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:



If we all had our druthers, our pets would live forever!

I understand that my medium of choice when it comes to artistic expression is somewhat provocative, if not downright controversial.



I certainly don't expect everyone to like it, nor do I expect the world at large to share the same carefully laid out map of moral boundaries and ethics I've arrived at myself through a never-ending process of trial and error.  If we all thought the same thing, the world would be a tragically dull place, not to mention nothing would ever get done.



While working so closely with death, I've given much thought to the value of life and how it is appreciated so differently by different people and cultures.  Some people raise poultry for a living; those birds are food to them and nothing else.  Birds are kept in cages, living on top of one another and stepping in a pile of one another's feces until the time comes for harvest.  It's easy to think of these creatures (or even look at them if you've ever been to a live poultry market), and feel heartbroken.  For some, that is.  For others, it's just as easy to look into a cage and see what ranks a few links down on the food chain.  Dinner.  Sustenance, and nothing else.  After years of careful thought and consideration, I fall somewhere in the middle.  My work in the field of taxidermy has brought me in touch with hunters and butchers alike, and through my interactions with these folks I have gained an appreciation for the food that winds up on my plate, an appreciation I never had as a child.  When I've met the animal whose life was extinguished to feed myself (or my cats), I appreciate the meat so much more.  The responsibility of using each part to its fullest weighs so much heavier on me than if I'd bought some prepackaged beef from the market.



My point is this: I understand and appreciate the fact that my sheer existence/lifestyle comes at a price, and sometimes that price is the lives of other living creatures.  For this, I am thankful and move throughout my day with an awareness I wouldn't trade for all the blissful ignorance in the world.  Plus, I love animals, I really do.  I wouldn't have gotten into taxidermy if that wasn't the case.  For those of you who haven't heard this worn-out old story, I decided to get a book and teach myself the craft after seeing so many freshly perished birds on the city sidewalks post-skyscrapers-crash.  The thought of these beautiful creatures just rotting on the sidewalk or being swept into a gutter made me sick.  I wanted to preserve them, celebrate their beauty.  And so I learned the art of taxidermy.



Ten years later, and I still hold the same philosophy.  Of course, these amazing creatures are best when they're living, moving, flying, running, barking, etc.  But everything dies, whether by the hand of man or nature, and why let such beauty go to waste?  This is why I'm happy to take a dead pet off of a friend's hands, and also to use the skin of a chicken, pheasant, or even squirrel before making a delicious meal with the meat.  I do the best I can to be sure my specimen are sourced ethically and humanely, but I hold no judgement for others who have a different set of values when it comes to the food chain.  All I know is what's right for me, and if I've learned anything in my 33 years on this earth it's that the no two people should be expected to share the exact same moral compass.



I've received messages from individuals who are less than pleased about what I do. It would be terribly naive of me not to expect this, and to these people I want to say this:  I hear you.  I recognise what you're saying (even if it's not in the most polite wording) and I respect your point of view.  I want you to know that I'm not thoughtlessly slaughtering animals just so I can wear one on my head.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  This is in no way an attempt to convince you that I'm right, or that you should agree with me, it's just a clear explanation of my philosophy because from the tone of your emails/messages/comments I feel you may not have had all the facts before reaching out to me.

Peace be with yall.

MINKY





 



This was going to be an add-on to the last post, but Minky deserves a post all of his own.  Please read:



And on a sad note, those of you (hi honey!  mom, dad?) who have read this blog from it's humble beginnings exactly one year ago may remember Minky, my kindred spirit who made my quite lonely stay in teh poconos so much  more enjoyable, if not magical.  During my stay I loved that cat like he was my own and we forged an irreplaceable bond.  Just minutes ago news reached me of Minky's passing.  His two dads loved him dearly and he is buried by the stream just outside the house where I stayed with him.  He loved to go out and sniff at that stream.  Below are a couple photos of dear old Minks and some links to posts pertaining to him.



RIP MINKY!!!



 



Minky:1 Coyote: 0



Minky cave



Taking Minky to the vet



And just because I'm feeling nostalgic, my last day living in the mountains.  Please play the top video.  It's like I'm there again, I want you to be there too.



 



Good bye Mink, tender I will keep, this place you hold in my heart.











 

Restoration project and photoshop skills

!!!Update!  I just received some photos of this mout from the owner, exhisbiting the condition before I restored it!!!!  See below:







 







 



My chicken & egg supplier provided me with an assignment over the holidays: bring back to life this antique rooster mount which belonged to his good friend, another chicken enthusiast.  The tail was the main issue, as it was broken and sagging as a rather depressing angle.  There were other areas which needed improvement as well, so he just told me to give it the works.



And here is the finished and completely restored piece:







The sad, pathetic, kicking myself in the ass part of this is that I accidentally deleted my "before" pics and there is no hope of retrieving them.  So...through th miracles of Photoshop I will attempt to give a proper visual example of what I was dealing with.



Here is my rendering of the "before" shot focusing on the tail.  That part had completely broken from the rest of the bird and needed to be reattached at the correct angle.  I replaced the steel support rod and with the help of a little magic paste and finesse, got the positioning just right.  I then pruned the feathers a bit and arranged them back into what I imagined would have been their proper place.  Some were quite frayed so I tried steaming them, which helped by opening up the fibers a bit until they relaxed back into a straight (not crimped) state, but didn't entirely alleviate the problem.  Next time I'll experiment with some sort of oil.







Tada!







The other major issue was the face. The coloring has completely faded into a dull yellow (I'm assuming in life he was a blushing young thing) and the waddles and comb were dried out and crumpled.  I rehydrated the delicate tissue for a few days until it was malleable enough to get into a more natural position without snapping.  After that the flesh was braced for several more days to cure in the straight position.



After that came painting.  After several tries I found the right combination of matte/glossy coats to achieve the slightly rubbery looking appearance these particular features tend to have on living roosters.



Before:







And after:







Aside from that there was general dusting of feathers, eyes, beak,feet and base and the usual whispering of sweet nothings into the rooster's ear.  He emerged good as new and the client was pleased.

Squish

I don't know why it took so long for that term to come to me.  Before two minutes ago I was calling this thing a "Squirrmaid" and a "Merrrrrell".  None of these names could be considered accurate, however, I suppose a more scientific name would be something akin to Scuiridae Piscis. When it's all said and done though, Squish is just the easiest to say.



This is a piece from my most recent show at Michael Vincent Gallery; he is made from a grey squirrel hailing all the way from Ohio and a Coho Salmon from the Great Lakes..







I'm intrigues lately by the tagging and tracking of animals.  I expect to experiment more with this in the future.



Also, here is the raccoon (still awaiting a name from the recipient)I made for my husband, photographed the way he deserves:







Who, me?



My hair looks like a bird's nest?

Why thank you.



Well, more like a chicken coop I suppose.  Regardless, my head is honored to be the vehicle for exhibiting these lovely specimen, donated to yours truly by my local organic chicken/egg connection.



This is a rooster beret I made recently.  I wore it on New Year's Eve.  I've been told that it's customary to eat chicken on December 31st, as they are scratching backwards into the dirt...reflecting on the past, I suppose.



I'd prefer to wear my poultry.



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Right here is the Serama hen hairpiece I wore for the Carnivorous Nights taxidermy contest last month.  I look forward to trotting her out again.



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Look at those gorgeous feathers.  Perhaps she'd like to take a ride on someone else's head for a night.



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Ladies?



*Photo credits: Jim Coughlin

I have one thing to say:

You'd better work.



And voila:  Here's Elke 2.0, in all her glory.



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Shiny.



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Feather detail.



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So coy:



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Up next is Grazyana, also on a pillow.  I like exploring unique environments for my pieces; I think using fabric communicates a sense of luxury that I associate these particular works with.



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To the left.



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Those are real pearls.



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Her veil is gathered into a bustle in the back, secured with the head of an antique hairpin.



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sashay, chantay.



*Photo credits: Jim Coughlin

If we catch you stealing, we will stuff you.

I think that was kind of the inspiration behind this piece which my husband, who runs an art supply shop, commissioned me to make last March.  I was fortunate enough to be gifted this road-kill racoon and when I told him what I had on my hands, he practically begged for me to make something special for him out of the specimen.  How could I refuse, really?  This man supported me all through school and has never once complained about sharing his home and his wife with my little army of fantasy creatures.  Creating a custom piece for this bastion of open-mindedness and support is really the least I can do.



Then he told me he wanted the racoon to be making a getaway with a money bag and I inwardly groaned.



How corny!   For some reason, cartoon characters, specifically the silly ones from the Warner Brothers stables, have always made me squirm.  Even as a child I found them intolerable.  It's a disdain I can't quite put my finger on, seeing as I can be a very silly person.  I suppose if I were to dig deep and play armchair psychologist for myself I'd say there is a particular stupidity to it all that most people find humorous but I don't because I fear the stupidity in myself.



I put my own opinion aside, however, and as I worked on Mr. Racoon I began to warm up to the idea of him being a thief.   The theme of raccoons as bandits is popular lore in many cultures and I found this interesting account of some Japanese Racoon dogs in the movie Pom Poko, which portrays them as mischievous little scamps.







He's hanging by one paw to the wall, and I gave him a hint of a smile with slightly upturned lips.  I sewed a bag from off-white canvas and made a $ stencil to paint the iconic symbol on said sack.  It was then filled with bottle caps, sewn shut and attached to Racoon's other front paw.







 



 



Here's a more pensive looking shot:







 



This was my first independent mount after finishing school and I can see how I might have done things differently had I been approached with this project today.  Overall though, I'm pleased, and so was my husband when he received his Christmas Racoon!



Your Reputation Preceeds You...

I think I'm on the verge of being known as "the woman who wears chickens on her head", which couldn't delight me more.  I certainly seem to be going through a hen-phase, as far as what inspires me.  Or perhaps its the availability of chickens as specimen?  It's hard to tell.  I very much enjoy working with them; the plumage is unique and beautiful, plus the skin resilient and quite easy to manipulate.



So last week I decided to check out the opening of the new Jonathan Adler store in  Old City.  The designer himself was to be in attendance, and I learned that he'd raised chickens with his family as a boy so I wanted to wear a new head-piece in his honor.



I dried and fluffed a gorgeous rooster and toyed around a bit in my studio, waiting for ideas.  I took the legs and head and used them for a different piece, then played with the rest.  It was freezing inside and just to see how it felt, I put the entire pelt on my head.



Warmth!  Unbelievable warmth!  Well, duh, I thought.  We don't fill our coats and duvets with down for nothing.  Seriously though, I was impressed at how much heat was retained atop my head.  So...why not?  I would wear the whole thing as though it were a feather wig.  The result was dramatic and over-the-top.  Here's one shot I got from my computer before leaving for the event:



 







 



And here's another taken of me while there.  The shop looked fabulous although I had to go back yesterday to really check out the merchandise, since it was packed to the gills that night.







As you can see, it's just a little silly but totally glamorous.  If nothing else, it's absolutely a conversation piece.

Pretty feet, pretty face

I've had these three deer feet from the first deer I ever skinned all by myself, way back last year while I was up in school.  The cape, unfortunately, had some bacteria from exposure (by the time the doe got to me, she had been expired for some time) but I managed to salvage the legs for future use.  I found inspiration in the form of a gift for a couple of dear friends (har har) up in NY who have a deep appreciation for all things art....including the art of looking good.



What we've got here is a  deer hoof with a miniature mirror mounted on the front.  It is to be hung near the door so as to provide one last check yourself spot before heading out for th evening.  Spinach-free teeth?  Check.  No crusty eyes?  Check.







 



I capped it off with some copper tubing and a hen foot (going with the pedi theme)clutching a gemstone.  Garnished with some feathers and voila!  A Christmas present I'm hoping will please.







 



Happy holidays!

Taking Flight

Just the other day I sent off a pheasant I'd been working on for a couple of months, to the home of a new client as a gift for his daughter.  He was referred to me by someone I met at the Holmesburg open house, so this was basically my first connections free (no friends, no press) transaction.  I wanted so badly to give him the best possible finished product, and I think he left pleased.



He requested a position which would suggest the bird was about to take flight and emphasized his wishes for the tail to be prominently displayed.  Seeing as I've only observed pheasants in the wild a handful of times and never close-up (a fact I'm not proud of and hope to change soon), I took my time with this bird and did plenty of research.  What I decided upon was this stalking through the grass, poised to take off pose:







 



He requested a natural habitat with grass and such.  I took creative liberty here and added some decorative reeds and such in an arrangement I found copacetic with the pheasant.









 



So long, special friend!  It was a pleasure knowing you.



 

That sure went fast.

It seems like just the other day I was paying a solemn visit to a friends' house to retrieve a recently deceased gosling pet.  While I had initial success mounting Bobby, acquiring the perfect wings took some time.  Patience paid off however, and I was rewarded with a delicious squab which provided the perfect shade and size wings as well as a nutritious and wonderful meal.    After the entire piece was finished drying, I gave him a healthy coat of fairy dust to ensure maximum sparkle while poised atop the tree:



 







 



Merry Christmas!



PhillyMag.com | G Philly: "How my Dead Dog Won Best in Show"

by Jennifer Lea Cohan

"I wasn’t surprised when I looked under the side table and found that Elke had died. At age 14, my dear Rat Terrier had been failing for some time. However it was terribly inconvenient...Thank God for gay urban chicken farmers, because they know what to do in these situations. His dead hens are entrusted to his rogue taxidermist friend, Beth Beverly, a 32-year-old artist who works at Diamond Tooth Taxidermy in Philly... So I bagged her, iced her, and put her on the deck."

Read the entire article here: How My Dead Dog Won Best in Show

Triumphant!

I have returned from Brooklyn a winner...in so many ways.  The entire two day experience was a blast, the crowning moment obviously being when I was presented the title "Best in Show" at the Carnivorous Nights taxidermy contest.  The evening was a cavalcade of awesome, however, beginning with arriving at the venue and peeking at the other entries.  I felt very timid and nervous, not having any idea how this whole thing was to go down, and lying on the presentation table backstage were some pieces that I would embarrassingly refer to many times that night as "stiff competition".  (Could've been the one too many cocktails to steel my nerves or my complete lack of wit, take your pick).



Melissa Milgrom, author of Still life, adventures in taxidermy, opened up the evening with a brief chat and I was hanging on her every word.  Even though I'd read the book and all that she described was somewhate familliar to me, I always admire a decent public speaker.



Mike Zohn, host of Discovery Channel's new show "Oddities" was the key-note speaker and I loathe to admit that his speech was lost on me because at that point my nerves were starting to get the best of me.  My hands were shaking and I was trying to go over my presentation in my head while fighting off the near-crippling fear that I would say something stupid. Thankfully I was seated next to my dear friend Thea who brought her recording equipment and was producing a piece about the event.  I look forward to listening to her material so I can refresh myself on what I may have missed. Behind me was Daisy Tainton, who I traded quips with throughout the evening.  She specialises in insects and snark.  Seriously, her presentation has me spraying red wine out my nose.  In fact, I found most of the contestants to be quick with a joke and very humorous.  I, on the other hand, was possibly just the right combination of awkward, sad and sweet.



Here I am describing my first entry, Elke 2.0.  She was the beloved rat terrier to a local Philadelphia family for 14 years before she passed recently in her sleep.  I spoke of getting the call from a friend about the friend I was about to meet, and my trepidatious handling of the manner.  Basically what I tried to convey (and I believe reached everyone present) is my undying, unconditional love for animals and my goal to treat them with utmost respect after death. It was slightly emotional.







 



Next to Elke 2.0 is Grazyana, a Polish hen which belonged to another friend of mine.   I buy fresh eggs from him whenever they're available and this little gal didn't make it to laying age.  She was petite and so special; I imagined her as a Princess Bride.







 



On my head is a piece composed of a Selama hen, also a donation from my chicken master pal.  I basically mounted her in a position which would hug her to my scalp, with a wing fashionablly covering one side.  Lately I've been inspired by the beauty of feathers and how the dermis can be manipulated into different positions which accentuate this natural beauty.  I'm enjoying the attempt to mount creatures in ways that would not be found in nature.







 



 



Winner!  I went out to celebrate with my gracious hosts that night and celebrated until 3am.  I woke up exhausted but still elated.  Thankfully that elation stayed with me, through my ten block walk down 7th ave (after getting dropped off at Penn Station instead of 42nd street) while clutching a giant trophy and 3 foot long box of taxidermy sculpture, as well as my navigation of the Broad Street line and subsequent walk home from the station.







There were several impressive write-ups covering the event including a piece in the NY Times, and the Wall Street JournalDrew Anthony Smith is a photographer I met who took some really terrific pictures of the event several blogs covered the night's festivities quite nicely.  I suggest reading these (Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire, Pink Slip, Stars and Garters, Big Bad Bald Bastard, to name a few) for more coverage on the other contestants since every entry was fantastic and I'm only telling my own story here.

Design Phan: "These Hats Stop Traffic"

by Caroline Tiger

"Some might call Beth Beverly, proprietress of Diamond Tooth Taxidermy, a strange bird for creating a hat so lifelike it looks like a squirrel is attacking the wearer’s head. Others might say her work makes total sense in this time and place, when the craze for Victoriana/the cabinet of curiosities/natural history is as strong as ever."

Read the entire article here: These Hats Stop Traffic

New York Tmes: "Stuffed, to the Limits of Taxidermists' Imaginations"

by Jed Lipinski

"Beth Beverly, 32, who works at Diamond Tooth Taxidermy in Philadelphia, presented two entries: a rat terrier dressed as a princess and a dazzling Polish hen in pearls and high heels gripping a 'virginal pillow.' 'She never grew old enough to lay eggs,” Ms. Beverly said of the hen, 'so I imagined what her life might have been.'"

Read the entire article here: Stuffed, to Limits of Taxidermists' Imaginations

Brooklyn Bound

I've been getting all my ducks in a row (that would be a great pun I guess, if I were using ducks this time around) for my trip to Brooklyn next week where I'll be participating in the annual Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy contest.  I'll be a first timer, but not a forgettable one.



 



I'm entering two pieces, the one below has been shown most recently at Vincent Michael Gallery but I've reconfigured some crucial elements to take her to the next level.  Obviously none of these photos will be of the entire creature; full shots to come next week after my hopefully triumphant return.







 



This second entry is my best work to date.  I'm quite pleased with how she turned out  and look forward to showing the final results.  Two hints:



Iridescence,







And sparkles!







 



 



Of course no event would be complete without a new headpiece so I've got one of those in the works as well:







 



 



See you next week!

Cat food, in a Snap.

Remember the Snapper I skinned for a project and made a stew with the other week? I had the head and other parts left over so I thought I'd try my hand at making fish stock.  With some gentle guidance from my husband I threw together a pot of stock-making ingredients:



Fish parts, old carrot, old onion, wilted dill and other miscellaneous aging produce all in a pot:







 



After browning it all, I added water:







 



I then let it simmer until about half of the water had evaporated, and then strained it into the crock pot:







 



Next came the chicken legs into the stock which I cooked until the meat just slid off the bones:







 



After the soupy mix had cooled enough, I added a combo of short grain wild rice, sushi rice, and mashed peas, carrots, and sweet potatoes.  Voila!







 



Despite the unattractive gruel-like appearance, it's packed full of all the nutrients and tastes that kitties love, and we're saving a boatload on cat food.  Happy customers include Francis, my studio buddy:







 



Aaaaand Opal, resident diva.  My apologies for the blurry shots; these two gobble so fast it's hard to get a good picture.



Put up your Dukes!

I was recently commissioned by a local Academy student to create a squirrel in a boxing pose-high chamber, I reckon it's called- to be employed as a reference for a series of paintings he wanted to create.  I sourced a nice specimen from storage and got to work, quite enthused.  While I am happy as a clam to be doing any type of taxidermy at all; it's these unusual requests the really float my boat.  The squirrel form required some altering of the arms to present the correct posture, but the rest of the job was pretty cut and dry.    Nature didn't bless my little friend with the best tail in the world, but nimble fingers and glue can work wonders.







The front paws are set to resemble curled fists; I believe the client is creating a pair of miniature boxing gloves to be donned at a later date.



Snapper's Delight

I'm working on a couple of pieces for an upcoming taxidermy competition, one of which involves a fish.  Any excuse to buy a decent snapper, right?  I was excited to sweep this beauty up at the local fine foodery; the fish monger seemed perplexed that I didn't want him to fillet it or anything but I like to think that gives me some foodie cred.







The skinning was a snap;  I packed up the dermis in the freezer to use later and got to work on creating a snapper stew.  The meat was cut into small chunks and I saved the head and bones to use in a fish stock later.  As for the stew, it was probably simplest meal I've made while still being palatable ( I don't have the best track record in the kitchen).  In fact, it was a hit!  I cannot sing the praises of my crock pot enough.



Snapper Stew:



1 1/2 pound red snapper fillets -- cut in 2" pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic -- minced

1 large onion -- sliced

1 green pepper -- cut in 1" pieces

1 zucchini squash -- unpeeled & sliced

15 ounces whole tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon leaf basil

1/2 teaspoon leaf oregano

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup fresh mushrooms -- optional



Literally throw it all in the pot and keep it on low setting for six hours.







Then serve to friends and dazzle them with your culinary prowess!  I wanted to get some feasting shots but the stew was gobbled up too fast!

Squab, anyone?

I recently obtained a pigeon to complete a custom order for a client who dreamed up an angel-like tree topper for the upcoming holiday season.  I'm just about finished that piece but in the meantime here is what I did with the pigeon squab meat:



























Potrawka Z Golebi (Polish Squab) 



Pigeons

Butter

3 Onions

1 c Meat stock

2 Tart apples

3 Mushrooms

1 Lemon; juice of

1 sm Glass of Madeira wine

1 tb Butter

1 tb Flour

1 c Sour cream



Quarter the pigeons; Saute in butter for 15 minutes. Remove from butter



and slice three onions into pan.  Fry onions until done.



Add meat stock, sliced apples, mushrooms, and lemon juice.



Mix well and bring to boiling point.



Add wine. In another pan, brown flour in butter and thicken the mixture.



Dip pigeons in sour cream, return to mixture and cook until tender.






Quite delicious, and nutritious!

Bunny Cheese

I recently received a fresh baby bunny from a friend.  Apparently her pet rabbit's litter was naturally thinning itself out,  or her cat snuck into the nursery.  Either one.  Regardless, look how cute!







Needless  to say, my friend was crest fallen.  She just wanted me to take the specimen off her hands.  I couldn't stop marveling at how adorable this little guy was.  I've only seen creatures this sweet in Disney movies.







I hope I can do him justice in the final mounting stage.  Such petite faces are still a challenge for me, especially when I'm trying to capture just how precious it is.  I'm still not entirely sure what type of mount this will become but it has to be very very special.



Skinning him was delicate, as expected, and I accidentally punctured the dermis several time due to man handling. It's nothing I can't sew up but what really threw a wrench in the gears was this little guy's stomach and its contents.  I always try not to cut through the skin and into the guts because it's never a non-mesy affair, but sometimes the skin is so thin I can't help it.  Plus, the bunny's belly was bloated and kind of in the way.  As I worked the skin off the side, the pressure forced some of the contents of the stomach out and I almost dry heaved.



It looked like ricotta cheese:



* not actual contents because I was too grossed out to think of getting a shot.  But it looked JUST LIKE THIS.



The stomach puncture was like an exploding zit and there seemed to be no way of avoiding all the white puss splooging out onto my work table.  The amount of it was shocking to me and I squealed as I wiped it up with towel after towel.  Shortly though, I noticed that there was no odor.  If this were some sort of massive infection; the equivalent of a zit or cyst (full of dead white blood cells), then it would've stunk like halitosis.  Or like death, at the very least.  However, there was no such scent.  I calmed down a bit and allowed my nose to take in some of it.



Ricotta.  It actually smelled like ricotta cheese. How bizarre  But then I thought about it- it was a baby, the stomach likely full of mother's milk (quite full, I might add, that this little piggy was a piggy) and had maybe somehow curdled during digestion.  Out of curiousity I looked up ricotta cheese and how to make it online.  Sure enough, many cheeses are made with a complex of enzymes known as Rennet which is found in the stomachs of calves.  According to Wikipedia:



Rennet (pronounced /ˈrɛnɪt/) is usually a natural complex of enzymes produced in any mammalian stomach to digest the mother's milk, and is often used in the production of cheese. Rennet contains many enzymes, including a proteolytic enzyme (protease) that coagulates the milk, causing it to separate into solids (curds) and liquid (whey). The active enzyme in rennet is called chymosin or rennin (EC 3.4.23.4) but there are also other important enzymes in it, e.g., pepsin or lipase. There are non-animal sources for rennet that are suitable for vegetarian consumption.



Fear not, vegetarians!  Mass produced cheese is made from alternate methods these days  and the only folks still using sheep and cow stomach are for the most part artisan cheese makers in Europe.  Also, I don't think cheese was ever made inside of the animal's stomach as the method described in the Wiki article states that stomaches were cut up and soaked in a brine of sorts, with the raw milk.



Hmmm.  If I'd had my wits about me I would've saved it and tasted the first ever sample of in-stomach-curdled-rabbit-ricotta!



Or at least fed some to my cats.

Bits and Pieces

I spent a full day in my studio working on some different projects, one of which was the very special canine.  While I had skinned the dog a couple weeks ago, I didn't have a chance to thoroughly get down to it so I had to stash the skin in the freezer for a bit.  Yesterday I thawed it out and got down to degreasing.  I was reminded of my racoon experience, with the amount of fat I had to scrape off.  I don't want to get too graphic because this dog was loved by people so deeply, but after working on the pelt for almost five hours I feel like I may have developed a Popeye forearm from the repetitive and forceful motion the degreasing process requires.



Alas, it is done and now the future work of art is resting in a tanning solution.



After that was finished I moved onto a small rabbit I'd skinned a while ago.  Sometimes I'll do a crude skinning of a specimen and then freeze the pelt just to free up some room in the icebox. This basically involves just getting the carcass out.  Later on I'll go back and scrape the fat, split the ears, nose and lips, etc.  Splitting ears on small mammals takes finesse and patience.  See how delicate this is?  That dark thing is my tool inside the ear.







The goal is to separate the front and back tissues of the ear.  After the skin is treated, a firm material is placed in side the ear to keep its shape.



 



I skinned two squirrels to fill an order for a client and froze the pelts.  I salted the meat in the fridge over night and this morning threw it all in the crock pot for some slow cooking.  Were this for me, I would've marinated it for a couple days however the dish I was creating would be for my cats.  I've been playing around with making my own cat food for some time now; usually I'll just feed them scraps of whatever we have, but I've never actually made a whole mixture.  I read a rant in one of the local weeklies. years ago, about how keeping cats as pets is one for the least environmentally friendly things one could do. The author came off as a bit unhinged but the idea always stuck with me; that I was using can after can after can and feeding my little guys fish and chicken raised and processed who knows where/how.  I have a friend who made his own food after his cat was diagnosed with cancer and she lived well past the vat's predicted expiration date.  I've been reading The Natural Cat and followed the basic recipe's amount for protein, veggies and starches.  I mixed the squirrel with some quinoa and pureed garbanzo beans, and will add vitamins later as well as some pureed carrots.  Here is the almost finished product, though, and I let the boys sample it already.  They both seemed very, very happy.



Man's best friend

I've never owned a dog, yet I feel a connection with them which compels me to stop at dog parks and slobber at the sight of the happy creatures leaping and bounding, exploding with happiness.  When a friend contacted me recently to inform  me about a friend of his whose dog had just passed, and would I be interesting in collecting the body, I jumped at the chance.  The dog, 14-year-old black and white rat terrier, died in her sleep on Saturday and I picked her up on Sunday.  It was a most unusual way to meet someone but the owner, a lovely woman with two children and a chef husband, was graceful and composed so I followed her lead.  The dog was on her deck, on ice and in a blanket.  I kept her in the bags and then loaded her into a large IKEA carrier sac for transport.  I had imagined that the specimen would be much smaller but when the weight and size of this one hit me, it became apparent I had to take a cab home.  Slouched in the back seat of a taxi, I leaned against my cargo and caught a whiff of some early decomposition odor.  Still hung over from the night before, the smell made me gag a bit and I wondered just how infuriated the driver would be if he knew what I'd brought into his car.  At moments like this it hits me, how bizarre and twisted my little world might appear from the outside.  So much of my time is spent retrieving dead things and carting them around in my messenger bag, then stashing them in my freezer.  Sometimes I wonder if there are hundreds of little ghosts drifting around the house that make my cats go bananas.  To some, I'm sure this seems sick.  However, this is my normal, and I simply forget that people might see me as a very disturbed individual until quiet times like this in which I occupy a tight space with a dead dog I've never met and a man driving  a cab who I'll most likely never meet again.



It turns out there was no room in the freezer for Pooch so I skinned her upon getting home.  The enormity of what I was about to do didn't hit me until I pulled her out of the bag.



Her collar was still on.



I started weeping and just stared at her, wondering if I could do it.  I get teary and cry a bit with almost every animal I skin, but this was different.  It was if I could feel all the love which had been poured into this creature for the last 14 years, and the profound role this four-legged little girl had had with her humans became clear.  I fondled  the paw pads a bit, imagining them padding around the wooden floor just a few days before.  I was a little bit afraid she wasn't completely dead (I always am, it's my worst fear that I'll make an initial cut and suddenly my specimen will come back to life, panicked and crazed) but the bloat in her stomach made it quite clear.  I burned some incense, said my little prayer and got to skinning.







It was an intense, emotionally wrought experience.  One interesting part was when I came across what I'm guessing is a tracking device that was implanted between the shoulder blades.  Aside from that, nothing too different from skinning a coon or a fox.  After I had the carcass completely separated, I marveled at how we're all just skins.  No one would ever recognise this naked corpse as a beloved pet.







For reference, this is a picture of the breed which I worked with.  Out of respect for the dog and her owners I chose not to take any pictures of the corpse.  I got my measurements and that's all I needed.  I hope to do her justice.



Special Delivery





I've been crafting a custom hairpiece for a very special gal the last couple weeks, in my spare time. I should've had it done by Sunday but I was given a unique specimen which was too large and too precious to keep in the freezer so I chose to put all other activities on hold so I could skin this...wonderful creature.  Full story to come shortly.  In the meantime, I was told by my client that she wanted a hairpiece for a gal pal of hers who enjoys wearing, of all things,ducks on her head.



What I want to know is, how have I not met this woman and if/when we do, will we both implode from the sheer weight of our shared sense of high fashion?



Her friend gave me a time and price range and we worked out this little ditty right here:







Sorry for the shadowy picture but I'll beg her to let me borrow it later to get a professional shot for my website.  I mounted a squirrel head onto the kind barette which is held into place with a stick driven through the hair.  Technically it's a bun holder but they work just fine for ponys and half ponys.  The squirrel was embellished with some jewelry and feathers, while his feet wound up dangling from the stick part.



 







 







Creating wearables seems to be more and more the direction which makes most sense for me.  Art is so much more accessible when you have it on your head!



Truly Outrageous

I've been buried in work and too busy making real life to make blog posts.  Now I just don't even know where to start. I have three new pieces and a newish one currently showing at the Vincent Michael Gallery in Philadelphia.  The fancy chicken, the squirrels, everything I've been working on has led to this.  And I could kick myself because i worked on them up until the last second and have not a single picture to show for my work.  That will have to come later, along with stories/though processes, for anyone who's interested in that type of thing.



The day of my opening, I wore a new head-piece to the Devon Dressage show to enter in the Ladies hat contest.  Here's a little video montage of how the day went:











And here is my victory lap:











From there I headed to the gallery opening which was a smashing success.  If I could ever say there was a day when I felt like Cinderella, that was it.  I didn't want the wonderful experience to end, but I grew quite sleepy at 9pm and overwhelmed by the social activity so I retreated to my neighborhood bar where I enjoyed a White Russian with my husband and called it an evening.



Currently I'm working on a custom piece for a client who found me via a site which promotes this blog, Swellco&Swellco.  They're unusual people but I love them dearly.  I've also got a custom order for a boxing squirrel.



A more extensive update with pictures to follow.

Hen Party

My local egg connection had the misfortune of losing one of his hens prematurely and he wasted no time letting me know.  One man's trash, as they say...



She was a fancy chicken, curly feathers and all and on the small side so I wonder if maybe she'd had some sort of defect from the start which limited her time with us.



The skin was thin but tough (like a wet swimsuit) and dreamy to work with.  I basically just pulled it off with my bare hands in no time at all; no delicate surgeon cuts necessary. Just another reason I love working with chickens.



 



Almost finished.  I love the messy and curly feathers; the whole thing reminds me of a Jim Henson puppet.







Look at that poof!  I have been dreaming of working with one of these ever since I met them and I am quite pleased with how she turned out so far.







Her feet are drying around balls of clay because I have something very special in mind...



Coho Mojo

My frequent sidekick-in-corpse-fun just got back from a two-day fishing jaunt up in NY and brought me back a beautiful 16lb Coho Salmon form the Great Lakes.  We decided that I'd come over for a BBQ and skin it so I could leave the meat with him, while we dined on dove.  I guess it didn't register with me just how large 16 pounds is; when I saw it sitting in his cooler I laughed and wondered how I was going to negotiate my way around such an impressive specimen.  Honestly, fish are not my forte and the ones I have mounted have been on the small side.







I adore this picture for two reasons, the first being that I'm wearing a shirt with a pig's head on it and the word "gluttony" underneath.  There are so many situations when I feel like just having this shirt on makes everything more funny.  Second, my hand.  In school, my teacher would constantly remark and tease me about my veiny bony hands which I secretly relished.  As a child I spent numerous weekends with my grandmother and my favorite part of her was her hands...I used to pray that someday I would get those same features; the thick, calloused skin and rope-like veins winding their way around the surface, over and under bones like tree roots.  I love my hands because they look as strong as they are and they help me to complete such a wide array of tasks.  They look more like my grandmother's with each passing year and it's one of the many little things that makes getting older so rewarding.



The first cut. Fish skin is pretty fun to work with if you can stomach the smell.  It;s touch and basically impossible to accidentally rip or tear, so you can get as rough as you want.







Apparently it was spawning season and this fish was just LINED with roe!  The Salmon  just stop eating in the last weeks of their lives so their stomachs will shrink to make room for the eggs. That is true dedication to procreation.



We saved the eggs, of course.  For caviar cat food.  Did I say cat food?  I meant, never mind, it's classified.  But that's a LOT of eggs.







 



 



 

This is what it sounds like-

A buddy of mine went dove hunting last week and brought me back a present.  This will be my second attempt at a mourning dove; the first one was a wash, a very humbling experience.  This one was...slightly better.



I can't quite articulate how fond I am of these colors...I want my hair to look like this.







That is actually a wood carving by Jim Childress but it gives a nice example the color and plumage.



Skinning doves is, like I said, a humbling experience.  The dermis is so thin and delicate.  It doesn't seem to withstand any of the gentle pulling and manipulating that I can get away with most other birds.  I wound up with my fair share of holes.  Dove doilies, I guess.



After tanning and fluffing I wound up with a shell worthy of a C+,  a few grades up from the D- my first one amounted to.  It can be really discouraging to see how many feathers get lost while skinning or how many holes I'll have to sew up later, but I really do love the process so much that even the missteps are moments I wouldn't wish to be spared of.



 



Here's the breast meat, marinating in a mixture of simple syrup and lemon juice.  I let it sit for two days. It was a very petite cut of flesh, but well worth fussing over.



I brought it over to a friend's house where a fish skinning event was to take place, and we barbecued the dove.  As you can see it was a hit.  A palette-whetter, if you will.



You stuff pets?





Yesterday I was a guest of the Holmesburg Fish and Game club for their annual outing day.  There was a flea market, a raffle, shooting demos, games, and me, the taxidermist.  It was a bleak rainy morning and the crowd wasn't much of a crowd, however.  I felt daunted at first, as I get pretty shy and self-conscious when I'm not in my environment.  I could hear grumblings from some of the vendors about moving their tables inside and to the correct rooms and the mood just felt...surly.  As I was setting up my table an older guy brushed past me and said, "Looks like we got the apprentice here again"...and I, being a typical American girl socialized to always smile and be friendly and never question other people, just gave him and goofy grin and giggled.  And then I spent the next thirty seconds cursing him in my head, wondering what he meant by that remark and kicking myself for being friendly. Was he saying that based on the quality of my work?  Could he see through me?  I've always dealt with the fear that really I'm just a phony and someday the curtain will come up and everyone will see me for what I truly am.  About a year ago I had a great talk with a dear friend; he's older, far more accomplished  and has racked up a significant amount of life experiences.  I expressed this fear to him and he simply said, "Beth, we're ALL phonies.  We just keep plugging along until it works.  No one should ever be judged for being at the stage of growth which they're at. "  I have held his words close to my heart and they do me well at times like this when I feel intimidated.



My husband Jim thought the guy said that just because I was young (I may be in my thirties but the median age of this group was about 60) and a girl.  I think being a female in this industry cuts both ways.  I like that simply being a member of the fairer sex seems to immediately bring the guard down of just about any thick-skinned, ornery old man and I'd be lying if I claimed to never have batted my eyelashes to get on some guy's good side.  However, I feel like I have to prove myself, as cliché as that sounds.  I wouldn't trade it for the world though.  I love being a girl.







I didn't dress like a mountain woman on purpose, but it certainly helped me fit in with my surroundings.



Did I mention it was the 80th anniversary of the club?  I spoke with one gentleman who was 82; he was the longest living member, having joined in 1945.  Sweet guy.







Did someone say cake?







I put some of my cards on the bulletin board, under the watchful eye of Foxy up there.  I'm enamoured by the idea of a club, the brotherhood and unity of it all.  Guys post photos of their prize catches, they keep up on family info, and support one another when it's needed.  So many of them are vets, and seeing the way our country as a whole treats its veterans (like crap) it's good to see a group of them laughing, happy and healthy in a place where they can feel safe.







As the day went on things got better.  I chatted up a bunch of hunters, gave out many cards and could possibly have some leads. There were some great hunting stories, too, about 800 pound bears ("and that was AFTER it was field-dressed!"), bobcats, coyotes being mistaken for German Shepards, and so forth.







The day's menu:  I think it's a riot that people still say "freedom fries".







Priceless, in fact.



The real action began when the rifle team arrived with some heavy artillery. To the left is a 1919 Browning Machine gun and on the right is a Gatling Gun.







The Gatling in action.  There were tracer bullets in the magazine, every 35 rounds. They appeared as red flares flying out of the gun.  I couldn't believe how fast that thing shot, just from a simple hand crank.







While that one was loud and very impressive, the Browning was like an earthquake.  Of course I forgot my "ears" so I just plugged my fingers in my head.  I still felt every part of my body vibrating though, including my eyebrows.  It was insane.







The range just got more and more smokey as the shooting continued and the smell of burning stuck in my nose for most of the day.







It was a real treat to see, and just about every one of us was in awe.  I left with a Holmesburg tee shirt and a positive outlook on the day.

Tastes like Chicken!

It appears to be squirrel season over here; I just skinned three last week and was gifted one more today.  Two of the three from last week were harvested by a friend and presented to me with the understanding that I would skin them and bring the meat to a BBQ in the near future.  I'm quite enthused about the sudden influx of small mammal specimen, seeing as I've got several deadlines looming nearby and I adore working with little furry creatures.



Here are the two which my friend caught.   I was impressed by what a good shot he is:  The first one got it right in the neck...







While the second took a shot right in the head.







I kept the bullet.  Or pellet, or whatever it's called.







This may seem cruel but the point is these creatures died instantly and that, to me, is humane.  The last thing it knew was scampering around happily and then-nothing.  I'll take nourishment from this kind of meat source over a mutated chicken with breast meat so abnormally large and cumbersome that it can't even walk five steps in its dark shitty pen, any day.



I marinated the meat in a mixture of Yuengling Lager, soy sauce and honey for 48 hours.  We threw it on the grill and let it cook for about twenty minutes.







The squirrel, plated.







I snatched a bit of the back-strap (most delicious cut of meat from deer, rabbits and squirrel) while it was being plated and bit into it, uncertain of what I'd taste.  It certainly smelled delicious, but this was a city squirrel.  It lived off of local compost so I guess you could say he ate well but...I was still wary.



The first taste washed all doubt away however, as salty sweet sizzling juiciness exploded in my mouth.  The mouth feel was tender and crisp.  Cries of "tastes like chicken!" could be heard from the kitchen as everyone took turns trying the new dish. Success!  I felt validated, I felt like I'd done something right.



I realise that to many people, eating squirrel is nothing new and such ado over this dish could read as discrediting a humble, naturally natural way of life or trying to make it a novelty.  I just want to express that to myself and my friends this was a completely new experience and a rewarding one at that.  I admire and aspire live the aforementioned way of life, where its just a day's work to harvest an animal and live off the land.



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