Meditations on Taxidermy

I just ran across a business card for a shop I went into in San Francisco and had meant to tell you guys about but then forgot.  It was called Loved to Death, and if you get a chance, you should go.  Just because.

I’ve never seen another shop like it.  It appeared to sell a mixture of antiques, silver jewelry, vintagey goth clothes, I think there may have been some skulls and… what was that other thing?  Oh yeah, TAXIDERMIED RODENTS.

If I recall correctly, the foyer had a chandelier with squirrels on it.  Real, dead squirrels.  With glass eyes.  It was creepy as all hell, but fascinating at the same time.  The friend I was with didn’t actually want to go into this store, but I was compelled not only to go in, but also to carefully inspect every piece of merchandise there.  Because really, how can you not in such a place?

Now, I’m going to assume that I’m not alone when I say that the only real question that taxidermy ever brings to my mind is, “Dear God, why?”  (One time one of my uncles interjected a sentence with, “I had been teaching myself taxidermy at the time, so….”  I don’t remember the rest of the story because I more or less fixated on that bit.  My dad and his brothers grew up “in the bush” so they will sometimes come out with stuff like that.  It’s weird.)

Why would anyone want to do something like that to a dead thing?  I think most people would agree that it’s not the classiest design choice going, so it’s clearly not about aesthetics.

I’ve never hunted, so maybe that’s why I don’t get it.  Maybe hunters naturally understand the whole taxidermy thing a bit better.  Maybe if, hypothetically, I were to kill a bear, I would want — for vague reasons of ego or similar —  to stuff it and give it some prime floor space in my 700 square foot urban apartment. (I’m sure this would be great for dinner party conversations.)  In this way, I could keep forever the evidence of how awesome a killer I was.  Probably I’ll never know if that’s what I’d do, because — let’s face it — I’m not going to kill a bear.  For one thing, I don’t like guns.  For another, I don’t really like the woods up close.  For a third, I don’t kill things.  (Besides smallish bugs if I have large enough bludgeoning implements.)  (I don’t play fair when it comes to bug warfare.  It’s a character flaw I’ve learned to live with.)

I’m assuming, however, that if you were a hunter of squirrels, then taxidermying them wouldn’t really show you as an alpha in front of all your friends.  So I’m pretty sure that while taxidermying a bear makes it a trophy, taxidermying a rodent has some other, some might say higher, purpose.  And I think that purpose might be Art.  I think I might have even seen a taxidermied mountain goat at a Rauschenberg exhibit once.  I tell you, weird stuff gets done in the name of Art.  Here’s a lesson for you folks, and this is coming from someone who studied art history for two years in university: not all art is good.  I know, shocking.  But there you have it.

Ok, I have no graceful way to end this one, so I’m just going to stop here because this post is already pretty odd.  However, if you have any experiences with, or just thoughts on the whys and wherefores of taxidermy, I would be fascinated to hear them, so tell me in the comments.

Happy Tuesday.

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7 thoughts on “Meditations on Taxidermy

  1. I’m with you, gal – never understood it myself, even after living in the woods of Maine for 32 years – or perhaps BECAUSE I lived among hunters and trappers and such. Here in Hawaii it’s fish. And I sure hope they eat them as well, because they are some massive specimens – too bad to haul them out of the deep only to put them on the wall.

    On another note, I worked for this old couple when I was quite young – cleaned their house for money as a teenager. They had some shrunken heads from Borneo – both monkey as well as human. They showed me the difference, as they had to smuggle the human heads out of the country (well before TSA). Talk about creepy, human heads in a person’s closet.

    • Smuggling human heads out of Borneo… wow. People like that should publish memoirs.

      I had forgotten that people mount fish. Marlin! The idea of having one of those over the fireplace just makes me think of pea green shag wall-to-wall and Burt Reynolds mustaches.

      I had a friend when I was younger who had a big deer head over the inside of the front door. Its glass eyes were spooky.

      • Yes, the Hesters never published any memoirs that I know of. I always wondered what happened to those heads when they died – and given the amounts of alcohol and cigarettes they imbibed in from morning til night (along with lack of food), it was a wonder they lived as long as they did.

        Yes, big fish in restaurants here; in old hotels.

        Hey, it’s All spooky.

  2. Thanks for being open minded enough enough to go inside the shop and check out the taxidermy in the first place. As a taxidermist myself, I understand that it’s not for everyone. But for those to whom it calls, it’s a passion. Please keep in mind that taxidermists, like all people, come in every shape, size and personality. I consider myself and the work I do to fall into the artist category, and the main thrust in my work is my undying love for animals. Also, since I eat most of what I mount, one of my goals is to lift the veil which blocks most people from seeing just where their food comes from. I’m passionate about embracing it all: the good the bad and the gory.

    • Thanks for stopping by. I hope you weren’t offended. I do find taxidermy morbidly fascinating. I’m afraid it’s an art form that I doubt I’ll ever really understand, but it is different strokes for different folks, like they say. I am glad that you eat the animals, and aren’t just killing them, as I like to think the most was got from their deaths. I am a vegetarian and do put a lot of thought into where my food comes from. I agree that having that awareness is important. (Although, to be honest, I had actually thought that this was done with roadkill and things that died of natural causes.)

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