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Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermyby Melissa Milgrom
Synopses & Reviews
It's easy to dismiss taxidermy as a kitschy or morbid sideline, the realm of trophy fish and jackalopes or an anachronistic throwback to the dusty diorama. Yet theirs is a world of intrepid hunter-explorers, eccentric naturalists, and gifted museum artisans, all devoted to the paradoxical pursuit of creating the illusion of life.
Into this subculture of insanely passionate animal lovers ventures journalist Melissa Milgrom, whose journey stretches from the anachronistic family workshop of the last chief taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History to the studio where an English sculptor, granddaughter of a surrealist artist, preserves the animals for Damien Hirst's most disturbing artworks. She wanders through Mr. Potter's Museum of Curiosities in the final days of its existence to watch dealers vie for preserved Victorian oddities, and visits the Smithsonian's offsite lab, where taxidermists transform zoo skins into vivacious beasts. She tags along with a Canadian bear trapper and former Roy Orbison impersonator--the three-time World Taxidermy Champion--as he resurrects an extinct Irish elk using DNA studies and Paleolithic cave art for reference; she even ultimately picks up a scalpel and stuffs her own squirrel. Transformed from a curious onlooker to an empathetic participant, Milgrom takes us deep into the world of taxidermy and reveals its uncanny appeal.
"In this absorbing blend of bright-eyed reportage and hands-on participation, journalist Milgrom demystifies the creepy art of bringing dead creatures back to life and dispels the myth that taxidermists merely 'stuff animals.' The author's quest to understand the compulsion of obsessed hobbyists and exacting scientists alike to duplicate what nature has created starts in a New Jersey family workshop, where three generations — including the last chief taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History — have mounted everything from three-toed sloths to fireflies. She visits the English sculptor who preserves dead animals for British artist Damien Hirst's displays; explores the arcane subculture of American taxidermy conventions where hundreds vie for best in show awards; and wanders the halls of the bankrupt Mr. Potter's Museum of Curiosities as collectors bid for auction lots of Victorian-era displays of squirrels drinking port and 'bespectacled gentlemen lobsters.' Though her own squeamish attempts to preserve a squirrel are less than stellar, Milgrom's initial uneasy curiosity blossoms into genuine appreciation for a true art form, an enthusiasm the author imparts with style in this substantial study." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A journey into the subculture of taxidermy in all its macabre and creepy allure.
Taxidermy is everywhere these days—from hip restaurants to posh clothing stores. Yet few realize that behind these "stuffed" animals is a world of intrepid hunterexplorers, eccentric naturalists, and museum artisans, all devoted to the paradoxical pursuit of creating the illusion of life.
Into this subculture of intensely passionate animal lovers ventures journalist Melissa Milgrom, whose trek stretches from the family workshop of the last chief taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History to the studio where an English sculptor preserves the animals for Damien Hirst’s most disturbing artwork. Milgrom tags along with a Canadian bear trapper and three-time World Taxidermy Champion as he re-creates an extinct Irish elk using DNA studies and Paleolithic cave art for reference. She even picks up a scalpel and stuffs her own squirrel. Transformed from a curious onlooker to an empathetic participant, Milgrom takes us deep into the world of taxidermy and reveals its uncanny appeal.
About the Author
MELISSA MILGROM has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Salon, the Daily Beast and Travel and Leisure, among other publications; she has also produced radio segments for NPR. She has a master's degree in American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.
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