Ross School - Senior Projects 2012
Mentor: Ned Smyth
Domain(s): Visual Arts
Faculty Grader: Gary Skellington
Documentation of Product
Title: The Living Dead
For my Senior Project, I explored a new art form. On August 23, 2011, I journeyed upstate New York to the town of Ogdensburg where I attended the Northeast School of Taxidermy. Yes, I learned how to prepare, skin and mount the skins of dead animals. I spent two weeks and over one hundred hours working along side well-known Taxidermist, Larry Vielhauer. Using the knowledge and skills I acquired from the Northeast School of Taxidermy and with the help of my mentor, Ned Smyth, I created an exhibition displaying three Taxidermy mounts of my own, a Mink and two Ruffed Grouse, as well as the detailed process that went into creating them. My exhibition also includes antique taxidermy mounts from various taxidermists. These mounts are included as they show the importance of restoration, repair and maintenance. These repairs are demonstrated on a Bison, Deer and a Caribou.
Buck Mink: Process Photos and Final Product
Ruffed Grouse: Process Photos and Final Product
Exhibition & Presentation Summary
For my Senior Project, The Living Dead, I wanted to explore an art form that would be new to me; Taxidermy. The aim of the project was not to find my own philosophy or “explore” myself; the project was aimed in an entirely new direction. I was going to be exploring unchartered territory. Taxidermy is a term used for describing the many methods for recreating life like three-dimensional depictions of animals for lasting display. In some cases, the actual skin of the animal is used, the feathers, fur and scales, are preserved and mounted on artificial armatures. In other cases, most commonly for fish mounts, the skins of animals are completely emulated using man-made materials.
When asked to propose an idea for a Senior Project, I reflected back on a personal hobby, collecting Taxidermy. My family and I have been collecting Taxidermy mounts for many years. The first of the collection is the most interesting of all. My mother was in a gift shop that sold new and antique items. Exploring the store, my mother came across a Bird of Paradise a very rare bird. She walked by the bird, thought it was repulsive, and then began to think of how disgusting putting something like the bird inside a home would be. Then she walked passed it again and picked up on some of its beauty. Her third time passing the bird she demanded a story from the owner. Every Taxidermy mount has its own story. The Bird of Paradise came from the owner’s aunt. “It was found in her trousseau. She used it for its feathers and put them on her hat but she never got married so the trousseau was passed down to me.” After hearing the story, my mother decided she needed it.
I saw this hobby as an opportunity to create a very interesting project, one where I would be performing taxidermy on my own. I did an Internet search for local Taxidermy schools, and came across the Northeast School of Taxidermy, ran by well-known Taxidermist, Lawrence Vielhauer. The school was located in Upstate New York in St. Lawrence County, in the city of Ogdensburg. I worked alongside Larry Vielhauer over one hundred hours, working on many different species of animals. I became educated on the supplies needed to perform small mammal and bird taxidermy, the anatomy of the animals, proper use of tools, and also what it took to run a small Taxidermy business.
For the Exhibition portion of my project, displayed in the gallery, I wanted to document the meticulous step-by-step process that went into completed three Taxidermy mounts of my own creation, including a Mink and two Ruffed Grouse. Using photos and detailed labels for each photo, the process was put on display for viewers, unfamiliar to the profession of Taxidermy in a coherent easy to understand manner.
Bibliography or Works Consulted
Ellenberger, Wilhelm. An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists,. New York: Dover Publications, 1956. Print.
Housekeeper, Brent, and Jim Hall. The Breakthrough Mammal Taxidermy Manual. Monroe, GA: Breakthrough
Publications, 1990. Print.