When most people
think of taxidermy, they might imagine a deer head
strategically placed over a fireplace in a hunter's den, or
perhaps a grizzly bear posed in a frightful rreenactment of
attack. Think again.
Thanks to online auction sites, artists and do-it-yourself
taxidermists have stolen the spotlight from the traditional
craftsmen. Instead of the usual pheasant and fish mounts,
silly squirrels dressed in costumes and freakish two-headed
ducks are becoming more popular with bidders. And the
artists are having trouble keeping up with the demands.
Mark Frierson, a sideshow artist from Houston, Texas, says
he's been doing his own form of "white trash taxidermy" for
the last 20 years. He takes actual creatures that are
already taxidermy and adds or removes parts to transform
them into something entirely different. He also creates from
scratch completely fabricated beings that never existed at
all, and then sells them in online auctions.
"Some of the things I do, like the two-headed alligator and
Monkey Dog, are new twists to old carnival sideshow
standards, or creatures pulled straight from legends and
myths," Frierson says. "I try to create something bizarre,
but totally believable ?that would freak out visitors to a
sideshow or even someone's own personal collection in their
house ?and go from there."
Ranging in price from $75 for small animals to $1,200 for
human-sized mummies and creatures, Frierson says that since
he's started selling his masterpieces on online auctions the
greater portion of his actual sales have been people
requesting custom work. One of his more unusual pieces made
especially for a client included flesh-eating toads from
Peter Butler, an avid auction bidder from San Francisco,
bought a taxidermy squirrel from
Eagle Catcher Taxidermy.
The squirrel is holding a little toy rifle and wearing a
bright orange hunting vest and wicker cap for $50.
Even though he bought it as a gift for his brother, he found
it difficult to part with the cute creation. "But it was
worth it just to see my grandma? face when my brother opened
his present," Butler says.
If bidders search online auctions under taxidermy they will
probably find other squirrels dressed like fishermen, bow
hunters, canoeists and even rodeo squirrels, thanks to Eagle
Catcher Taxidermy. Their animals often range in price from
$50 to $200, depending on the popularity of the auction
Believe it or not, there are quality-made taxidermy items,
and there are those that will end up in your closet because
it began to smell or deteriorate from poor workmanship.
Before you buy, make sure that the piece is protected
against things like humidity, age and bugs. And ask the
seller if he is willing to repair or replace the item if
But most importantly, "always try to acquire pieces that are
unique in design and composition, and interesting specimens
that appeal to you personally," Frierson says. "This
combined with good quality work will always leave you happy
for many years to come."
It might be hard to determine the actual monetary value of
these peculiar animals. But maybe it isn't the creature
itself, but the event of giving someone such a strange gift
that holds all the value.
"Half the time, like with anything in life," Frierson says,
"it's not the item that you are looking at, it's the story
that goes behind it.
March 10, 2000 Bonnie Burton