Practising Taxidermy at the Booth

I’ve been interested in Taxidermy since I was around 9 years old, when I went to visit a family friend’s home in Norfolk. This particular family friend is Emily Mayer; a very talented and successful Taxidermist. I was overwhelmed with the realisation that the animals I admired so much could have their beauty preserved after death, and I was completely in awe.

Georgia practising taxidermy
Georgia practising taxidermy

I started collecting taxidermy a couple of years ago, when I was finally in a position where I could afford to save up for the odd piece! This ‘collection’ only consists of a Pine Martin, a Japanese Courli bird (both bought at markets in Brighton) and a magpie so far, but it can only grow!

Back in September 2011, I was put in touch with Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences at the Booth Museum, because I decided that I wanted to learn how to do Taxidermy myself, so that I could appreciate and understand the art of it, and be able to put the skills to good use.

Lee has a collection of headless seagulls in the workshop freezer, so on my first day he started by letting me practice on its body whilst he supervised and worked on a woodpecker.

The level of detail and precision required was more than I could have imagined… Making sure you pull all the innards out without cutting through the skin is a job that requires patience and a strong stomach!

Despite the smell of the seagull’s guts, it was a really interesting experience.

Seagull Wing
Seagull Wing

Since then, I have done a seagull wing and a seagull foot, which is a bit simpler than the body as it’s just a case of pulling out some tendons. On my second or third session, I really enjoyed sewing up a seagull foot, which I then took home. I’m planning on mounting it in a frame and putting on my wall!

Last week, Lee got out an old buzzard which had been skinned a while back, but that still needed stuffing for use as a study piece for the Booth Museum. I really enjoyed making its body mould, as it involves measuring the exact size of the bird and making a shape out of wood wool, with cotton reel wrapped tightly around it to make it sturdy.

Once the shape was right, it was placed inside the bird and I sewed it up. With the wire now stuck through its legs, and up its neck and through the forehead, it was no longer the limp corpse of a bird. It was beginning to take form and look lifelike.

This made me very happy and excited; I can’t wait to carry on with it next time I’m at the Booth Museum again.

Georgia Flowers, Volunteer

3 Responses

  1. Hello Georgia, I’m also interested in learning about taxidermy – are you working as a volunteer at the museum or are you just doing your sessions with Lee as and when you’re both available? I hope you don’t mind me asking, I was just hoping for a little advice going forwards ­čÖé

  2. Anonymous

    Hello Lee,
    I’m also interested in learning more about how to preserve the bodies of our beautiful British wildlife.
    If there’s ever an opportunity to learn about the art of taxidermy, please contact me. I’m not an artist, but an Occupational Therapist working with people who have physical disabilities. The physical form has always fascinated me and how we can make the most of what we have.
    Thank you Georgia for your interesting piece.

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