Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Taxidermy Art, Of Corpse

If you have run out of ways to express your inner self, maybe you should try stuffing a mouse.

Taxidermy MiceMargot Magpie says taxidermy art lets you deal with life and death and turn it into something you can place on your hearth.

Gutting, cleaning and shaping a mouse into a piece of art is apparently the latest uncool thing to become hip. Magpie, the pied piper of taxidermy art in the UK, says her class makes a perfect date night.

Stuffed animals – the real ones, not the plush ones you find at Disney stores – largely went out of fashion after the Victorian era. That was a heady time for discovering, cataloguing and mounting exotic animals to dress up your drawing room.

As interior design advanced, many people came to see large growling grizzly bears in the entry way as nuisance dust collectors. Less genteel folk said they were eyesores.

So taxidermy slipped into relative obscurity, with the exception of the occasional naturalist painter or sculptor, such as Portland artist Rip Caswell, who uses taxidermy as a sidekick to enhance his appreciation of the skeletal and muscular structures that he sculpts into realistic bronze figures.

Magpie’s taxidermy makeover seems more light-hearted, fanciful and, well, mousy. She is turning taxidermy into an anthropomorphic art form, letting you convert a dead mouse into a mantelpiece talking point. Students derive the same satisfaction as they did back in high school when they made their first pie in home economics or a lamp in wood shop. It didn’t matter whether the pie tasted good or the lamp worked, you and your parents beamed at your achievement.

The mouse with a cigar or top hat is just a cheekier version of the same pride, and is kinkier to create.

Margot MagpieOf course, it’s possible the ever more popular mice taxidermy art class is just a clever come-on to promote Magpie’s own taxidermy art. As her website Of Corpse seductively says,”I create unusual and interesting vintage-inspired fascinators and Victorian-inspired taxidermy. I am available to custom make items.” Though you wonder where the artist signs her name on mouse art.

Her draws enthusiastic comments. One admirer said, “Taxidermy is cool. I have an antique badger.” Viral stuff, that.

In interviews, Magpie assures that her dead mice are ethically sources, from roadkill and reptile shop owners scavenging food for their snakes. Some ardent students may bring their own mouse, snared under the sink.

People who have taken Ms. Magpie’s taxidermy art class describe the 4-hour ordeal as less stressful than they imagined. After all, if your scalpel slips and you clip off an ear, who is going to notice or care. Despite taxidermy tasks that many may regard as “icky,” Magpie insists no student, male or female, has ever fainted, though some have scampered out of class.

The artful process begins with positioning the mouse cadaver on its back and slitting it open from stem to stern. Next, you pull the mouse skin away from the innards and bones, removing it like a pair of trousers over mouse knees. Remaining muscles, eyes and the tongue need to be scraped away before the skin is rinsed with cold water and blow-dried.

Art piece by MagpieFrom there, the creative process takes wing. You can rebirth your mouse into anything you want – a rocker, a pipe-smoking sophisticate or an unpopular relative.

“These classes break boundaries and give people hands-on experience with something dead,” says Magpie. For people who devote enormous energy trapping mice in their pantry, it might just seem like a form of redemption.

Or maybe it will prompt you to re-read Of Mice and Men.

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