Preserving animals in various forms has been practiced since the Egyptians buried embalmed cats with their mummies. Later the explorers, pursued by science and Charles Darwin, bought home species upon species all tamed and categorised to educate the voyeur. The fearless, aristocratic hunter followed, stuffing his prized trophies for wooden panelled walls of the country estate whilst all the very best museums displayed creatures from the far ends of the earth to the gasping Victorian crowds.
These same museums a generation or two later offloaded their vast, obsolete collections to their final funeral pyers and the rest lie boxed and moth balled in dusty wooden drawers, their exhibits replaced by interactive touch screens.
Today, although not to everyone’s taste, for art and fascinations sake there are plenty who would indulge and for whom catching the beady eye of a mounted piece is just too much to resist.
As living creatures are indeed a mystery, so are their preserved counterparts and many an interior designer adorns their own creative masterpieces with a majestic pair of antlers or a bird filled glass dome.
In addition a few contemporary artists have toiled with the subject to include, on a supremely grand scale, Damien Hurst and in the shocking work of German human ‘taxidermist’ Gunther von Hagens. On a personal, homosapien, level that’s taking things far beyond ethical; pushing the boundaries of human sanity and far, far removed from a squirrel under glass or an exotic butterfly pin-mounted in all its glory…
In fact Sheffield artist Susannah Gent a self-taught taxidermist has always held a deep fascination with the just dead and her work on road kill that she encounters is quietly wonderful and majestically sculptural.
For the collector there is an undoubtable appreciation of the incredible expertise of the maker and the air of engagement that can be found in a well presented and beautiful piece. Where for the lay-purchaser perhaps it is merely eerily compelling, a connection with the once-upon-a-time, or maybe just the desire for a pet-friend with a low price tag for upkeep.
Even the moth eaten and over pawed bear mascot of Sheffield’s City Museum retains its charm if nothing else in the resounding years it has stood its ground when all else around has changed.
Whatever the interest, taxidermy is always an eye opener and can be found holding court to Staffordshire dogs in many a quiet corner in antique centres, shops and auction galleries alike.
Waiting for destiny to take its course and bring it home.