



At half time, before they announced winners, us gals got to march onto the filed and stomp the divots of upturned grass back into place.  I came really close to working my clog into a "steamer".  I'll let y'all figure that one out for yourselves.







A few minutes later the winners were announced and paraded out onto the field.  It's hard to tell but the little girl up there was wearing a hat with a bird's nest on it.  She was a very gracious adversary.







As we learned more about the game during the second half, we all grew a bit more invested in the outcome.  It didn't hurt that one of the players on the winning team is apparently the rock star of the club.  Women were practically fainting all over the place every time his horse charged by.  Guess which one:







I don't know, I think it's more about the gear and the horses than the man.  Not to discredit all the oodles of talent on that field though.  We three caught the fever, and I for one am eager to get back and have another taste.   Where else can I wear taxidermy on my person?

Hat Parade High Jinks

Last week my gal-pal Sarah and I trotted out my two new hats to the Devon horse show and participated in the hat parade.  I went the conservative route in terms of design, something I'm happy I tried but don't think I'll do again.  Notice how both birds are completely lacking in embellishment. I figured I would embrace the beauty nature had given them but in the end I feel like they fell short.  Plus I only came in third. I think if I'd gone with my gut I would've swept the whole thing.







As soon as I snatched up my yellow ribbon Sarah and I embarked on our mission of getting as intoxicated as possible on the free Cartier Champagne in the judges stand. I, to ease the crushing sense of failure and disappointment in seeing what I felt entitled to go to someone else.  Sarah, well she just likes free booze. We brown bagged a fifth of voddie, bummed some smokes off a carnie or two and called it a day.







You can take the girls out of Philly...but you can't make them drink.  Rather, you can lead a fillie to water, but...



Oh nevermind I've got to get back to work on a new hat.  Sunday is another hat contest and I'm going armed with the knowledge of how these things work this time.  Well, not really because I'm still clueless.  Pretending to be wealthy is exhausting; I can't wait until I actually am the real McCoy just so I can relax already and kick my feet up without worrying someone will see the trace of a neon green sticker on the bottom of my second-hand Ferragamos.



Until then, I will keep faking it until I make it.  I'll check in again after the Polo Cup so set your eyes to tranquil because my next post will be full of BLUE.

Darning Ducks





Yesterday I finally got around to paying the piper in regard to stitching up all the holes I created in my duck skins while degreasing them last week.  The darning process added about an extra hour to the mount time, for the two ducks combined.  Here's some sewn up holes:







One of these Buffleheads was just about shot to bits; there was no leg bone to work with, a shattered wing bone, and buckshot in the beak.  Plus, when I was skinning it I pulled too hard when I reached the neck area and just about tore the entire hood off the damned thing.  Sewing that up yielded no results as the whole creature just looked more pathetic the farther I got.  PLUS I must not have degreased him enough because my fingers kept getting oily as I worked.  I don't mind the finger oil (in fact it feels quite nice on my dry skin) but once I start transferring the oil from my fingers to the feathers on the exterior of the skin, they appear yellowed and dull.  I could always proceed and then clean the feathers  afterwards but that doesn't mean the oil residue on the inside won't bleed out through the skin eventually.



When good ducks go bad. Very, very bad:







I'm not sure how everything went SO WRONG on this one duck but I'm very thankful that all the mishaps were concentrated on him while the other one mounted so easily it was as though I were in a dream-state.



I positioned him on a hat (the 2nd for my Devon Horse Show series) and although he may look slightly unnatural, I wanted the wing to arc around the brim of the hat and frame the wearer's face. I'm trying to achieve just the right balance between whimsy and realism.



Duck Doilies

I've been working on two male Bufflehead ducks the last few days, and shoot are they full of fat.  They're also gorgeous.  Sorry I don't have any pictures of the exterior at this point but they're tanning right now; I'll post images later.  Besides, all the pretty iridescent feathers are covered in fat and blood.  Gender role reversal is a constant thought running through my head while I work on birds; the males are always so pretty and flashy in order to attract the females while the "fairer sex" is usually drab and brown in order to blend in and protect her young.  In humans it seems to be quite the opposite although I suppose with there is a flashy breed of male out there...but for the most part its us gals doing the primping.  I also find worth noting that the male ducks seem to have much more fat on them than the females, at least the ones I've worked with so far.  The two female Buffleheads I worked on took considerably less time to degrease than the males I just finished up with.







I don't have a degreasing machine yet so I've been doing the dirty work by hand.  It's a slow, tedious task but one I enjoy.  As someone who relishes the satisfaction of successfully extracting gunk from clogged pores, the site of a fat-covered pelt waiting to be trimmed excites me.  It's an easy solution; no thinking involved really.  It does take concentration though, since just underneath all that fat is tissue-paper-like skin.







It's common to wind up with little holes in your skins when degreasing by hand, hence the term "duck doilies".  I don't mind so much; it's just more sewing work down the road.



Here's a visual on how fatty these boys are.  The left circle is pre, the right one, post.  It gets tricky cutting just the right amount off without going through the skin.







This is all the fat blobs I got off the last one.  See all the oil in the paper?  I feel like I should be cooking with this stuff.







More holes...







More lipo....







More holes..







Here's the second female I mounted last week.  I'm using her for a hat that I plan to enter into a fancy hat parade of sorts, an event which is part of the Devon Horse Show.  I want to make several head pieces and convince some of my girlfriends to wear them around the fair while handing out cards for me.  This hat is obviously far from finished but I'm very pleased with the positioning.  I think it will most certainly turn some heads.







Stay tuned!



A Good Lay

I dropped my finished hen off at a gallery yesterday for a show that opens on Thursday.  No pictures yet until she's been properly unveiled but here are some progress shots:



I posed her mid egg-lay, with one already out.  I wanted the eggs to be hatching, and unique.  I drilled many, many holes and set tiny little gems all over the shell.  This can be very stressful but I used to decorate hollow eggs quite frequently as a little girl and have kept my fingers nimble so I found the experience rewarding.







Of course, all the muscle memory and dexterity in the world can't save me from my inner klutz and I rested my hand in a paint puddle which I then brushed against the hen and parts of the base.  When I saw this happening I freaked out and dropped the entire thing, egg shells and all.  Miraculously, nothing broke and the paint came off.







Here is a close-up of the hind-section of Mrs. Hen.  It's kind of gross but I consider it a valiant effort to accurately portray the "birth" of an egg.  I'd like to try again, now that I have more experience to build upon.







I will decide upon a title for this piece today...the term "Typical Birth" kept running through my head as I was creating it.  This is mostly because I overheard a trifling and pretentious old witch of a gallery owner/NY art scenester exclaim very loudly that my work was "SO TYPICAL"  at the show in Brooklyn. It really stung...and I've thought about it quite a bit.  After so much reflection though, I realise that I'm not insulted by what she said.  I know my work isn't typical.  Yes, taxidermy is on the rise- especially the subgroup that my work falls into but there are many nuances which set my pieces apart from the rest.  I think what bothers me most is the way she announced it so flippantly, surrounded by her little circle of employees who know where their bread is buttered so they smile and nod and humor her while she carries on her one-woman show.  I suppose I could've made a dig at her, like "Those who can't DO,  critique." but I know that's not entirely true and what would that accomplish?  I think when I saw her lapping up the attention of all those around her and mistaking it for genuine respect, I was reminded a little of myself in my more obnoxious, drunken look-at-me moments.  And I was grossed out.  I suppose I should thank this woman for inspiring me to be a better person.



Obviously, I haven't let it go for one reason or another, but it's got me exploring the concept of "typical" and wondering when is it ever a good thing to be refered to as.  Regardless, "Typical Birth" sounds boring.  Perhaps in Italian?



nascita tipica



Not bad.  If all else fails I'll just go with plan B and call her "A Good Lay".

New Stuff.

























Works in Progress

Here are a few pieces I've been working on for a show in Brooklyn opening this week.



This is the bear paw I was administering a manicure to recently.  While making the pice in my mind I was thinking about bears leaving the woods and coming into suburban areas in search of food.  I imagined the bears deciding they like suburban life and getting mani/pedis alongside the soccer moms.  Do soccer moms still exist?  Is that even a relevant term?







I went to the Wagner Institute recently for a lecture on taxidermy.  While there, I took in the massive shell collection.  The notion of combining mammals with shells struck me nad this is the first in a series.







Here is a bufflehead duck; her neck is stretched as an experiment.  I found it extra tricky to get the feathers to lay correctly while stretching the dermis in this fashion but the finished product came out OK.







Finished pieces to be posted shortly.

Manicures for bears and busted skulls

I skinned two ducks the other day; the guy who shot them really did a number on one in particular.  I originally was going to post some pre-skinning pictures but it occurred to me that it might be a tad too graphic.  Let's just say that the head was crushed, legs were broken and wings were bent.  Definitely a fixer-upper.



Here's the skull itself; perhaps you can imagine how distorted it may have looked with the skin on.







I actually don't mind so much when the head's a bit smashed; it makes the skull easier to clean as I don't feel the pressure to be so gentle with all the little nooks and crannies.  Every time I clean a bird skull, I hear my instructor's voice in the back of my head: "Just attack it.  Attack that skull."  And that's what I do.  I get it as clean as possible and have even developed some of my own techniques post-school to achieve maximum spotlessness.  Ducks have a fair amount of brains, (of which extracting is my favorite part of the process) and I'd like to try brain tanning sometimes soon.



After spending two days skinning the chicken and the two ducks (most seasoned taxidermists would have had all three skinned, degreased and mounted in one day, by the way) I couldn't get my mind out of the dissection zone and everything around me was looking like a specimen.  This happens to me from time to time and it can be difficult to shake.  I look at everyone's knees and see the tendons I've so effortlessly been slicing on birds.  I feel around my throat with my hand and conjure a mental image of a my slit wind pipe, open and exposed right next to my draining jugular.  I pet my cats and think how easily the tail skin slips right off the bones of a mouse.



As grotesque and disturbing as it may sound, please rest assured that I am not about to go all Norman Bates on everyone.  I'm just seeing things very anatomically right now.  Once you become intimate with the sight, smell and touch of the insides of a creature ( a mouse's delicate and miniature intestines, for example) you don't look at them the same.   I'm sure Med students must go through this in spades.



Speaking of mice:







These guys/this guy isn't finished yet; I still need to fix up the faces and add in eyes.  Its kind of a Siamese twin mouse.  I bought these feeder mice (already dead and frozen) from a pet shop; and intend to throw the carcasses into the alley down the way for all the hungry stray cats so they won't go to waste.



And while all this was going on I was adding coat after coat of polish to my bear paw.  It took some brainstorming to devise a method in which I could paint the nails without the fur getting in the way, but I'm on the right path.







Finger condoms!

Hen Party

Back in school, my instructor gifted me a hen of his that had dropped dead one morning after dutifully laying eggs for however long hens typically live.  He mentioned the death that morning in class and of course I asked him what he was doing with the body.  He laughed and said his wife was too attached to do anything aside from bury it.  Wouldn't you know though; after lunch he came back to the work-shop with a bulky, ten pound plastic bag and said "don't say I never did anything for ya."



He suggested mounting it in a little nest and selling it to a stall at the farmers market for a display and I was all YAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWN.



This baby's gonna be laying some fabrigee eggs if I have anything to say about it.  Which I do, because I'm the one mounting it.  I intend to make her  into the piece I'm submitting for a group show at a local gallery for an upcoming show called "Other Nature."  I'm going to attempt to capture the moment the egg actually exits the body so I've been watching reference videos online and getting my facts straight.  Have you ever watched a chicken lay an egg?  It's pretty gnarly.



It took her two days to thaw out; and I commenced skinning yesterday.  It was going great until I was down near the legs, working on getting the tail disconnected and I felt a stream of cold liquid gush down my arm.  At once my nose told me it was piss.  Chicken piss.  I must've punctured the bladder somewhere or something but the stench had me gagging.  I can pretty much stomach  any odor but urine remains my Achilles heel as far as my iron stomach goes.  I've lived in a city for almost half of my life and I still gag and shudder every time I walk by a patch of wino-piss on a sidewalk or alley.



I wiped off my arm, burnt some sage and kept on truckin'.



I'm no fan of cleaning skulls; it's dirty and laborious.  I do find it very fascinating though.  Here is a chicken tongue:







I drew a sight line from the newspaper image's face indicating where the portion which would be exposed from the beak-view is.  The rest is all in the back of the mouth/throat.  I guess that's  how our tongues lay?  The hole in the back interests me; I wonder what purpose it serves.  If I ever want to compete, I'll need to learn how to pickle tongues.  Prefab plastic parts are a big no-no.



Here she is, skinned.  Her feathers are so beautiful and soft; I very much look forward to taxi-ing the skin on a form.







I'm debating on leaving her ID band on her ankle, in honor of where she came from.



Another view of feathers:



Sitting Pretty

On a positive note, I successfully finished mounting one of two Starlings for a custom order today.  It gives me great satisfaction to emerge on the successful side of a challenge like this.  Dying them was an adventure unto itself and getting the feathers to lay correctly while mounting (post-coloring) was tricky.  I had to make my own forms because mannekins simply aren't available in this size; but any purist in the industry chooses to make their own bodies anyway.







This is number one, carded and setting.  It's hard to see the eyes but I'll get a better picture after I remove the plastic and touch up the face.







This is my first custom order as a licensed taxidermist.  I feel like I should frame the cash that I'll receive as payment and hang it on my wall.  Maybe I'll photocopy it.

Heyyyyyyyyyyyy.

Some horse "legs" arrived in the mail the other day and I thawed one out the other night to see if I could turn it into a human shoe.  I've had an obsession with pretending to be a horse for years; and although I am aware the wearable horse shoe has been done, I will not be at rest until I get a crack at it myself.  Plus, I want to try working with every kind of creature.



Here is the leg, thawed out.







The odor of barn filled my studio immediately and I rather enjoyed it.  Unfortunately I may have bit off more than I could chew...







It took me about thirty minutes to realise that I really had no plan and wasn't entirely sure of what I was doing at all.  I managed to skin the leg down to the hoof, but then had to cut the hide away as it would not invert around said hoof.  That's fine; it shouldn't be much of an issue to reattach, but once I managed to sever the hoof from the rest of the leg, I wasn't quite sure what to do with it.  A crash course in horse anatomy is basically what this project has turned into.



Here's the hoof, with spongy tissue and miscellaneous cartilage/bones still inside:







I've managed to cut out all the flesh I can with a knife, but it's not enough space to work a partial shoe into.  I got frustrated and had to leave it for a couple days; tomorrow I will tackle it with a drill.  That will smell totally awesome, I'm sure of it.

My fingers smell like horse shit.

But I skinned and mounted a bear paw today.  They smell because I just took a horse leg out of the freezer to thaw for tomorrow morning.  (horse-platform heels, world. BB style.  Look out.)  The leg was clean but even frozen that sweet smell of BARN just punched me in the face.



Anyway, back to the bear paw-it was really neat to touch a part of a bear when I've never even seen one in person.  Feeling the claws; I could easily imagine  it slicing my face to pieces.







As I skinned it, I marveled over how similar the actual anatomy seemed to my own hand.







Working with the bear was also a nice reprieve from the marathon of starlings over the weekend; the skin was thick and tough and very pleasant to work with.  While I enjoy the process of working with birds; I consider it significantly more difficult to mount than a less delicate specimen like mammoth fur paw.







Here it is, fleshed out:







I made a form and mounted the paw, sewed it shut and am now in the process of embellishing git to the desired effect.  I have 5 pieces in two shows coming up very soon; I just have to make the pieces.

Black birrrrd, FLY.

I have starlings to skin/play with/practice on so I skinned and dyed a bunch of them assembly style.  There was an alumni event at school from my previous life which I attended Friday night and I thought it would be wise for me to wear something of my own creation and come armed with business cards.  Here's some of the prep:



It fakes me out every time when I see how pathetic the skin looks past-rinsing when I can't imagine if coming together and looking like a bird again.







All the starlings, laying out.







I used one for my head piece, here it is mounted and posed.







After that I added eyes, and some accents.  Pictures of it actually in someone's hair to come...



Black Bird Pie!

























I'm not sure why but Black Bird Pie seems fitting for Easter time.  Maybe it's my mind making the connections between Jesus supposedly returning from the dead and emerging from that tomb, with the birds flying out of that pie.  It was the last thing people expected to see, I'm sure.  Some cursory searching online shows that the two have nothing to do with one another but I decided to mae the blackbird pie for Easter, regardless.  Here's the poem:



Sing a song of sixpence

AKA blackbirds in a pie
Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,

Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,

Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?

The king was in his counting house counting out his money,

The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey

The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,

When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!




Apparently:



"During the Medieval times, there were occasions when the cook in the house of a wealthy knight did indeed put live birds (often pigeons, but I'm sure it could just as easily have been blackbirds) inside a huge pastry crust, on his own initiative. This was seen as a great joke and the cook would usually have a real pie waiting to bring in when the birds had been released."


So here's my cook, mashing potatoes in with ham and Starling meat, which was then spooned into phyllo dough cups and baked with cheddar cheese on top.  I had two of my girlfriends take over after my competency in the kitchen came under serious question and it was decided that I should simply observe.







While the pies baked, some friends dropped by and joined me in dying eggs.























Later we trickled into the kitchen and tested the pies.  While some of my friends loved them, others refused to try, and my husband and I both voted them as tasting too gamey.  Next time I will marinate the Starling in some sweet wine at least a day in advance, instead of the rush job I did for this occasion, substituting tonic water and agave syrup for the wine I didn't have around.  All is not lost however; the cats practically bit my fingertips off trying to get some of the little morsels so at least the leftovers have a place to go.



This week I'll be skinning out the rest of the black birds and studying them.  I may have an order on deck for one or two, and I intend to use a few others in a hairpiece which I will hopefully finish in time for an event I've got to attend on Friday.

Adventures in Home Tanning

Most taxidermist send their hides to a tannery; it makes sense when the skins start piling up and the work looks daunting.  Plus, home tanning takes time and effort.  I figured I only have a couple of green hides though so I'd try it myself.



The process takes about three days, and I diligently checked and stretched my raccoon and deer cape each day at the same time.  The coon skin, being thinner, took less time and I was exceptionally pleased with the final result:







Here he is, drying out in our bathtub.  This situation right here has me convinced that I will have to employ a professional tanner in the future, as my house is tiny and the bathtub meant for people.







Here's the deer cape drying out the next day.  Unfortunately, I must've skinned it after some bacteria had taken up residence, because the fur was coming out in clumps.  I was somewhat beside myself seeing as this was the first deer I'd skinned all by myself and I was really gunning for a A+ hide, so I shoved it in the freezer for me to take out and deal with another time.







At least the raccoon was a success.  I taxied the skin onto the form; it's in a climbing position with some tight corners.  Sewing was definitely a challenge.  Here's his face, all pinned and carded up for drying.  This is a piece commissioned to me by my husband and he requested a mischievous sort of creature in the midst of a getaway after a bank heist.  I turned the lip up just a liiiiitle bit to indicate a grin, and the $ bag is almost done and ready to be attached to one of his little paws.







I spent about an hour blow-drying the fur; it seemed to take forever. But he dried very well and is hanging in my studio.  Today I will touch up his face and finish him.  Updates to come.

Post School blues...or blacks.

I've been back from school almost a month now, and have been working on getting my studio in order and practicing  my skills on whatever specimen I can get my paws on.  The racoon hide I tanned is now taxied onto the proper form, climbing up a wall and almost finished.  Pictures to come.



I received a box of 8 starlings in the mail from a fellow taxidermist with a trigger-happy son.  Starlings can be a real pest to anyone occupying vast spreads of land so it's not generally frowned upon to assist in population control, so to speak.



He barely charged me anything for the birds (the shipping cost exceeded the bird quote) so I'm comfortable experimenting with them.  I decided to try dying the skin of one, to eliminate the white/brown spots and create a completely black little bird.



The process was kind of trial and error, but I think I've come up with a successful way to alter the color of the bird without compromising the preservation.  What excited me the most was not only the success in eliminating spots, but the way the iridescence was really brought out.











Oh!  And more good news.  Much to the ease of my conscious, I have discovered that starlings are not only edible but revered as quite delicious.  It's said that black bird pie was actually made with their smaller and spotted relatives.  So far I've ony found one recipe online but it looks good to me:

Starling stew with olives



A recipe from Calvin Schwabe's "Unmentionable Cuisine."



Animals: Love them or hate them, we also eat them. And nothing better illustrates just how many of them we eat (and how thoroughly) than Calvin Schwabe's giant compendium of recipes from every corner of the world, excerpts of which are appearing in Salon this week, Monday through Friday -- one recipe each day on the Life and People sites -- by kind permission of the University Press of Virginia. This one comes from Turkey where it's known as "Karatavuk yahnisi."



"Fry some chopped turnips and carrots. Add a little stock and a glass of red wine. Place some starlings or other small birds in the pan. Add a thin purée of boiled potatoes mashed with beaten eggs, dry mustard, and some stock and a little beer. Cover with stock and cook for about 30 minutes, adding some ripe olives near the end."



Perhaps this will be a dish for Easter.  Stay tuned!

"You think that God likes football?"

Toady was my last day living as a mountain cabin woman.  I pretty much luxuriated in the house all day as I watched the sky dump a foot of snow on the grounds around me.







I spent over an hour ironing sheets, shirts and pillowcases.  I found a pleated little Victorian number belonging to one of the boys and accepted the challenge of pressing it to perfection.  It took about 45 minutes.  Seriously.



I moved onto the reading nook and immersed myself in "Living with Joy", a sort of self-help book from the mid eighties.   I kind of have to groan and roll my eyes to get past the over-the-top hippie parts, but it's really helping me to keep a level head during this transient time in my life.   I will need to have a good sense of my self established for when I explode on the scene and turn the taxidermy world on its head.



In the afternoon I walked to the CVS about a mile and a half down the road and into "town", then caught up on phone conversations with people and tidied up the house for my impending departure.















Later I discovered the DVD box set for a little show called "Friday Night Lights".  Oh.  My. God.  How I have never seen this show ids beyond me; perhaps I wasn't ready for it until now.  I blew through the first five episodes, sobbing the entire time.  The character development is remarkable, the score is tight, it's got power struggles, drama, hot people, and football plus all the pageantry that goes along with it like marching bands and cheerleaders..  What else is there?











I think I have a crush on every single character in this show.







"Your future self is real and only seperated from you by time."

I had a quiet morning spent driving around getting to know the town that I'm about to leave.  I've logged  more driving time in the past two months than I have in years; and perhaps because of this I'm more aware of the slight nuances of locomoting.  One thing I get a kick out of is the inch-up game.  I do this while waiting in line but it works in cars too. When I'm stopped at a red light, I inch forward just a little bit even though the light shows no signs of turning green any time soon.  Inevitably, the person behind me creeps up as well, and everyone behind them follows suite.  I get a little ego stroke knowing that one small move on my part has affected four or five people who I may never meet.



Mr. M is still having issues with keeping his food down and I figured out that it was the antibiotics making him so sick.  The vet told me to come in so he could have an antibiotic shot, so I bundled him up in a blanket and brought him in.  It was a really sweet, down-homey feeling clinic; everyone was smiling and I could tell immediately that this place was run by people who really loved animals.  We passed an orange tabby on the way in and the doc came right up to us and administered Mr. M's shot as I stood there, holding him.  It was over in a matter of seconds, and then she announced that Muffin was next.  "Muffin!", she called into the waiting room which was empty save a middle-aged woman and her pooch.  I guessed that Muffin might've been the Tabby and suggested he might be outside.  The vet simply stepped out and called, "Muffinnnnnnn!  You're next!".  I found it really comical that there were no humans around.  I imagined Muffin walking down the road to the vet himself, some kind of key-latch-kid type of pet.  Maybe he'd pick up a pack of smokes for his human on the way home.



There was a plumber working on the downstairs bathroom for the majority of the day so I set up camp in the dining room and worked on my taxes.



Later on I watched "Hush hush, Sweet Charlotte"











I'm still not sure what to make of it.  It may be the most bizarre movie I've ever seen.  It did inspire me to do a little reading up on Bette Davis though, and I now feel inspired to be glamorous 27-7.  This means working out while wearing lipstick and ditching sweats for house gowns.

"Philadelphia will never be the same."

Today was my last day of class; I did all the finishing touches on my mounts like airbrushing and epoxying noses, eyes, tear ducts, etc.  Mr. B went over all the rules and regulations with me as far as getting the right licenses and permits to be a professional taxidermist.



Here is my coyote, mouth painted and fabulous.







I think he needs a diamond in his tongue.



This isn't a sex toy.  But it is one of those odd little tools with a very specific function for deer mounts.  What for, you might wonder?







Trade secret, baby.  Mum's the word.



Here I am stapling the deer hide to the form.  This actually happened a few days ago but I forgot to include this picture back then.  We used staple guns that ran on compressed air and now that I have experienced such power, such FORCE, I have nothing but utter disdain for the manual gun that sits waiting for me in my studio at home.







Since she finished a little early, my classmate brought in a mink to skin, that her neighbor had caught near his creek.  Apparently minks are quite common in the wild (if you can call the Poconos that), but have basically no value as far as trappers are concerned because they are farmed en masse.







Fatty little buggers though.  I'll bet she had a blast with this sucker on the fleshing wheel!

"It's late at night but something's brewing."

I took a personal day today; I wanted to stay in and recover from the madness of the weekend.  My husband and two other couples came up to experience the bliss of the Pokes and it was a memorable night.  The house has a new coat of laughter on it which still resonates after everyone has gone back to Philly and I'm still here, with the cats.  Mr. M has been having some frightful (for me) moments of touch and go; I honestly thought we were going to lose him a couple times yesterday.   He's not eating and acting somewhat erratic, laying down in the shower and howling at the door.  It's very upsetting.



Aside from the cat drama, we were able to enjoy some late night sledding, board games (SORRY!!!), and Jenga.







Today I took a long walk down the country roads and did some thinking about my experience up here and how it's changed me.  As I've pursued my dream, I've made some compromises and sacrifices and asked my loved ones to do the same.  Funds have been exceptionally tight and I've had to rely on someone other than myself, which has been quite humbling.



I'm wiggling my way into an industry that, for the most part has been dominated by men.  There is definitely a "type" when it comes to taxidermy nad I've done a decent job of playing chameleon to get as much as I can out of this experience.  Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore and respect Mr. B, but sometimes I try so hard to be "one of the guys" (in my regular life as well as my mountain life) that I get what I wish for, so to speak, and am told things that I wish I could unhear.







I almost feel like I sold a little piece of my soul along the way but I take comfort in the fact that it only creates room for what remains to grow.



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