The art of taxidermy is the art of simulating life with dead animals through different techniques that have evolved since the XVIIth century. We call it taxidermist or sometimes stuffer. The Egyptians were the first to discover embalming and preservation techniques of dead bodies. However curiosity cabinets start flourishing in the XVIIth century and taxidermy develops and becomes very popular. Indeed, these processes were used to preserve dead animals from foreign lands so they could be exposed in the curiosity cabinets in Europe.
The first method the taxidermists used was to create a structure sort of skeleton made in wood or in metal where the animal’s shape was recreated. The straw was often used during this operation, straw was stuffed in, hence the word “stuffer”. After that, the skin of the animal was applied and stretched, adjusted perfectly to the shape of the structure. The skin was tanned and conserved by preservative chemicals. Organs like the eyes or the tongue that could not be preserved were replaced by glass marbles and other tricks.
Today, the traditional process of taxidermy is still used by « purists » but this art has evolved as much on the technical side than the subjects.
We are first going to study on the artists that claim to be part of “fine taxidermy”, heirs to traditional taxidermy of the XVIIth century, in opposition to “rogue taxidermy”. The dutch duo Sinke-Van Tongeren (Ferry Van Tongeren and Jaap Sinke) are the creators of one of the most impressive taxidermy collection today. They use traditional methods of the Victorian era as opposed to the modern taxidermists who use already prepared models and skin is applied directly and stretched on it. They prepare the structure themselves with sketches and patterns, measuring with extreme precision the animal’s dimensions. The result is astonishing and the animals almost look alive. They want to celebrate the beauty of nature. Their mission is to recreate and preserve nature in all its glory and perfection, they want the animals to look alive and alert, beautiful, despite inevitable death that is involved in this art. Their series like “Darwin’Menagerie” or “Jardin d’Eden” reflect at the same time a timeless and striking memento mori and a tribute to Mother Nature.
Taxidermy has always been traditionally a masculine art. During the Victorian era, we can mention some big names of taxidermy like John Hancock, Charles Waterton, Carl Akeley, William Hornaday and John James Audubon. Only one woman taxidermist is mentioned at the time: Marthan Ann Maxwell.
Martha Ann Maxwell
When you hear taxidermy today you immediately think of artist Damien Hirst and his work on art, life and death.
However if you focus on artists today that practice taxidermy, it is very clear that women dominate this field. From Sarina Brewer to Polly Morgan without forgetting Lisa Black, Katie Innamorato, Kate Clark, Jessica Joslin and Amanda Sutton, taxidermy seems taken over by women!
Most of these artists are part of the new alternative axidermy form of art called « rogue art ». “Rogue taxidermy is a pop-surrealist genre of sculpture that uses taxidermy materials, traditional materials, in an unconventional manner” Robert Marbury cofounder of the “Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists”. Kate Clark is one of them. She creates almost mythological creatures with animal bodies and human heads.
Rogue taxidermy, sort of chimeric taxidermy is a form of art inherited from Walter Potter’s “staged” taxidermy, he was the first to dress up his animals. Amanda Sutton follows in his footsteps by also dressing up, clothing and staging her animals.
Instead of reproducing a perfect imitation of the animal, modern taxidermists create dreamlike creatures, as beautiful as they are disturbing. Their creations reveal a more sensitive and emotional story than the more traditional realist taxidermy elements you can see in natural history museums.
Some of the major female artists of the contemporary taxidermy scene are: Claire Morgan, Katinka Simonse, Carlee Fernandez, Julia Deville and Iris Scheiferstein.
Let’s not forget some male actors of this art scene like Nate Hill, Maurizio Cattelan and Dan Taylor.