26 October, 2009

Les arts sombres... or anthropomorphic treasures?

Last year, artist Andrea Mastrovito was commissioned to revamp the Dior Homme flagship store in Paris, and he did so with 9000 black butterflies. Yes, 9000! Suspended from ceilings, attached to walls... All real, all black. I stumbled upon this, because of something I've learned about myself in the past year. Something creepy, something odd, something apt to discuss around Halloween, and something ever so sliightly embarrassing...

Taxidermy. And specifically, my predilection for it.

When I was around 12 years old, I received for my birthday- three preserved and framed butterflies. I was totally fascinated. It didn't lead to sudden bug chasing, or a career in entomology; but it did pique a long-held interest in, and soft spot for, the postmortem preservation of animals.

Then, on June 20th of last year, my beloved angel puppy, Bruno died.

After the initial shock a sudden calm swept over me when I realized that, though I had lost my cuddly, snorty, precious little friend- I could still keep some part of him around...


This made perfect sense to me, but as I was soon to learn all too well- it does not sit well with most people. Disagreement and disgust was the general response... Friends were appalled. Taxidermists from California to Nebraska (yes, I was determined), methodically turned me down with the industry-standard "We don't do pets." and "People get weird with their pets, too much emotion involved- no one will do 'em." Finally, FINALLY after much pestering, I was referred to a pro-pet taxidermist in Colorado. With a $2,800 price tag, a 14 month wait-list, and additional cold-storage facility fees- my hopes of Bruno eternally curled up peacefully in the living room went up in smoke. It was a sad, sad, day. Somehow even through countless rejections and despite the local consensus, I believed that taxidermy would be the saving grace. It would soften the blow of losing him, and make it a tiny bit bearable. A gentle fade from him, rather than the vicious tug that had torn him away. Now this last resort too, was gone. It was difficult to come to terms with, and to be perfectly honest- I didn't. With time certainly NOT on my side, I started researching taxidermy. Thinking, how hard can it really be? I nonchalantly phoned taxidermists in my area inquiring about apprenticeships.

"Oh nooo, sir, I'm just interested in learning to mount hunting kills..."

Uh huh.

"I'm happy to work for free..."


"I can come in tomorrow! And I can practice on uhhh.... my mom's dead dog."

Oh my God, am I really saying this???

"You know, I wasn't attached to him- so you don't have to worry about the whole "emotional attachment" thing."


Needless to say, there were no takers. My mother, always the trouper with not a squeamish bone in her body- reluctantly offered to help if it was something I "absolutely need[ed] to do". This, the woman who once saved a mare by cutting apart and removing a dead, full-term foal with her bare hands... But that's another blog altogether... We discussed chemicals, decomposition, organ-removal, curing and time-frames... I could do it. Who needed those jerk, taxidermists and their pet-owner prejudice?! I'd show them! And who cared about people's black hearts and their disdain... I wasn't insane! I knew it wouldn't bring him back! Why not?!

Mom was onboard, I'd found a book on it... I was ready.

But then I realized something... He was perfect. Here was my perfect little guy... my beautiful bundle of pure love and joy, who I had enjoyed, admired, scolded, and lavished upon with all my heart from the moment I saw him at 8 weeks old- fresh off a plane from Sydney. A top-heavy puppy, who fell over when he scratched with his hind legs, and who inexplicably loved broccoli and dried bananas. We'd travelled over an ocean together, and many miles since. He smiled when he was excited and peed in the wrong places when he was mad. He loved having his ears cleaned and liked to sleep splayed out flat on the kitchen floor like a squished spider. He was all nose and no nose at the same time. He'd been compared to pigs, goats, monkeys, and a half-dozen breeds of dogs other than what he was. He had been Batman for Halloween and an angel for the Christmas card... and no amount of taxidermy could ever capture any tiny bit of that. Not the best taxidermists in the world, and certainly not me. At that moment, I agreed with them. The jerks... At that moment I knew that there was too much emotion to cut him apart and try to put him back together again for posterity, or my own morbid-reluctance to let him go.

We buried him under a flower bed, on a pretty little slope, over a creek on the ranch I'd played on as a child. With a blankie and a book...

"My French love affair", because he was.

A few months later, a fantastic article by Olga of Greece, was printed in Vanity Fair- profiling her appreciation for Deyrolles, the Parisian Taxidermy house and the fire that nearly destroyed its incomparable legacy. It was a fresh reminder of the roller coaster I'd gone on after Bruno's death, but rather than opening a wound, it cemented my own appreciation for the art of taxidermy. The roller coaster ride had taught me that sometimes it's best not to get what we want, and also that despite others' opinions- yes, I really do enjoy stuffed animals (of the realistic variety). Someday, I might even be ready to own one- but it will be strictly art; something I like, not someone I loved. Certainly not a pet, and certainly not my best friend (Amber, you can breathe a sigh of relief). ;)

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