Valentine’s taxidermy: If love is dead, then stuff it

Taxidermy mice. Pic: Amanda Sutton

Taxidermy mice. Pic: Amanda Sutton

As far as activities go, taxidermy is a far cry from collecting stamps and cross-stitching. But for couples that reject the traditional Valentine’s vibe, or for those who have fallen foul of cupid’s arrow, resurrecting a rodent to make a “love rat” may be the perfect alternative to chocolate making.

Stuff and Nonsense‘ is just one of a growing number of events as the taxidermy craze refuses to die down.

Amanda Sutton, who runs Amanda’s Autopsies and who will be hosting the Valentine’s class in Tower Hamlets, creates traditional taxidermy and more innovative jewellery where mice are delicately attached to arm cuffs and feather fascinators.

A taxidermy hobbyist for nearly eight years, Sutton only uses road kill, reptile feed or animals from sanctuaries. “I’d rather see an animal alive than dead if it can be helped”, says Sutton. This attitude is common among taxidermists today and departs greatly from the common image of stags mounted high in grand dusty houses, as trophies of hunting expeditions.

Sutton thinks taxidermy has become increasingly popular: “Mainly because Victoriana is in fashion at the moment. A lot of artists in general have taken reference from Victorian elements, and you can see it in the high streets all over the place.” However, she recognises that some people are still averse to it: “I tend to not go around saying I’m a taxidermist to strangers. It’s not the first impression I want to give. I expect it is [still taboo] in some people’s eyes; there are still those that just automatically think you have killed the animal to mount it. Others are more open-minded, and have researched before giving their opinion.”

Taxidermy Mouse. Pic: Amanda Sutton.

Taxidermy Mouse. Pic: Amanda Sutton.

Polly Morgan, is an artist whose workshop is in Hackney Wick, has been doing taxidermy to create art for ten years. “Taxidermy’s received more exposure and is seen more as contemporary art”, she explains. “People don’t see it as connected with hunting and killing any more. It is receiving more press, which has broken the taboo. People see it as more accessible, not as a guilty secret.”

“So many people are divorced from the countryside and taxidermy is a way to reconnect with it.”

Vadim Kosmos, manager of Little Shop of Horrors which sits on Hackney’s Mare Street, has noticed a “surge in interest” in the last three years in their taxidermy pieces. For Kosmos, the likes of Damien Hirst and the fashion industry initiated the popularity: “They re-contextualised taxidermy into fine art and fashion pieces.

Kosmos says the shop has had an overwhelming demand for workshops, but stuffed animals still divide customers. “People either won’t come through the front door or they are fascinated.”

Stuffing a love rat this Valentine’s will either make you a follower of the craze or make you run away from the dead mouse completely. But as Kosmos says, negative reactions are expected: “We don’t do taxidermy because everyone is going to like it.”

It seems the peculiarity of taxidermy in itself, is part of its appeal and popularity.

‘Stuff & Nonsense’ Valentine’s event will take place at Barts Pathology Museum at Queen Mary University on February 22.

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