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Taxidermy expert and author Rachel Poliquin catches up with Beth Beverly from AMC's Immortalized to discuss why taxidermy is back in fashion and what makes her art "rogue."
Q: How did you get interested in taxidermy?
A: I've been incorporating animal fibers into my work since I was a little kid. I used to make earrings out of seashells or barrettes with feathers hanging down when I was six or seven. When I went to college, I studied jewelery design. All of my designs seem to focus on tiaras and headpieces, and I was constantly trying to incorporate feathers, fur and leather into those pieces. So it just seemed like a natural progression. The real impetus was seeing birds on the sidewalk that had flown into buildings. I was heartbroken over the thought of them just rotting on the sidewalk and all of that beauty going to waste. So I got a book and taught myself. After about ten years of floundering around, I went to school and got my formal training.
Q: Taxidermy was traditionally a male-dominated profession, but that's all changed in recent years. Why do you think so many women are taking up taxidermy?
A: I am honestly surprised that more women haven't been involved since the start. You need nimble fingers, attention to detail, and a lot of patience. I think those are all qualities women are credited with having. Also, traditional taxidermy has a lot of trophy mounts which can involve larger animals -- men have the body mass to handle all of that meat. I rarely do anything larger than a coyote. And I know a lot of rogue taxidermists rarely do anything really large.
Q: What do you mean by "rogue"? What puts the rogue in rogue taxidermy?
A: I suppose it's rogue because it is going off the beaten path of recreating nature to look exactly like it was. Rogue is when people start adding their own flourishes. My specialty is adding crystals and different colors -- I like to enhance the animals. Rogue adds whimsy and fantasy to the creatures.
VIDEO: Who Is Beth Beverly?
Q: You work with a large variety of animals and birds. Rabbits, pigeons, chickens, squirrels... Do you have a special relationship with any species in particular?
A: I would say chickens. Chickens are my heart. I work with so many because I have friends who breed chickens and save their spoils for me. I think chickens are the most beautiful birds. They come in such a variety of shades and patterns. And they're easy to work with -- their skins are tough and they don't have a lot of fat on them.
Q: Of all your pieces, the chicken pompadour is my favorite. How do you go about building such a thing?
A: A lot of times the hat just comes to me as I am working with the skin. Before I skin a specimen, I'll move it around to see what makes the feathers lay in a certain way or what shape the wings can make, and I'll just keep playing with it after I've tanned the skin. For the pompadour, that beautiful arc -- how full the body was -- the chicken just sort of found its own shape. A lot of my hats seem to just find their own shape. It's a very organic process.
Q: What's underneath there? Is it just chicken? Is there some sort of wire mesh?
A: I carved a foam shape. But the foam is so much smaller than you'd think because the feathers were really lush and puffy.
Q: I can't open an interior design magazine or walk through a home décor store without bumping into taxidermy. Why do you think taxidermy is back in fashion?
A: I am over the moon that everyone seems to be really getting into taxidermy. I think about this a lot actually. I think part of it is because of the recession. It seemed to spark a movement of people who want to do things for themselves, to buy more locally and source things locally. A byproduct of that was people getting more in touch with where their food comes from and the whole farm-to-table movement. I think that movement has inspired people to want to be closer to nature and want to see it. Also in hard times, people -- whether subconsciously or not -- have a fascination with death and want to be a little bit closer to it as well. All these components come together to make this perfect storm.
Q: Where do you sell your pieces? Who buys your hats?
A: For the most part I do my sales online through my etsy page. It is almost always women, and usually women who want a certain look. They don't want to wear something that someone else has, which is great because I really can't make the same thing twice.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: I'm working on a line of hats which are almost all chicken-based. I'm hoping to have them all out and ready for sale this spring when The Great Gatsby movie comes out. I saw a trailer for the movie and I thought, "Oh my god, my hats should be in this movie!" It would all dovetail so well together. I'm just really going with The Great Gatsby inspiration. And I'm practicing mice. I'm trying to get better at small rodents in my spare time.
Q: If you were reincarnated as an animal, what would you be and why?
A: What would I be? Or what would I want to be? I would really want to be a house cat, because I treat my two cats like they're the second coming. They're my little princes. But I think I might be a horse because I'm graceful and I'm very sturdy.