Sideshow Hoaxes and Artistic Freaks: A Creepy Collection of Rogue Taxidermy

Besides preserving wild animals as hunting trophies and museum exhibits, taxidermy has another face that lies in sideshow monsters and hoaxes, like P. T. Barnum's famed "Feejee mermaid" of the 1840s. Assembled from the parts of assorted animals, such literally incredible creatures were called "gaffs" because they served to hook the public to "come on in" to see what was on the inside of the carnival tent. These days the concept of the gaff has been turned into an art form, "rogue taxidermy," a term coined in 2004 by the founders of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists (MART). Pieces of art like these inevitably raise questions about the meaning of taxidermy. Hunters view a mounted head as a memorial and an honor to an animal they ethically hunted and to the hunt itself, and some hunters may be offended by the way these mounted heads in this gallery have been manipulated and altered. But while many of the rogue taxidermists see the mounts they do as simply works of art, or perhaps visual humor, there are others who solemnly view them as critical comments on hunting, the relationships of humans and animals, and what they consider animal cruelty--a co-founder of MART declined to be in this gallery; and it would be fair to assume it was because of a dislike of hunting. This a gallery of rogue taxidermy ranges from the bizarre to the horrible to the fantastic. It may make you laugh; it may make you cry; it may make you just plain angry. But the show's about to start on the inside, so come on in. Happy Halloween. "Fish in a Squirrel Suit (Url)"--Photo courtesy of Morgan Fields (C) 2009, myspace.com/slightlycurioustaxidermy, info@slightlycurious.com
Tempe, Arizona, rogue taxidermist Morgan Fields of Slightly Curious Taxidermy, says of herself, "Yes, I am the creepy cat lady--but all of my animals are dead." She describes "Fish in a Squirrel Suit (Url)" as the result of a "particularly messy boating accident," though she admits that Url is put together from a roadkill squirrel, a bonito head from the local Asian market, and artificial mammal eyes. "Fish in a Squirrel Suit (Url)"--Photo courtesy of Morgan Fields (C) 2009, myspace.com/slightlycurioustaxidermy, info@slightlycurious.com
Another view of "Url." "Fish in a Squirrel Suit (Url)"--Photo courtesy of Morgan Fields (C) 2009, myspace.com/slightlycurioustaxidermy, info@slightlycurious.com
Gordon Wilding is a production designer, painter, and sculptor in Winnipeg. "Carousel" is his vision of rogue taxidermy carousel animals. "Carousel"--Photo courtesy of Gordon Wilding (C) 2009, www.gordonwilding.com
"Duck and Wolf" raises the question, for the duck, When you ride the wolf, how do you get off? "Carousel"--Photo courtesy of Gordon Wilding (C) 2009, www.gordonwilding.com
This is "Raccoon and Deer." As Hunter S. Thompson said, "Buy the ticket, take the ride." "Carousel"--Photo courtesy of Gordon Wilding (C) 2009, www.gordonwilding.com
It's a peaceable kingdom for "Fox and Bear" in the world of rogue taxidermy. "Carousel"--Photo courtesy of Gordon Wilding (C) 2009, www.gordonwilding.com
Mirmy Winn is another rogue taxidermist from Manitoba--she now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. She sees rogue taxidermy as appealing to the "generation X love of curiosities that are also works of art." "Mittens, Master Hypnotist," is a weasel (possibly a mink)--press the button on the box and a recorded voice screeches, "Sleep!" "Mittens, Master Hypnotist"--Photo courtesy of Mirmy Winn (C) 2009, www.mirmy.ca
"Fang" is an ermine, pound for pound, or ounce for ounce, one of the greatest predators in the animal kingdom, made even more formidable by Winn's giving it a prominent, albeit trimmed down, shark's tooth. "Fang"--Photo courtesy of Mirmy Winn (C) 2009, www.mirmy.ca
This cat-sized marten is named "The Nicknamer" because it includes a dispenser of nicknames (like "Lumpy Pants") in the box. "The Nicknamer"--Photo courtesy of Mirmy Winn (C) 2009, www.mirmy.ca
"World of Hurt" is definitely a mink that has a button on the box that will give "yes" or "no" answers to your most pressing questions. "World of Hurt"--Photo courtesy of Mirmy Winn (C) 2009, www.mirmy.ca
Winn says that people who buy her art may have to overcome "the disapproval of family and friends who see taxidermy…as gruesome." So introduce them to "Chompy," a most handsome rattlesnake, and change their minds. "Chompy"--Photo courtesy of Mirmy Winn (C) 2009, www.mirmy.ca
Portland, Oregon, rogue taxidermist Brooke Weston spends her days "addictively gluing, sawing, and sewing" on her projects. She lists her inspirations as children's books, old amusement parks, the works of the 16th century Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and the modern-day Hieronymous Bosch, Joe Coleman. This is "Jonas Denver" (the head was donated to her by a California hunter and bears the name of the famed non-rogue taxidermist, Jonas Brothers of Denver), with a secret room in his side. "Jonas Denver"--Photo courtesy of Brooke Weston (C) 2009, artbybrookeweston.com
"Kathy" is a striped bass with an enchanted forest installed. "Kathy"--Photo courtesy of Brooke Weston (C) 2009, artbybrookeweston.com
A detail of "Honey Suckle Rose." "Honey Suckle Rose"--Photo courtesy of Brooke Weston (C) 2009, artbybrookeweston.com
This head was another find on eBay. Weston based "WW2" on the war ruins she saw in Germany. "WW2"--Photo courtesy of Brooke Weston (C) 2009, artbybrookeweston.com
Further detail from "WW2." "WW2"--Photo courtesy of Brooke Weston (C) 2009, artbybrookeweston.com
"Big Red" came to Weston in very poor shape, but she was able to resurrect it with much glue and red paint. "Big Red"--Photo courtesy of Brooke Weston (C) 2009, artbybrookeweston.com
Interior view of "Big Red." "Big Red"--Photo courtesy of Brooke Weston (C) 2009, artbybrookeweston.com
Next to the jackalope, probably the most classic "gaff" is the fur bearing trout. Osaka, Japan, born artist Takeshi Yamada came to America, saw Coney Island, and knew the kind of art he wanted to make, like this great "Canadian Hairy Trout." "Canadian Hairy Trout"--Photo courtesy of Takeshi Yamada (C) 2009
Originally from Australia and now based in New Zealand, artist Lisa Black has a series of "Fixed" animals, including this clockwork "Fixed Crocodile." Photo courtesy of Lisa Black (C) 2009
Further detail of "Fixed Crocodile." Photo courtesy of Lisa Black (C) 2009
This is a "Fixed Turtle." Photo courtesy of Lisa Black (C) 2009
Another view of "Fixed Turtle" by Lisa Black. Ms. Black is also making jewelry from butterflies. Photo courtesy of Lisa Black (C) 2009
Scott a. a. Bibus (sic) is a co-founder of MART who approaches the absurdity of rogue taxidermy with deadly seriousness. His work, such as "Fox Face Platter," tries, according to him, to deal with the "cruelty of a carnivorous diet" and the other contradictions he sees in the American way of life. In his own words, "My fascination with taxidermy stems from a belief that, as an art form, taxidermy is more analogous to the ways Americans cope with death than any other artistic medium. The best taxidermists seek to create an illusion of life out of the remains of a dead animal...to take something that would normally horrify and repulse and craft it into something lovely. Like the mortuary make-up artist, the taxidermist takes the revolting reality of death, glosses it over, gives it a majestic pose and presents it in a way that so perfectly hides its ghastly nature that the average person looks upon it with no more thought for the life of the animal displayed, or the fast-approaching truth of their own mortality, than they would feel upon a test fitting of some Italian leather loafers. My taxidermy pieces, and those of other rogue taxidermists, serve the opposite purpose. " "Fox Face Platter"--Photo courtesy of Scott a. a. Bibus (C) 2009, www.scottbibus.com
According to Bibus, the animals he uses in his work, like "Raccoon Head in Cereal Bowl," are, to state the obvious, "dead…And they look it. My hope is that people will see my work and empathize with the animal whose remains were used in its creation...and that the next time they see a more traditional mount, they will stop and think about the actual life and death of that animal...not the Boone and Crockett, department store mannequin veneer...not the placid, open-casket smile...but the brutally sad reality." "Raccoon Head in Cereal Bowl"--Photo courtesy of Scott a. a. Bibus (C) 2009, www.scottbibus.com
To rogue taxidermist Scott a. a. Bibus, "Taxidermy mounts are not trophies...they are tombstones," and it's hard to miss his point in a piece like "North Woods Sushi." "North Woods Sushi"--Photo courtesy of Scott a. a. Bibus (C) 2009, www.scottbibus.com
Another view of "North Woods Sushi." Leaving us with the question, what really celebrates a wild animal more? The classic taxidermy of a Carl Ackley or the other Jonas Brothers of Yonkers, New York, of whom Ernest Hemingway said, "if I were ever to be mounted, I would prefer to have the job done by Jonas Brothers of Yonkers, New York, the finest taxidermists in the land," or the rogue taxidermy of a Scott a. a. Bibus? Looking at this pike, I'm not sure I see or feel the glory of a great game fish. All it seems to say is, "RIP, rest in pieces." "North Woods Sushi"--Photo courtesy of Scott a. a. Bibus (C) 2009, www.scottbibus.com