Diamond Tooth Taxidermy

Exquisite Taxidermy Art and Design

© 2013 Diamond Tooth Taxidermy
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About Beth Beverly


I am a State and Federally licensed taxidermist who graduated from the Pocono Institute of Taxidermy in 2010 with high marks. I have a deep respect for this craft and those who strive to preserve it.

It is my pleasure to work on any trophy mount, be it a shoulder, life-size, rug, or fish.

I accept custom orders for fantasy mounts, wearables, and bridal hair pieces.

Sculptural mounts and hats are available for rental provided they are in stock at time of inquiry.

Contact me describing your wish and I will be delighted to make it so.


Diamond Tooth Taxidermy Blog:



Taking Flight

Just the other day I sent off a pheasant I'd been working on for a couple of months, to the home of a new client as a gift for his daughter.  He was referred to me by someone I met at the Holmesburg open house, so this was basically my first connections free (no friends, no press) transaction.  I wanted so badly to give him the best possible finished product, and I think he left pleased.



He requested a position which would suggest the bird was about to take flight and emphasized his wishes for the tail to be prominently displayed.  Seeing as I've only observed pheasants in the wild a handful of times and never close-up (a fact I'm not proud of and hope to change soon), I took my time with this bird and did plenty of research.  What I decided upon was this stalking through the grass, poised to take off pose:







 



He requested a natural habitat with grass and such.  I took creative liberty here and added some decorative reeds and such in an arrangement I found copacetic with the pheasant.









 



So long, special friend!  It was a pleasure knowing you.



 

That sure went fast.

It seems like just the other day I was paying a solemn visit to a friends' house to retrieve a recently deceased gosling pet.  While I had initial success mounting Bobby, acquiring the perfect wings took some time.  Patience paid off however, and I was rewarded with a delicious squab which provided the perfect shade and size wings as well as a nutritious and wonderful meal.    After the entire piece was finished drying, I gave him a healthy coat of fairy dust to ensure maximum sparkle while poised atop the tree:



 







 



Merry Christmas!



PhillyMag.com | G Philly: "How my Dead Dog Won Best in Show"

by Jennifer Lea Cohan

"I wasn’t surprised when I looked under the side table and found that Elke had died. At age 14, my dear Rat Terrier had been failing for some time. However it was terribly inconvenient...Thank God for gay urban chicken farmers, because they know what to do in these situations. His dead hens are entrusted to his rogue taxidermist friend, Beth Beverly, a 32-year-old artist who works at Diamond Tooth Taxidermy in Philly... So I bagged her, iced her, and put her on the deck."

Read the entire article here: How My Dead Dog Won Best in Show

Triumphant!

I have returned from Brooklyn a winner...in so many ways.  The entire two day experience was a blast, the crowning moment obviously being when I was presented the title "Best in Show" at the Carnivorous Nights taxidermy contest.  The evening was a cavalcade of awesome, however, beginning with arriving at the venue and peeking at the other entries.  I felt very timid and nervous, not having any idea how this whole thing was to go down, and lying on the presentation table backstage were some pieces that I would embarrassingly refer to many times that night as "stiff competition".  (Could've been the one too many cocktails to steel my nerves or my complete lack of wit, take your pick).



Melissa Milgrom, author of Still life, adventures in taxidermy, opened up the evening with a brief chat and I was hanging on her every word.  Even though I'd read the book and all that she described was somewhate familliar to me, I always admire a decent public speaker.



Mike Zohn, host of Discovery Channel's new show "Oddities" was the key-note speaker and I loathe to admit that his speech was lost on me because at that point my nerves were starting to get the best of me.  My hands were shaking and I was trying to go over my presentation in my head while fighting off the near-crippling fear that I would say something stupid. Thankfully I was seated next to my dear friend Thea who brought her recording equipment and was producing a piece about the event.  I look forward to listening to her material so I can refresh myself on what I may have missed. Behind me was Daisy Tainton, who I traded quips with throughout the evening.  She specialises in insects and snark.  Seriously, her presentation has me spraying red wine out my nose.  In fact, I found most of the contestants to be quick with a joke and very humorous.  I, on the other hand, was possibly just the right combination of awkward, sad and sweet.



Here I am describing my first entry, Elke 2.0.  She was the beloved rat terrier to a local Philadelphia family for 14 years before she passed recently in her sleep.  I spoke of getting the call from a friend about the friend I was about to meet, and my trepidatious handling of the manner.  Basically what I tried to convey (and I believe reached everyone present) is my undying, unconditional love for animals and my goal to treat them with utmost respect after death. It was slightly emotional.







 



Next to Elke 2.0 is Grazyana, a Polish hen which belonged to another friend of mine.   I buy fresh eggs from him whenever they're available and this little gal didn't make it to laying age.  She was petite and so special; I imagined her as a Princess Bride.







 



On my head is a piece composed of a Selama hen, also a donation from my chicken master pal.  I basically mounted her in a position which would hug her to my scalp, with a wing fashionablly covering one side.  Lately I've been inspired by the beauty of feathers and how the dermis can be manipulated into different positions which accentuate this natural beauty.  I'm enjoying the attempt to mount creatures in ways that would not be found in nature.







 



 



Winner!  I went out to celebrate with my gracious hosts that night and celebrated until 3am.  I woke up exhausted but still elated.  Thankfully that elation stayed with me, through my ten block walk down 7th ave (after getting dropped off at Penn Station instead of 42nd street) while clutching a giant trophy and 3 foot long box of taxidermy sculpture, as well as my navigation of the Broad Street line and subsequent walk home from the station.







There were several impressive write-ups covering the event including a piece in the NY Times, and the Wall Street JournalDrew Anthony Smith is a photographer I met who took some really terrific pictures of the event several blogs covered the night's festivities quite nicely.  I suggest reading these (Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire, Pink Slip, Stars and Garters, Big Bad Bald Bastard, to name a few) for more coverage on the other contestants since every entry was fantastic and I'm only telling my own story here.

Design Phan: "These Hats Stop Traffic"

by Caroline Tiger

"Some might call Beth Beverly, proprietress of Diamond Tooth Taxidermy, a strange bird for creating a hat so lifelike it looks like a squirrel is attacking the wearer’s head. Others might say her work makes total sense in this time and place, when the craze for Victoriana/the cabinet of curiosities/natural history is as strong as ever."

Read the entire article here: These Hats Stop Traffic

New York Tmes: "Stuffed, to the Limits of Taxidermists' Imaginations"

by Jed Lipinski

"Beth Beverly, 32, who works at Diamond Tooth Taxidermy in Philadelphia, presented two entries: a rat terrier dressed as a princess and a dazzling Polish hen in pearls and high heels gripping a 'virginal pillow.' 'She never grew old enough to lay eggs,” Ms. Beverly said of the hen, 'so I imagined what her life might have been.'"

Read the entire article here: Stuffed, to Limits of Taxidermists' Imaginations

Brooklyn Bound

I've been getting all my ducks in a row (that would be a great pun I guess, if I were using ducks this time around) for my trip to Brooklyn next week where I'll be participating in the annual Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy contest.  I'll be a first timer, but not a forgettable one.



 



I'm entering two pieces, the one below has been shown most recently at Vincent Michael Gallery but I've reconfigured some crucial elements to take her to the next level.  Obviously none of these photos will be of the entire creature; full shots to come next week after my hopefully triumphant return.







 



This second entry is my best work to date.  I'm quite pleased with how she turned out  and look forward to showing the final results.  Two hints:



Iridescence,







And sparkles!







 



 



Of course no event would be complete without a new headpiece so I've got one of those in the works as well:







 



 



See you next week!

Cat food, in a Snap.

Remember the Snapper I skinned for a project and made a stew with the other week? I had the head and other parts left over so I thought I'd try my hand at making fish stock.  With some gentle guidance from my husband I threw together a pot of stock-making ingredients:



Fish parts, old carrot, old onion, wilted dill and other miscellaneous aging produce all in a pot:







 



After browning it all, I added water:







 



I then let it simmer until about half of the water had evaporated, and then strained it into the crock pot:







 



Next came the chicken legs into the stock which I cooked until the meat just slid off the bones:







 



After the soupy mix had cooled enough, I added a combo of short grain wild rice, sushi rice, and mashed peas, carrots, and sweet potatoes.  Voila!







 



Despite the unattractive gruel-like appearance, it's packed full of all the nutrients and tastes that kitties love, and we're saving a boatload on cat food.  Happy customers include Francis, my studio buddy:







 



Aaaaand Opal, resident diva.  My apologies for the blurry shots; these two gobble so fast it's hard to get a good picture.



Put up your Dukes!

I was recently commissioned by a local Academy student to create a squirrel in a boxing pose-high chamber, I reckon it's called- to be employed as a reference for a series of paintings he wanted to create.  I sourced a nice specimen from storage and got to work, quite enthused.  While I am happy as a clam to be doing any type of taxidermy at all; it's these unusual requests the really float my boat.  The squirrel form required some altering of the arms to present the correct posture, but the rest of the job was pretty cut and dry.    Nature didn't bless my little friend with the best tail in the world, but nimble fingers and glue can work wonders.







The front paws are set to resemble curled fists; I believe the client is creating a pair of miniature boxing gloves to be donned at a later date.



Snapper's Delight

I'm working on a couple of pieces for an upcoming taxidermy competition, one of which involves a fish.  Any excuse to buy a decent snapper, right?  I was excited to sweep this beauty up at the local fine foodery; the fish monger seemed perplexed that I didn't want him to fillet it or anything but I like to think that gives me some foodie cred.







The skinning was a snap;  I packed up the dermis in the freezer to use later and got to work on creating a snapper stew.  The meat was cut into small chunks and I saved the head and bones to use in a fish stock later.  As for the stew, it was probably simplest meal I've made while still being palatable ( I don't have the best track record in the kitchen).  In fact, it was a hit!  I cannot sing the praises of my crock pot enough.



Snapper Stew:



1 1/2 pound red snapper fillets -- cut in 2" pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic -- minced

1 large onion -- sliced

1 green pepper -- cut in 1" pieces

1 zucchini squash -- unpeeled & sliced

15 ounces whole tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon leaf basil

1/2 teaspoon leaf oregano

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup fresh mushrooms -- optional



Literally throw it all in the pot and keep it on low setting for six hours.







Then serve to friends and dazzle them with your culinary prowess!  I wanted to get some feasting shots but the stew was gobbled up too fast!

Squab, anyone?

I recently obtained a pigeon to complete a custom order for a client who dreamed up an angel-like tree topper for the upcoming holiday season.  I'm just about finished that piece but in the meantime here is what I did with the pigeon squab meat:



























Potrawka Z Golebi (Polish Squab) 



Pigeons

Butter

3 Onions

1 c Meat stock

2 Tart apples

3 Mushrooms

1 Lemon; juice of

1 sm Glass of Madeira wine

1 tb Butter

1 tb Flour

1 c Sour cream



Quarter the pigeons; Saute in butter for 15 minutes. Remove from butter



and slice three onions into pan.  Fry onions until done.



Add meat stock, sliced apples, mushrooms, and lemon juice.



Mix well and bring to boiling point.



Add wine. In another pan, brown flour in butter and thicken the mixture.



Dip pigeons in sour cream, return to mixture and cook until tender.






Quite delicious, and nutritious!

Bunny Cheese

I recently received a fresh baby bunny from a friend.  Apparently her pet rabbit's litter was naturally thinning itself out,  or her cat snuck into the nursery.  Either one.  Regardless, look how cute!







Needless  to say, my friend was crest fallen.  She just wanted me to take the specimen off her hands.  I couldn't stop marveling at how adorable this little guy was.  I've only seen creatures this sweet in Disney movies.







I hope I can do him justice in the final mounting stage.  Such petite faces are still a challenge for me, especially when I'm trying to capture just how precious it is.  I'm still not entirely sure what type of mount this will become but it has to be very very special.



Skinning him was delicate, as expected, and I accidentally punctured the dermis several time due to man handling. It's nothing I can't sew up but what really threw a wrench in the gears was this little guy's stomach and its contents.  I always try not to cut through the skin and into the guts because it's never a non-mesy affair, but sometimes the skin is so thin I can't help it.  Plus, the bunny's belly was bloated and kind of in the way.  As I worked the skin off the side, the pressure forced some of the contents of the stomach out and I almost dry heaved.



It looked like ricotta cheese:



* not actual contents because I was too grossed out to think of getting a shot.  But it looked JUST LIKE THIS.



The stomach puncture was like an exploding zit and there seemed to be no way of avoiding all the white puss splooging out onto my work table.  The amount of it was shocking to me and I squealed as I wiped it up with towel after towel.  Shortly though, I noticed that there was no odor.  If this were some sort of massive infection; the equivalent of a zit or cyst (full of dead white blood cells), then it would've stunk like halitosis.  Or like death, at the very least.  However, there was no such scent.  I calmed down a bit and allowed my nose to take in some of it.



Ricotta.  It actually smelled like ricotta cheese. How bizarre  But then I thought about it- it was a baby, the stomach likely full of mother's milk (quite full, I might add, that this little piggy was a piggy) and had maybe somehow curdled during digestion.  Out of curiousity I looked up ricotta cheese and how to make it online.  Sure enough, many cheeses are made with a complex of enzymes known as Rennet which is found in the stomachs of calves.  According to Wikipedia:



Rennet (pronounced /ˈrɛnɪt/) is usually a natural complex of enzymes produced in any mammalian stomach to digest the mother's milk, and is often used in the production of cheese. Rennet contains many enzymes, including a proteolytic enzyme (protease) that coagulates the milk, causing it to separate into solids (curds) and liquid (whey). The active enzyme in rennet is called chymosin or rennin (EC 3.4.23.4) but there are also other important enzymes in it, e.g., pepsin or lipase. There are non-animal sources for rennet that are suitable for vegetarian consumption.



Fear not, vegetarians!  Mass produced cheese is made from alternate methods these days  and the only folks still using sheep and cow stomach are for the most part artisan cheese makers in Europe.  Also, I don't think cheese was ever made inside of the animal's stomach as the method described in the Wiki article states that stomaches were cut up and soaked in a brine of sorts, with the raw milk.



Hmmm.  If I'd had my wits about me I would've saved it and tasted the first ever sample of in-stomach-curdled-rabbit-ricotta!



Or at least fed some to my cats.

Bits and Pieces

I spent a full day in my studio working on some different projects, one of which was the very special canine.  While I had skinned the dog a couple weeks ago, I didn't have a chance to thoroughly get down to it so I had to stash the skin in the freezer for a bit.  Yesterday I thawed it out and got down to degreasing.  I was reminded of my racoon experience, with the amount of fat I had to scrape off.  I don't want to get too graphic because this dog was loved by people so deeply, but after working on the pelt for almost five hours I feel like I may have developed a Popeye forearm from the repetitive and forceful motion the degreasing process requires.



Alas, it is done and now the future work of art is resting in a tanning solution.



After that was finished I moved onto a small rabbit I'd skinned a while ago.  Sometimes I'll do a crude skinning of a specimen and then freeze the pelt just to free up some room in the icebox. This basically involves just getting the carcass out.  Later on I'll go back and scrape the fat, split the ears, nose and lips, etc.  Splitting ears on small mammals takes finesse and patience.  See how delicate this is?  That dark thing is my tool inside the ear.







The goal is to separate the front and back tissues of the ear.  After the skin is treated, a firm material is placed in side the ear to keep its shape.



 



I skinned two squirrels to fill an order for a client and froze the pelts.  I salted the meat in the fridge over night and this morning threw it all in the crock pot for some slow cooking.  Were this for me, I would've marinated it for a couple days however the dish I was creating would be for my cats.  I've been playing around with making my own cat food for some time now; usually I'll just feed them scraps of whatever we have, but I've never actually made a whole mixture.  I read a rant in one of the local weeklies. years ago, about how keeping cats as pets is one for the least environmentally friendly things one could do. The author came off as a bit unhinged but the idea always stuck with me; that I was using can after can after can and feeding my little guys fish and chicken raised and processed who knows where/how.  I have a friend who made his own food after his cat was diagnosed with cancer and she lived well past the vat's predicted expiration date.  I've been reading The Natural Cat and followed the basic recipe's amount for protein, veggies and starches.  I mixed the squirrel with some quinoa and pureed garbanzo beans, and will add vitamins later as well as some pureed carrots.  Here is the almost finished product, though, and I let the boys sample it already.  They both seemed very, very happy.



Man's best friend

I've never owned a dog, yet I feel a connection with them which compels me to stop at dog parks and slobber at the sight of the happy creatures leaping and bounding, exploding with happiness.  When a friend contacted me recently to inform  me about a friend of his whose dog had just passed, and would I be interesting in collecting the body, I jumped at the chance.  The dog, 14-year-old black and white rat terrier, died in her sleep on Saturday and I picked her up on Sunday.  It was a most unusual way to meet someone but the owner, a lovely woman with two children and a chef husband, was graceful and composed so I followed her lead.  The dog was on her deck, on ice and in a blanket.  I kept her in the bags and then loaded her into a large IKEA carrier sac for transport.  I had imagined that the specimen would be much smaller but when the weight and size of this one hit me, it became apparent I had to take a cab home.  Slouched in the back seat of a taxi, I leaned against my cargo and caught a whiff of some early decomposition odor.  Still hung over from the night before, the smell made me gag a bit and I wondered just how infuriated the driver would be if he knew what I'd brought into his car.  At moments like this it hits me, how bizarre and twisted my little world might appear from the outside.  So much of my time is spent retrieving dead things and carting them around in my messenger bag, then stashing them in my freezer.  Sometimes I wonder if there are hundreds of little ghosts drifting around the house that make my cats go bananas.  To some, I'm sure this seems sick.  However, this is my normal, and I simply forget that people might see me as a very disturbed individual until quiet times like this in which I occupy a tight space with a dead dog I've never met and a man driving  a cab who I'll most likely never meet again.



It turns out there was no room in the freezer for Pooch so I skinned her upon getting home.  The enormity of what I was about to do didn't hit me until I pulled her out of the bag.



Her collar was still on.



I started weeping and just stared at her, wondering if I could do it.  I get teary and cry a bit with almost every animal I skin, but this was different.  It was if I could feel all the love which had been poured into this creature for the last 14 years, and the profound role this four-legged little girl had had with her humans became clear.  I fondled  the paw pads a bit, imagining them padding around the wooden floor just a few days before.  I was a little bit afraid she wasn't completely dead (I always am, it's my worst fear that I'll make an initial cut and suddenly my specimen will come back to life, panicked and crazed) but the bloat in her stomach made it quite clear.  I burned some incense, said my little prayer and got to skinning.







It was an intense, emotionally wrought experience.  One interesting part was when I came across what I'm guessing is a tracking device that was implanted between the shoulder blades.  Aside from that, nothing too different from skinning a coon or a fox.  After I had the carcass completely separated, I marveled at how we're all just skins.  No one would ever recognise this naked corpse as a beloved pet.







For reference, this is a picture of the breed which I worked with.  Out of respect for the dog and her owners I chose not to take any pictures of the corpse.  I got my measurements and that's all I needed.  I hope to do her justice.



Special Delivery





I've been crafting a custom hairpiece for a very special gal the last couple weeks, in my spare time. I should've had it done by Sunday but I was given a unique specimen which was too large and too precious to keep in the freezer so I chose to put all other activities on hold so I could skin this...wonderful creature.  Full story to come shortly.  In the meantime, I was told by my client that she wanted a hairpiece for a gal pal of hers who enjoys wearing, of all things,ducks on her head.



What I want to know is, how have I not met this woman and if/when we do, will we both implode from the sheer weight of our shared sense of high fashion?



Her friend gave me a time and price range and we worked out this little ditty right here:







Sorry for the shadowy picture but I'll beg her to let me borrow it later to get a professional shot for my website.  I mounted a squirrel head onto the kind barette which is held into place with a stick driven through the hair.  Technically it's a bun holder but they work just fine for ponys and half ponys.  The squirrel was embellished with some jewelry and feathers, while his feet wound up dangling from the stick part.



 







 







Creating wearables seems to be more and more the direction which makes most sense for me.  Art is so much more accessible when you have it on your head!



Truly Outrageous

I've been buried in work and too busy making real life to make blog posts.  Now I just don't even know where to start. I have three new pieces and a newish one currently showing at the Vincent Michael Gallery in Philadelphia.  The fancy chicken, the squirrels, everything I've been working on has led to this.  And I could kick myself because i worked on them up until the last second and have not a single picture to show for my work.  That will have to come later, along with stories/though processes, for anyone who's interested in that type of thing.



The day of my opening, I wore a new head-piece to the Devon Dressage show to enter in the Ladies hat contest.  Here's a little video montage of how the day went:











And here is my victory lap:











From there I headed to the gallery opening which was a smashing success.  If I could ever say there was a day when I felt like Cinderella, that was it.  I didn't want the wonderful experience to end, but I grew quite sleepy at 9pm and overwhelmed by the social activity so I retreated to my neighborhood bar where I enjoyed a White Russian with my husband and called it an evening.



Currently I'm working on a custom piece for a client who found me via a site which promotes this blog, Swellco&Swellco.  They're unusual people but I love them dearly.  I've also got a custom order for a boxing squirrel.



A more extensive update with pictures to follow.

Hen Party

My local egg connection had the misfortune of losing one of his hens prematurely and he wasted no time letting me know.  One man's trash, as they say...



She was a fancy chicken, curly feathers and all and on the small side so I wonder if maybe she'd had some sort of defect from the start which limited her time with us.



The skin was thin but tough (like a wet swimsuit) and dreamy to work with.  I basically just pulled it off with my bare hands in no time at all; no delicate surgeon cuts necessary. Just another reason I love working with chickens.



 



Almost finished.  I love the messy and curly feathers; the whole thing reminds me of a Jim Henson puppet.







Look at that poof!  I have been dreaming of working with one of these ever since I met them and I am quite pleased with how she turned out so far.







Her feet are drying around balls of clay because I have something very special in mind...



Coho Mojo

My frequent sidekick-in-corpse-fun just got back from a two-day fishing jaunt up in NY and brought me back a beautiful 16lb Coho Salmon form the Great Lakes.  We decided that I'd come over for a BBQ and skin it so I could leave the meat with him, while we dined on dove.  I guess it didn't register with me just how large 16 pounds is; when I saw it sitting in his cooler I laughed and wondered how I was going to negotiate my way around such an impressive specimen.  Honestly, fish are not my forte and the ones I have mounted have been on the small side.







I adore this picture for two reasons, the first being that I'm wearing a shirt with a pig's head on it and the word "gluttony" underneath.  There are so many situations when I feel like just having this shirt on makes everything more funny.  Second, my hand.  In school, my teacher would constantly remark and tease me about my veiny bony hands which I secretly relished.  As a child I spent numerous weekends with my grandmother and my favorite part of her was her hands...I used to pray that someday I would get those same features; the thick, calloused skin and rope-like veins winding their way around the surface, over and under bones like tree roots.  I love my hands because they look as strong as they are and they help me to complete such a wide array of tasks.  They look more like my grandmother's with each passing year and it's one of the many little things that makes getting older so rewarding.



The first cut. Fish skin is pretty fun to work with if you can stomach the smell.  It;s touch and basically impossible to accidentally rip or tear, so you can get as rough as you want.







Apparently it was spawning season and this fish was just LINED with roe!  The Salmon  just stop eating in the last weeks of their lives so their stomachs will shrink to make room for the eggs. That is true dedication to procreation.



We saved the eggs, of course.  For caviar cat food.  Did I say cat food?  I meant, never mind, it's classified.  But that's a LOT of eggs.







 



 



 

This is what it sounds like-

A buddy of mine went dove hunting last week and brought me back a present.  This will be my second attempt at a mourning dove; the first one was a wash, a very humbling experience.  This one was...slightly better.



I can't quite articulate how fond I am of these colors...I want my hair to look like this.







That is actually a wood carving by Jim Childress but it gives a nice example the color and plumage.



Skinning doves is, like I said, a humbling experience.  The dermis is so thin and delicate.  It doesn't seem to withstand any of the gentle pulling and manipulating that I can get away with most other birds.  I wound up with my fair share of holes.  Dove doilies, I guess.



After tanning and fluffing I wound up with a shell worthy of a C+,  a few grades up from the D- my first one amounted to.  It can be really discouraging to see how many feathers get lost while skinning or how many holes I'll have to sew up later, but I really do love the process so much that even the missteps are moments I wouldn't wish to be spared of.



 



Here's the breast meat, marinating in a mixture of simple syrup and lemon juice.  I let it sit for two days. It was a very petite cut of flesh, but well worth fussing over.



I brought it over to a friend's house where a fish skinning event was to take place, and we barbecued the dove.  As you can see it was a hit.  A palette-whetter, if you will.



You stuff pets?





Yesterday I was a guest of the Holmesburg Fish and Game club for their annual outing day.  There was a flea market, a raffle, shooting demos, games, and me, the taxidermist.  It was a bleak rainy morning and the crowd wasn't much of a crowd, however.  I felt daunted at first, as I get pretty shy and self-conscious when I'm not in my environment.  I could hear grumblings from some of the vendors about moving their tables inside and to the correct rooms and the mood just felt...surly.  As I was setting up my table an older guy brushed past me and said, "Looks like we got the apprentice here again"...and I, being a typical American girl socialized to always smile and be friendly and never question other people, just gave him and goofy grin and giggled.  And then I spent the next thirty seconds cursing him in my head, wondering what he meant by that remark and kicking myself for being friendly. Was he saying that based on the quality of my work?  Could he see through me?  I've always dealt with the fear that really I'm just a phony and someday the curtain will come up and everyone will see me for what I truly am.  About a year ago I had a great talk with a dear friend; he's older, far more accomplished  and has racked up a significant amount of life experiences.  I expressed this fear to him and he simply said, "Beth, we're ALL phonies.  We just keep plugging along until it works.  No one should ever be judged for being at the stage of growth which they're at. "  I have held his words close to my heart and they do me well at times like this when I feel intimidated.



My husband Jim thought the guy said that just because I was young (I may be in my thirties but the median age of this group was about 60) and a girl.  I think being a female in this industry cuts both ways.  I like that simply being a member of the fairer sex seems to immediately bring the guard down of just about any thick-skinned, ornery old man and I'd be lying if I claimed to never have batted my eyelashes to get on some guy's good side.  However, I feel like I have to prove myself, as cliché as that sounds.  I wouldn't trade it for the world though.  I love being a girl.







I didn't dress like a mountain woman on purpose, but it certainly helped me fit in with my surroundings.



Did I mention it was the 80th anniversary of the club?  I spoke with one gentleman who was 82; he was the longest living member, having joined in 1945.  Sweet guy.







Did someone say cake?







I put some of my cards on the bulletin board, under the watchful eye of Foxy up there.  I'm enamoured by the idea of a club, the brotherhood and unity of it all.  Guys post photos of their prize catches, they keep up on family info, and support one another when it's needed.  So many of them are vets, and seeing the way our country as a whole treats its veterans (like crap) it's good to see a group of them laughing, happy and healthy in a place where they can feel safe.







As the day went on things got better.  I chatted up a bunch of hunters, gave out many cards and could possibly have some leads. There were some great hunting stories, too, about 800 pound bears ("and that was AFTER it was field-dressed!"), bobcats, coyotes being mistaken for German Shepards, and so forth.







The day's menu:  I think it's a riot that people still say "freedom fries".







Priceless, in fact.



The real action began when the rifle team arrived with some heavy artillery. To the left is a 1919 Browning Machine gun and on the right is a Gatling Gun.







The Gatling in action.  There were tracer bullets in the magazine, every 35 rounds. They appeared as red flares flying out of the gun.  I couldn't believe how fast that thing shot, just from a simple hand crank.







While that one was loud and very impressive, the Browning was like an earthquake.  Of course I forgot my "ears" so I just plugged my fingers in my head.  I still felt every part of my body vibrating though, including my eyebrows.  It was insane.







The range just got more and more smokey as the shooting continued and the smell of burning stuck in my nose for most of the day.







It was a real treat to see, and just about every one of us was in awe.  I left with a Holmesburg tee shirt and a positive outlook on the day.

Tastes like Chicken!

It appears to be squirrel season over here; I just skinned three last week and was gifted one more today.  Two of the three from last week were harvested by a friend and presented to me with the understanding that I would skin them and bring the meat to a BBQ in the near future.  I'm quite enthused about the sudden influx of small mammal specimen, seeing as I've got several deadlines looming nearby and I adore working with little furry creatures.



Here are the two which my friend caught.   I was impressed by what a good shot he is:  The first one got it right in the neck...







While the second took a shot right in the head.







I kept the bullet.  Or pellet, or whatever it's called.







This may seem cruel but the point is these creatures died instantly and that, to me, is humane.  The last thing it knew was scampering around happily and then-nothing.  I'll take nourishment from this kind of meat source over a mutated chicken with breast meat so abnormally large and cumbersome that it can't even walk five steps in its dark shitty pen, any day.



I marinated the meat in a mixture of Yuengling Lager, soy sauce and honey for 48 hours.  We threw it on the grill and let it cook for about twenty minutes.







The squirrel, plated.







I snatched a bit of the back-strap (most delicious cut of meat from deer, rabbits and squirrel) while it was being plated and bit into it, uncertain of what I'd taste.  It certainly smelled delicious, but this was a city squirrel.  It lived off of local compost so I guess you could say he ate well but...I was still wary.



The first taste washed all doubt away however, as salty sweet sizzling juiciness exploded in my mouth.  The mouth feel was tender and crisp.  Cries of "tastes like chicken!" could be heard from the kitchen as everyone took turns trying the new dish. Success!  I felt validated, I felt like I'd done something right.



I realise that to many people, eating squirrel is nothing new and such ado over this dish could read as discrediting a humble, naturally natural way of life or trying to make it a novelty.  I just want to express that to myself and my friends this was a completely new experience and a rewarding one at that.  I admire and aspire live the aforementioned way of life, where its just a day's work to harvest an animal and live off the land.



Only four months until Christmas!

Operation gosling-tree-topper is in full swing and on I'm just about on the home stretch with this project.



Dried and fluffed: that skin had to be one of the softest things I've ever felt.  Part of me wished it was mine to use as I wished; I would've fashioned a pair of earmuffs out of it.







While drying the skin I was presented with a new fronteir: molting.  I had been completely unaware that birds went through this process until my friend Bailey the Hen-Master enlightened me to this phenomenon.  While skinning the goose I'd noticed some skin peeling off his legs, not unlike a snake, but thought nothing of it.  But when the downy feathers around his neck began falling out en masse while drying, I started to panic. I looked up "goose molting" online and found out that young geese molt for the first time at 8-10 weeks, at which point their flight feathers come in. ( I also learned that geese are one fo the few monogamous species occurring in nature and mate for life.)  Molting occurs annually and is a family experience.  They try and stay close to the water at this time as an escape plan from predators, since they can't fly.  Reading this, I was reminded of a night, weeks ago, when two friends and I were cutting through a field out in the suburbs to walk to another friend's house.  There were geese everywhere and it looked like  we'd just missed a giant pillow fight.  Now I understand why.  It's molting season, and Bobby the goose must have been just entering his first molt when he passed.



I managed to handle the skin very carefully and keep the loss to a minimum.



This was not an easy mount by any means; the skin was extremely delicate and I had to handle it with surgical precision to keep  from losing any more feathers. The underformed wings presented a challenge as well, being completely new territory to me.  Needless to say, once I had him sewn up and carded, my sigh of relief could be heard from blocks away, I'm sure.











I've still got more to do, but I'm over the hump and quite pleased about it.

What are you, trying to be humane?





That is a very tiny picture of me shooting a firearm for my first time.  Another phase in the progression of me becoming a hunter, in small increments.



My friend Larry at The Firing Line in South Philadelphia was gracious enough to host myself and some friends the other evening for a shooting lesson. Some of us had handled guns before, some (me) had not.  I think I did OK for my first time; it's much more difficult that I'd imagined.  So many things to think about at once-I felt somewhat overwhelmed.    I'm comforted by recalling how intimidated I was by driving a car a first though, with that same inundated-with-information feeling, and years later I am one of the best drivers I know.  These things just take time.



That said, I think I did OK.  We shot with a very simple handgun first; at least I hit the target.  Then we moved onto a rifle, which I liked because the long barrel made aiming easier.  It was also very unthreatening: quiet, no recoil, and a simple single bullet load.  Plus it felt very marching bandy.  We then moved onto revolvers, which was like throwing fire right out of my hands.  A little more intense than I'd prefer but one had laser sights which made hitting the target a snap.  I was trying not to "kill" my cartoon robber-guy, so I shot his shoulder and hand.  I thought this was very thoughtful, but all I got was a couple chuckles from the peanut gallery.







While our group of noobs was in our little stall with Larry, there were guys coming and going, getting some shooting in after work-a sort of happy hour, I suppose.  I was initially shocked at how loud the shots were.  It took an hour or so to shake off the unnerving feeling of being surrounded by so much potential killing power.  I mean, maybe this is just because I'm so new to this but it felt like walking into that place was the ultimate excercise in trust of the sanity of strangers.  What if one of those guys just snapped and aimed his gun at someone else?  What if one of us just ran out into the range?  This wouldn't be the first time I've had morbid thoughts like this...sometimes I'm just astounded by the fact that society works.  People just...behave.  Driving on a highway, anyone could lose it and start a fifty car pile-up.  But we all keep the wheel straight and go with the flow.  And we trust that everyone else will do the same.  When I was a child in class, I used to fantasize about what would happen if someone jumped out of their desk and ran up to the teacher and punched him.  Or screamed an obscenity at the top of their lungs.  Or jumped out the window.  Perhaps I've got a touch of insanity bubbling just beneath the surface and I understand that I have to follow the rules to exist in this world, perhaps I was bored and yearning for something to break the monotony of my days.  Or maybe we're all like this and have that ingrained sense of carnal, unpredictable self buried in our psyche but the knowledge that we all are connected and what's trouble for one is trouble for all.



And then there's always the few poor SOBs that actually do snap.  Not me though: I love my life, I love my people, and I love the world too much.



So shooting.  I enjoyed it.  I want to do it again.  But what I really need to focus on is practicing my bow.  That's the next step. Soon enough...

Here's Dolly!

Yesterday I paid a visit to a friend's urban chicken farm just a mile away from my own home.  I had no idea such a vast array of hen species existed mere blocks away from me.  I imagined a few chickens in a little coop but what I saw was astounding...the back yard opened up, curled around the house and everywhere I looked, chickens, chickens chickens!  Unfortunately I didn't have the foresight to bring my camera so I grabbed a few stock images to show as examples of some of the many breeds I saw.



Baily, the chicken master,  explained to me the different types, but I'd be lying if I said my eyes didn't partly glaze over as I imagined the wonderful challenge of mounting each beautiful specimen.  The types with the feathers on their feet  (I call them Mummers), the gene mutation which results in curly feathers, the poof on the head...etc.  He had 'em all.  I was surprised at the minimal odor and noise.  Quite a feat to manage so many creatures on such a modest property.  Very impressive.











The main purpose  for my visit was to purchase some of his eggs, as his hens have been rather productive lately.  I got 2 dz (1 for my family, one for a friend) and carefully loaded them into my bag.  I had some other items from grocery shopping that I had to move around to make room for the eggs, and I have never been more nervous riding my bike home.  Such precious cargo!  I was so worried about breaking one.  I've ridden my bike with eggs purchased from the supermarket before and gotten home to find a busted one a few times, but it never bothered me much. They were just mass-produced, anonymous eggs.  But now...after I'd met all the hens, held some of them, talked to every one, called them by name....their fruit was so much more valuable to me.  This is the type of appreciation I strive to have for all things I consume someday. 



I scrambled one for dinner (seen here with cottage cheese and capers) and savored each delicious bite.







This is why I want to source my own meat.  I want to break out of my own pattern of blindly consuming with no real appreciation, knowledge or responsibility (aside from financial) for where my nourishment comes from and how it came to be.  This experience inspired me to finally get off the fence and sign up for my trapping/hunting safety course in September, a legally required step in order to obtain my bow hunting license.  Come October, with the help of some experienced friends, hopefully I'll harvest my first deer and have sweet, healthy venison to eat for many months!





Duck, Duck.....Gosling.

A few weeks ago I got a call which I'd been expecting, regarding an unusual pet a friend of mine was keeping.  It seems that his baby goose, or gosling, had passed away quite randomly.  My friend had found the little guy while out on the water one day; he was paddling around on his own and took to his new human companions well.  So well in fact, that they brought him home.  For the next few weeks this little goose dined on gourmet and locally grown fare, enjoyed plenty of love and lived what could be considered a very charmed life.  I had expressed my desire to mount the specimen once the time had come, however it came sooner than all of us expected.  One day he just croaked.  And this is where I come in.



I'm starting to think  should explore the business of pet taxidermy.  It's an aspect of the trade many people inquire about, and an extremely divisive topic in the taxidermy world.  Most taxidermists look down upon pet-mounting; in fact the first rule in my old taxi-text book was to never, ever stuff a pet.  The main reason for this is that you can't recreate the exact creature that was known and loved by its human.  I often look at my own cats and wonder if I could ever come close to replicating the little wrinkles in the nose, the expressiveness in the eyes and exact position of the mouth.  I don't know if I could, but I am so intimately familiar with the way my two cats move that if I were succeed on any creatures if would be them.  (Sometimes though I look at the way my one younger cat lays about, and the bizarre angles he puts his neck and limbs into just screams Bad Taxidermy).  If I were to attempt this on a stranger's pet, however, it would be nearly impossible, seeing as I'd never met the pet in its living days.  Sure, a photo would help but I have another, slightly twisted idea.  Suppose you know that you'll want something creative done with your animal after it passes: contact me while it's still living and we'll arrange for several visits in which I can get to know the pet, the way it moves, etc.



I understand this all sounds very far-fetched but I'm just throwing it out there.  Also, I like the idea of incorporating fantasy into the pet-mount.  For instance, this baby goose I've been commissioned to do:



He will be embellished with some angel (white pigeon) wings and a halo, and ultimately serve as a Christmas tree topper.  Does this sound tacky?  Perhaps, but I think if executed with taste could actually be a sincere and touching tribute to a lovely creature who brought happiness to many people.  This is a genre I'd very much like to explore further with pets.



Back to the goose.  I was excited to handle the premature skin, as it was still covered in down and had yet to grow any real feathers.  The wings were very much under-formed, rather cute actually:







Upon skinning I was treated to a relatively fat-free creature.  Geese are known for their ridiculous fat content, and after working with virtually nothing but ducks for so many weeks it was a relief to just find skin.  Greasy and paper-thin, delicate skin, but I'll take that over spending hours trimming fat away any time.  The humans were curious as to what had brought on the little guy's demise, but I didn't really see anything out of the ordinary.  While cleaning out the skull and beak I noticed some food still in his mouth, so I suppose choking is a possibility, but I don't know much about goose behaviour so I really can't say.  I think the fact that he was alone when they first adopted him speaks volumes, as in there may have been a reason his parents left him behind.



 



More to come!

Perhaps the only nursery I'll ever feel comfortable in.

Today I was gifted with an unexpected litter of little ones while skinning what I had initially thought was just a chubby mouse.  I was splitting her open and couldn't seem to keep the guts under wraps, so to speak.  I just kind of figured I'd have a messy one on my hands and then I really looked at what was spilling from inside the carcass.  Two little fetuses!  I gasped, apologised to the mouse and left the studio to collect my thoughts.











I'm constantly surprised at what rattles me in this practice; I'm OK with death, guts, blood, gore, just about everything that comes with the territory.  This marks my first encounter with a pregnant specimen, however, and I'd be lying if I said my heart didn't break just a little bit.  I recalled finding the mama mouse on the sidewalk while on a jog through South Philly and sticking her in my spandex so I could get home and put her in the freezer.  While I ran, I speculated on the cause of death, which I assumed to be poison seeing as it had no marks and was just lying right in the middle of the concrete.



Then I thought about how I never find female specimen; I'm always skinning male mice, male squirrels, male foxes, and lamenting over how annoying it is to work around their genitalia.  I get my first female and she's a total doozy!



I collected myself and got down to business, extracting each adorable little unborn mouse from the carcass and burning sage for every one, which totaled 8.  EIGHT!  I can't believe there was room for all of them.  Most still were encased in their umbilical sacs:











I carefully freed them all from their casing and laid them all out. Each one was in just a slightly different position; some had arms outstretched while others kept their itty bitty paws crossed.  I saw what was clearly the runt of the litter, much tinier and paler than the others with an underdeveloped left foot.  I imagined the types of personalities they might've developed had they come to term, and then I thought about something a friend said to me once' about fetal positions.  I'd been remarking to her about how I constantly sleep in this one pose with my arms up and crossed behind my head, to the point of cutting off my circulation nightly.  She suggested that perhaps I'd slept like that in the womb, and the notion stuck with me.



So what am I doing, a taxidermist assigning personalities to unborn mouse fetuses?  My instructor would laugh at me if he were to read this.  The very hunters whose business I desire might wonder just why they should entrust me with their fresh kills.  Well, I guess having emotions doesn't affect my skill set.  Perhaps this experience just triggered something in me, seeing something so tiny and vulnerable that never even got a chance.  When I resumed skinning the mouse, I saw that the cause of death was a blow to the head.  Her skull was cracked and bleeding internally.  Note the dark red spot on the head:







Maybe she fell, or got hit by something, I'll never know.  But I feel honored that I was the one to find and preserve her and her family, saving them from an undignified end like rotting on the street.  I hope my honestly as far as how this experience has affected me feel doesn't rob me of any street cred, per-se, in the eyes of potential clients.  What I'd like to convey is that I understand death is a part of the way we live, I accept it, I embrace it, and I treat the dead with respect and compassion.  I think this philosophy holds true with most taxidermists; something the general public would be surprised to learn.



As I write this, I've got my litter sitting in a jar, preserving, keeping me company.  My morbid little nursery.







Next up was a baby bird, of sorts, one that deserves his own post.  More to come!  For now, I need to turn up the volume on the Bill Burr podcast I'm listening to so I can drown out the sound of what could possibly be my biological clock ticking away.

If there WAS a hat contest, you would've won the whole thing.

Last Sunday I took my gals back out to the Brandywine Polo Club for the 1st annual Philadelphia Cup.  This time we didn't work so hard; we just snagged ourselves some VIP tickets and hung out in the tent with the open bar (where the bartenders were pouring the BlueCoat with very heavy hand, if I may say so.  No complaints!).  While bringing our own tailgating supplies is fun too, on a super hot day it's nice to have the luxury of a VIP tent and everyone else doing the work.  Plus a DJ.  You's almost forget why we were there...







Oh yes-the game!  In between getting to know some of the members and networking with my hats  (it really was too bad there wasn't a hat contest but I'll take being showered with attention any day) we caught some excellent polo-pony action, and luckily wound up rooting for the winning team!







However, I think it's agreed that we all know who the REAL winners are.  My fascination with all things anatomical has me quite interested in horses; particularly polo ponies.  It takes a certain breed of horse to play polo; one that is shorter in the back and able to turn on a dime, one who is also capable of short bursts of speed comparable/greater than that of a race horse.  I imagine they're pretty intelligent too, as some basic understanding of what they're tying to achieve on that field must be present.  I can't help but marvel at their graceful, delicate looking ankles and how they hold up all that weight while gracefully trotting, running, turning, ect.  Having dissected a horse leg myself (I'm still working on the shoe; updates next month I swear) I have  a more vested interest in seeing these muscles in action for reference, as well as appreciation.



Those bandages on the front keep them from getting hurt when they get inadvertently whacked with a stick.







Speaking of sticks, one fo the female players from the winning team happened by and chatted us up while we admired the horses.  She was a darling by the name of Kathy Whitman and even gave us a brief lesson in hitting the ball.







That's Rachel Lynn K, our photographer for the day, and as you can see a real beauty.  All the ladies wore my hats swimmingly.







And look who we ran into!  One of my adversaries from hat parade past, Lauren St. Clair!  It's more fun to compete with people you really like, so we've become fast friends.  She even invited us on one of her gastronomical adventures taking place later in the day.  If you haven't heard about her eating her way through Philly, act like you know, fool.  Where all the food goes on that little frame is beyond me, though.



I know, I need a tutorial on how to mug for pictures.  I look like some kind of crazed animal.







Here's Eva in my squirrel hat; she was gracious enough to wear it and I think it gave her super powers....the unexpected side effect of wearing taxidermy on your head!







At halftime we all went out on the field to stomp the divots and surprise a sweet little red Ferrari (OK, I know nothing about cars so that's all you get) drove out on the field with Miss. Philadelphia sitting on the back with Maria Papadakis, both of them waving to the crowd.  While they're pretty and nice and all, the REAL sweet stuff was in the trunk which was filled to the brim with bottles of Veuve!  Those were promptly opened and we all enjoyed a toast ( or two or three) on the field.



When the game resumed we all took turns imagining ourselves driving such an exquisite piece of machinery.











Back in the tent, my hat was still commanding plenty of attention.  These ladies were pretty bummed about Mexico losing their world cup game earlier in the day but I think petting my duck lifted their spirits somewhat.







Handsome creatures:















And the winners!  What a fantastic day.



Kids and guns and ducks and bikes.





Welcome to your future.

A couple Saturdays ago I spent the day out in the Great Northeast at the Holemesburg Fish & Game Protective Association giving lectures on taxidermy to the youth of America.  I tend to be very awkward around children; I don't understand them, I find them too unpredictable and difficult to communicate with so it's probably not hard to imagine me lying awake the night before wondering just what the hell I was supposed to say to these kids.  I had no idea what to expect.







What I got was a mixed bag of awesome and insane.  I set up my booth and braced myself for the impending waves of children.  They came in groups of ten, I would talk for about twenty minutes, and the next group would arrive.  Some were as young as four, and were quite enthusiastic about grabbing my deer legs right off the table and beating my coyote rug with them.







Some were as old as 19, and I found them much easier to speak with.  In fact, a good deal of the young people there were part of an organization called "Police Explorers", which is basically like young junior cadets.  The police academy was right next to the park, and these kids come out and train every weekend.  They were in full uniform, complete with polished boots and utility belts with mace and cuffs.  I found them incredibly fascinating; they were all engaging, articulate, and driven.







Very impressive.  Over at the Academy a SWAT team was performing detonation drills and one of the officials came over to warn me about the impending blasts.  I told him I'd already heard (felt, actually) the first one and he explained that no, that was an actual device being detonated and not a drill.  They'd picked it up in Germantown the day before.  I think the junior cadets were laughing at me as my jaw dropped.  "I didn't hear anything about that on the news," I said, to which one of the teens responded, "That's cause people would go nuts".



I was really starting to like these kids.



There were other stations set one, one was a fur trapper:







He was popular because he brought a trap and had kids stick their fingers in it for fun.



Then there was the local game commissioner.







Oh, and shooting.







Lots and lots of shooting.  Balloons as targets, cause it was a youth event I guess.  That's my buddy David below, he's a really nice kid and budding taxidermist!







Shooting black powder...or muzzle-loading, I'm still not entirely sure.







Cross bow shooting-I made friendly with that guy later in the day and he gave me some tips on tuning my bow.  Now I just need to get some arrows and find a place to practice.







Overall, it was a rewarding experience. I'm still editing the video footage from the day; it includes the motorcycle rally that came through out of nowhere.







Oh, and after seeing myself in my boyfriend jeans from the back, I will never be wearing them again.

Squirt.

This morning I was skinning a duck in preparation for a taxidermy demonstration I'll be giving on Saturday.  I plan on having some finished mounts as well as a cured skin to show various stages in the process.  Sounds fine right?  Except it's for children.  Children terrify me.  Last night I was envisioning speaking to them and I cringed at myself as I lay in bed, marveling at what a nerd these kids will think I am.   I was a kid once, and I know first hand they are cruel, and nothing people over the age of thirty do could ever be cool.



Wait, WHY do I care what a bunch of children think of me?  I guess at the end of the day I don't.  Amway, I'm thinking about all this as I skin my duck, and I'm at the head. I'm angling my brain-spoon around the back of the eye sockets to free the eyeball and SQUIRT!  A stream of black eyeball juice lands upon my shirt, my arm, my face, MY EYE.  I have duck eye juice in my human eyeball. This was the first time I popped one, and I never knew how inky the liquid is.  I wonder if it could be used as dye?







After cleaning up that mess I was able to focus on the task at hand, only to find a very broken wing.  Break one, humerus bone:







Break two, radius and ulna:







It's not really that big of a deal when wings are shattered like this but it does pose a challenge when skinning.  It's relatively easy to use the whole arm for leverage when working the skin off, but when the arm is just a pile of mush there isn't much to hold onto.



Thankfully I had my studio mascot there to keep me company while I worked.







Ever since I cleaned my studio and organised it in a fashion which is conducive to how I work, it's been a nonissue having the cats around. Frankie sometimes manages to sniff out any mouse tidbits I have hiding around but aside from that he doesn't care to get into the other animals.  It's very pleasant to have him sleeping at my feet in his little patch of sun while I work.



This is my newly cleaned studio.  It may look cluttered but I have a ton of stuff in a very small space.  Amazingly, everything has a home and I know where it lives.







Work table and mini freezer:







Supply shelving, windows, and Frankie!









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