My book The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing!

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More Finnish Taxidermy

A ways back, Thomas Hamberg submitted images and answers for the Beastly Love questionaire.  See here +  He has just sent me a link to a short video of his home, which is nothing short of remarkable, if not remarkably strange. It's all in Finnish, but you'll get the idea:

Also, if you happen to be in Helsinki, Thomas has just opened the only taxidermy-oriented antique store in Finland.  Visitors to Götan Maailma (Göta's world) will find natural history specimens mixed in which curiosities, old medical equipment and other such oddities. Here are a few images:




Doing it right

I love this photo of Guy Berube's office at La Petite Mort Gallery in Ottawa, Canada. Classy and chic yet with a rustic retro feel. Plus, a stuffed rooster... that's not something even I see often.  But what's that strange monkey creature on the top left shelf?  


The New Taxidermy

A few words on the new interest in vintage taxidermy.  Open any home decor magazine and you're sure to see taxidermy - perhaps a trophy head, perhaps even a Victorian case of sea birds. At the very least, you'll probably see a modern reworking of the trophy head fabricated from some plastic material or carved from wood. 

Wendi Weger's Pioneer Home

Surely this trend in taxidermy isn't new to you readers, but just in case here's a few comments from Apartment Therapy readers on the yays or nays of taxidermy here +  And while you're at Apartment Therapy, check out Michelle Enemark and Dylan Thuras' Brooklyn flat here +

So what is this all about?  Why the new interest for taxidermy among the young and trendy ultramoderns? Perhaps because taxidermy is the ultimate anti-modern object.  

Where serially produced, industrially manufactored objects have clean lines and smooth surfaces, trophies are intensely detailed and sensuously textural.  If manufactured goods are endowed with a replaceable sameness, each piece of taxidermy - just like each and every animal, human or otherwise - is inherently, potently, uniquely itself. If modern objects self-consciously sidestep the moral weight of tradition and centuries old antiquities, vintage taxidermy resonantes with a deep history of times passed. But as always with taxidermy, the meaning of these pieces is ambiguous.  

Old taxidermy is laden with a perplexed significance.  If hunting trophies are typically displayed by the hunters who killed the beasts, these re-appointed pieces are usually of obscured origins.  Where it came from, who killed it, how long it has been dead - all such storytelling is no longer significant. Rummaged from junk stores or purchased on e-bay, vintage taxidermy refocuses the attention from the hunter's prowess to the animal itself, to its strangeness, to its beauty. If vintage trophies make reference to a passed era when taxidermy was a regular household decoration item, they similarly speak to the enduring power of animal beauty. And these trophies although long dead and often older than their collectors are still intensely beautiful.  No other household decoration holds the enigmatic fascination of an animal.


The New Antiquarians

A recent article in the New York Times' Home and Garden section featured collectors with a deliciously decadent antiquarian aesthetic.  And yes, taxidermy featured prominently.  The loft of sisters Hollister and Porter Hovey in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is stuffed with all things outmoded yet highly stylish: taxidermy, fencing masks, natural history prints, pith helmets, and apothecary jars ... objects that exude a palpable nostalgia for another era long passed.

This is not the type of decorating style that you can just go out and buy. It is a style of passion.  A lifestyle of visual collage. "It’s a stitched-together, bricolage world, an alternative world,” writes Valerie Steele, the director of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology.  Collecting old things is a way of collecting the aura of a passed world or perhaps of collecting the passing of time itself.

But these are not just any sort of objects.  These are intensely fascinating things. Faded patinas, gilding, whimsical details, furs and feathers, brass knobs, skeletons, aged maps. Each is inherently, potently unique, which - on its own - marks these things off from the endless stream of sameness characterising modern wares.  Each object composing the eerie Victoriana aesthetic of Ryan Matthew's apartment is irreplaceable and irreplaceably strange, particularly his mummified hunting dog.

This is more than a "New Vintage." This is a statement of idiosyncratic individuality. Just as no two pieces of taxidermy will ever be the same (there are no copies in nature), no two apothecary bottles or Victorian pith helmets or vintage mirror will ever be equally the same.  These lifelong collections express a love of texture and detail and the pleasures of beautifully, outlandishly, and outmodedly uniquely vibrant things.

Read the whole article here +


Squirrel Lamp


See more taxidermy advertisements here : 



Recreations for Artistic Ladies

Published in 1860, Art Recreations offers itself as being a complete guide to all the womanly arts including pencil drawing, oil and watercolour painting, moss work, papier mache, feather flowers, shell work, magic laterns, enamel painting, hair work, and taxidermy.  When it comes to taxidermy, the authors waste no time with pleasantries. The chapter begins bluntly: "Take out the entrails." 


The bluntness continues.  The entire explanation of taxidermic procedure consists of the above page and only one other paragraph.  After the entrails and brain are removed and the skin is dry, the skull cavity and the entire fleshy body (the little bird is not skinned) is then to be filled with a mixture of salt, pepper, and alum.  The bird should be hung in a cool, airy place first by the feet (so that the body may be impregnated with the salt) and then by a wire passed through the bird's beak until the bird "appears to be sweet," which I assume means until the bird no longer smells of decay.  Perhaps the common judgement of the dainty Victorian lady needs some readjustment.  

If you're wondering what "hair work" involves, let me explain.  Simply put, hair work is the art of creating decorative flowers from human hair.  The authors claim that the hair must be "hair from the head of living person," which is the be plucked and brushed as smoothly as possible and tied in bunches. Then begins an explaination that I can't really follow but involves twisted wire, a bit of whalebone, and knitting needles. "Practice in this art," I am assured, "is of more value than precept.