Behind The Taxidermy Renaissance, Roadkill And A Little Imagination

Aug 16, 2014
Originally published on January 30, 2015 8:39 am
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Transcript

TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

They say in fashion that everything old can be new again. And of course in the movies, there's no such thing as an original idea anymore. Well, apparently this lack of imagination now applies to a new, old hobby that's making a comeback - taxidermy. Laura Secorun Palet writes about it for the online magazine Ozy. And she joins us now.Welcome.

LAURA SECORUN PALET: Oh, thanks for having me.

VIGELAND: Taxidermy? Who, pray tell, is hanging this up on the hobby wall?

PALET: Well, you'd be surprised. It's not only a bunch of hipsters trying to find what's next and what's even more shocking, but a lot of people from accountants, to school teachers, to curious teenagers because I think everybody has a morbid fascination. A lot of people get into taxidermy as a way to feel closer to nature. There's also people who are interested in Victoriana, which is a whole fascination with the 19th century in the UK. And of course there's the others, the hipsters, and how ironic it is to have a dissected rabbit in your living room wearing glasses and a pipe.

VIGELAND: Wearing glasses and a pipe.

PALET: Yeah, I think they're moving on from this, you know, hunter style of traditional taxidermy into what's more anthropomorphic style and also into what's called rogue taxidermy, which is putting different parts of animals together to create these fantastic creatures.

VIGELAND: All right, so where are they getting these animals?

PALET: So most of them - it's either road kill...

VIGELAND: They go out and pick up road kill?

PALET: Yes, they do. And taxidermists just flag it out with their friends. And people bring dead animals to their doorstep every day. But they also use animal feed. There is, for example, the rats and hamsters. And there's also, you know, the occasional pet that the owner wants to keep around forever.

VIGELAND: The pet who has previously expired.

PALET: Yes.

VIGELAND: OK. All right, without getting too gory here, there are basically DIY stuffing kits. How does that work?

PALET: In the kit comes everything that you need to dissect a mouse - very detailed instructions. You know, what to pull from where and what muscle and what not - what to do with the skin and all those things.

VIGELAND: So it's like...

PALET: And...

VIGELAND: ...High school biology class.

PALET: It is very much like it, actually.

VIGELAND: What kind of time and expense is required to get good at this?

PALET: Well, it's not cheap and it's definitely time consuming. The kit, for example, it's 50 bucks. The courses, however, are usually around 200 - it depends. There are courses in London and New York and Sydney. They're popping up everywhere.

VIGELAND: Laura, any pushback from the animal rights community?

PALET: Absolutely. So PETA, for example, has issued a statement saying that they do not condone, and they do not like taxidermy. You know, a lot of these people say that indeed they use road kill and they use animal feed. But there's always the risk that animals will be killed just for enjoyment. And there's also the moral issue of whether or not it's denigrating for the animal to be, you know, portrayed as a person or, you know, put on a mantelpiece.

VIGELAND: Did you get a chance to get your hands dirty?

PALET: No. But I'm seriously considering it.

VIGELAND: So you'll be looking for a class in your area?

PALET: Yeah. I live in London, I just might.

VIGELAND: All right. Laura Secorun Palet is a writer for the online magazine Ozy. Laura, thanks for your time.

PALET: Thanks for having me, Tess. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.