ADVISORY NOTE: THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES OF TAXIDERMY IN PROGRESS
Today was THE DAY, the one I have been looking forward to for ages – the day I spent learning the art of Taxidermy! I have always liked stuffed animals and birds and a few years ago at an art exhibition which included the work of Polly Morgan that I discovered my good friend Sharon was also interested in this fascinating art form; so when she asked me if I would like to spend the day with her stuffing a mouse, there was no way I was going to say no! The venue for this educational day was the Islington Arts Factory – don’t be fooled by its name, it is an amazing place housed in an old church opposite Holloway Prison – definitely not factory-like at all.
Islington Arts Factory (the church without a spire top)
Our tutor was the absolutely delightful Tonja of “Made From The Dead” (www.madefromthedead.com) who made the whole day such a pleasure, not to mention our fellow students – whose names I have forgotten, but a big thank you to them for being such good company.
The project for the day was an “Anthropomorphic Mouse or Rat”, there was a choice although I chose a mouse.
my mouse “before”
After a brief explanation of how the day would progress we set about the initial removal of the skin from our animal. This involves care – the use of sharp instruments is involved and concentration. A small cut is made at the breast bone and then traced down the length of the body.
the first cut is the deepest!
Once this has been made the delicate task of separating the skin from the flesh of the mouse begins. This is achieved by gentle but firm peeling back the skin (and fur) releasing it from the membrane which holds it to the flesh using a scalpel. The legs and tail are a bit tricky but the hands, feet and tail get cut through the cartilage. More difficult are the ears and eyes which require gentle peeling and teasing away with the scalpel point. When the face is free the whole is peeled back to the nose which is then cut off through the cheek bones thus preserving the upper jaw and top teeth as well as the nose.
ready for eyes and nose separation
Once the last of the membrane is removed from the skin, a long and tricky process of pulling and rubbing to remove it so that none of the slippery jelly like substance is left, the mouse is ready for washing.
inside out mouse ready for washing
right side out mouse ready for washing
After lunch, (yes I did eat some lunch!)we washed our animals in a soap and water solution, rinsing them well and drying them inside and out with a hair dryer. The next step was the ‘tanning’, wiping on of preservative to stop it rotting before finally beginning to reassemble it.
washed and brushed up ready for stuffing
An armature is made from galvanised garden wire which is then wrapped with cotton wool. At this point we discovered why we had to keep the bodies – this is for accurate measuring for the placement of arms and legs. The armature is then inserted into the skin, arms and legs fitted in place before the body finally sewn closed.
wire and cotton wool armature
stuffing the mouse
stitching it closed
Finally the eyes are added. these are small glass beads which are glued in place using a pair of tweezers to life the eyelids first.
Now the time had come to ‘pose’ the mouse. I had decided that I wanted to make mine a dancer, so it needed to stand on one leg and have its arms outstretched holding it’s frock up – doing the Can-Can!
Absinthia – the Frou-Frou Mouse (not yet dressed – the floozy!)
Sharon and me with our Mouse-terpieces!
After careful transporting home across London via a very busy underground and then on to an equally busy train back to Sussex I spent a couple more hours making her costume, and here she is in all her frilly glory!
There is NOTHING gory or unpleasant about this process, whether it is an art form or a hobby, it is really interesting as well as educational – I have learned loads about the physical make up of a mouse. In case anyone wondered, it doesn’t smell, well only a little bit but nothing that would make you sick and no worse than the smell you get in a butcher’s shop; the other thing is there is NO BLOOD! I have to admit I was worried about there being blood, but you aren’t chopping the thing up, just removing the skin so no blood is involved. Obviously there will be those who don’t like it for various reasons, but there is nothing wrong with it – our mice were legally sourced in accordance with the wildlife and countryside act 1981, not only that, but my good friend Sharon (who invited me to come with her to this fab day) is a committed vegetarian and friend to all living creatures – so nay-sayers – you are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine!
And in case you were interested, this is one of Tonja’s creations… isn’t it adorable!
Find out more about Tonja and Made from the Dead at www.madefromthedead.com . I had a great day and am looking forward to going back again sometime to do something a little larger!