White Trash Taxidermy


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 Madagascar.

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 item.

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 needed.

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


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