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Taxidermy Evolves To Keep Up With Changing Tastes

james taxidermy
(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Doug James makes molds and fiberglass models used in taxidermy.

You’ve seen it if you’ve ever been to a natural history museum: animals that are no longer living, but made to look like they are. Once confined behind the glass of a museum or curiosity shop, taxidermy is evolving as an interactive art form. 

“I’ll do an elephant, a mouse, anything in between. Anything that has to do with taxidermy,” said Doug James, owner of Frank James Artistry. 

James has more than your average tools in his backyard shed. On a recent afternoon, the wooden walls were lined with fish, and one very expressive javelina. A pair of horns sat on the table. 

It had a very distinct smell.

“Probably fiberglass and stain,” James said. “I just got done doing these.”

He picked up the horns and surprise, they were fake. But they were painted to look real, so he can put them onto a taxidermy of a bighorn sheep. James said these days, the lines are blurring between fake and real, art and animal. Taxidermists are trying new things, because tastes are changing; and so is the clientele.

“There’s a lot of younger people especially that are interested and a lot of women. And I know that’s something that’s new to the field,” said Mason Conway, owner of a shop called Curious Nature

Conway sells taxidermy and also items like a beaver jaw necklace and alligator foot key  chains. He said his customers want more than the stereotypical deer head mounted on a wood panel.

The shop also offers taxidermy classes. In the next one, students will work with rats.

“So they’ll learn how to skin and prepare the skin and do the sculpting and making of the forms afterward,” Conway said. “You start with an animal and you’re leaving with a completed piece.”

Conway said some people like to dress them up or decorate them, even. It’s not the kind of thing you find in a taxidermy catalog, but that’s what excites Doug James, who will be teaching the shop’s next class. 

“I could never just mount deer heads all day long, day after day after day. I just couldn’t do it,” James said. “I mean, some of the stuff the new people are doing would drive the older people crazy. But I think it’s neat.” 

That’s why he’s mounting his example rats … in a model car. He calls it a “rat rod.”

The next taxidermy class at Curious Nature is April 2.

Annika Cline was born in Germany, raised in California and transplanted to Arizona. She studied at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.Cline produces and reports for KJZZ’s original production, The Show, covering stories from all corners of the Valley as well as bringing listeners a slice of their own community in the weekly Sounds of the City series.Cline also volunteers as an art instructor for foster youths and their families.