Under the skin: this is where taxidermy gets meaty
The stuffing of dead animals is more than a niche pursuit, it’s a metaphor for modern life
I grew up with dead animals, but they never felt exactly dead. This was in Florida, a state where people fish and hunt, and a lot of dead animals result from those trips. You see them in family photos: an uncle proudly displaying a downed buck, grandpa in an orange hat, one foot stomped on the back of a feral hog. You see them in the flesh: deer mounts in the church rectory; a bearskin rug draped across the foot of a friend’s bed; a shellacked bass my dad caught one day on the lake. They were frozen between life and death, in a mounted state of limbo.
Sometimes we’d throw a Father Christmas hat on that fish in our living room in December, try to make it look festive. It felt like a stuffed animal to me, a kind of fishy teddy bear. My brother even named him: “Mister Chomp.” I loved that fish, but I never wondered how it got made.
Then one day I began looking up pictures of bad taxidermy (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comedy/what-to-see/17-of-the-worst-taxidermy-efforts-ever-created/) for fun. I love puns, adore a bad joke. The worse it is, the funnier it feels. So for me, images of really bad taxidermy online seemed hysterical. There were pictures of mountain goats or cougars painstakingly rendered, but screwed up in some hilarious way. One specific lioness, dainty and beautiful, had crossed eyes that made her look like she was staring in two directions at once. Since I found these pictures so funny, I began to unpack the joke for myself. Instead of a joke, I discovered a new passion...