Until a few years ago, the only person I had ever heard of who did taxidermy was Norman Bates in Psycho and, well, that's probably not the most positive example....Then one day, while wandering down Valencia Street in San Francisco on a trip to see my family, I ran across the shop Paxton Gate. Although there are a variety of oddities displayed in the shop window, Paxton Gate starts harmless enough: books, gardening tools, children's toys. But when you start to go further suddenly you notice other things, things like bones; creatures that used to creep and crawl; stuffed animals wearing clothes, only these stuffed animals were once alive. In the very back are even full animal skeletons, also dressed in clothes like this one, Sister Mary Muskrat.
"Hmm. I guess taxidermy can be quirky and fun," I thought the first time I saw this. Only it didn't really feel like fun. It felt spooky and sort of sacred, like the finger bones of a saint wrapped in faded velvet and enclosed in glass at some Spanish or Italian cathedral. This is, after all, how we will all end up....
While the folks at Paxton Gate may have seen the irreverence in bones, Ariel, who runs the shop Material Merchant, has seen the beauty in them. When I decided I wanted to do a regular series on my blog on found objects and people's stories about them, I posted something about it on the etsy forums to see if anyone there would be interested. Ariel was the first person who answered. Here is what she wrote: "When I started hiking and exploring the woods around my house I found the giant whitened ribcage of a cow. It set into motion a chain of events that eventually led to my etsy shop." Needless to say, I was intrigued. I contacted her to tell me more. The answer I got was so vivid, I decided to post it in her own words. This is her found object story:
A little over three years ago I was fifteen and adventurous. I had hiked along the golf course with my dog Punkin before, feeding horses and watching sand hills cranes when I saw them. Behind my house there was a run-down barbed wire fence beyond which strange sounds often emanated in the early morning hours; it was back there that I found it.
There were gopher holes and tortoise dens, trails from the blackberry bushes, deer prints and cacti. We hit a fence line and hiked on until the sparse trees opened up into a gray, sandy field with brown grass. There, off in the distance, was what looked like a rocky outcrop. As we got closer I saw that it was actually the giant, bleached remains of a cow. The skull was crushed nearby, and most of the larger bones had been carried off by coyotes, but it was so magnificent. In hindsight, it occurred to me it was just some dead farm animal, but it reminded me of those popular depictions of elephant graveyards or what real graveyards should look like. I didn't really want to touch them too much and there were too many of them to carry back easily, so I took off my t-shirt and loaded them in it like a sling. Within a week I was back with my taxidermist friend (to whom I owe much in the way of helping me see the beauty of the dead) and we both carried two more bundles of bones back to my house.
I don't remember what we planned to do with the bones; I just wanted them. They have been there ever since, damaging my neighbor's opinion of our household and reminding me of where we all might end up some day.
Ariel also told me she realizes that there is a stigma around animal products in general, but that people also don't really make any differentiation between, for example, a fox fur from a fur farm or a fox fur from an old hunting cabin. In her shop, she tries to foster a "found" mentality rather than a "demand" one. Thanks Ariel for sharing your truly fascinating story!
Do you have a found object story? Have you ever found anything, no matter how apparently strange or worthless that somehow had meaning to you or that inspired to you create something? If you do, then please tell me about it. :)