Cut body parts line the walls of buildings around the U.S. In the US, everywhere from bars to grandpa's house, people rarely sit still. However, taxidermy in the modern world is very different. Although trophy taxidermy still exists, most taxidermists work with animals that have not been euthanized solely for the purpose of taxidermy.
Is ethically sourced taxidermy (acquired from dead animals, such as those run over) morally incorrect? I've recently thought about this after learning about Kat Von D's ethical taxidermy collection even though she's vegan, and I thought that while taxidermy may seem strange and creepy to a lot of people, is there something inherently wrong with it? I mean it's used for artistic purposes, and it can be used for educational purposes, maybe even to replace live animals in zoos. Buying stuffed animals second-hand or in a store isn't better because you never really know where the bodies come from. As artist, taxidermist and skeleton enthusiast Wilder Duncan explained: “Most licensed professional taxidermists are primarily concerned with recreating the illusion of natural life in their mounts, while rogue taxidermy is more often focused on a conceptual idea. It's the best place to meet other taxidermists and learn techniques through talks and demonstrations.
It is not likely that a stuffed animal died of natural causes. Trophy animals are specifically killed to become ornaments. There are also laws that protect certain species, which means that a taxidermist must obtain legal documentation to prove that they have died naturally. While the traditional idea of the taxidermist was based on a hunter in a bloody apron fighting with a deer corpse or a pile of old, dusty feathers, the new face of taxidermy is ethical, sustainable and wears winged eyeliner.
Someone who has spent hours perfecting her taxidermy craft is Divya Anantharaman, a professional taxidermist, cheerful goth and co-author of a new book, Stuffed Animals, which explores the methods, science and beautiful weirdness behind one of history's most misunderstood art forms. I consider myself an ethical taxidermist, since I only use animals that have died from a natural cause or an accident. The animals were allegedly killed, their skins salted and then sent back to the UK to be ridden by a taxidermist. The co-founder and creative director of the Museum of Morbid Anatomy, Joanna Ebenstein, co-wrote a book about the famous Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter and his work, and for her, being able to bring her painting “Kitten Wedding” to the museum was a dream come true.
It's possible that the skins were sent without any measurement and the taxidermist had probably never seen the animal in real life, so this is partly the reason most Victorian taxidermy looks a little strange. The latest wave of taxidermists, or at least, their most visible practitioners, also strongly biases women, drawing on a Victorian tradition while branching out into new territory. For more information on taxidermy, the Taxidermists Guild of the United Kingdom holds an annual conference every March.