Deep Stuff: Getting Under the Skin of a Taxidermist

Jazmine Miles Long Booth

You may remember that I kicked off my residency last year when I was treated to something of a baptism by fire at the Booth Museum at their excellent after-hours event Night of the Curiously Strange.

This week you can get another chance to dive into the murkier end of the Museum’s collections, for an evening of similar fishy-flavoured oddities. Thursday’s Beneath the Whispering Sea event is hosted in collaboration with Whalefest and this time it’s taking place in Brighton Museum itself.

One of the star turns (or should that be terns?) will undoubtedly be ethical taxidermist Jazmine Miles Long, who will once again be demonstrating her considerable skills. I took the chance to pin her down, so to speak, and chat to her about the innards and outs of her particular painstaking profession.

Tell us a bit about what you do, how did you end up as a taxidermist?

I have been practicing taxidermy since 2007 after doing voluntary renovation work alongside Peter at the Booth Museum. Since then I have worked for artists, museums and collectors creating taxidermy using only animals and birds that have died from natural causes or as road casualties.

Are there any particular challenges involved with working with seabirds?

Shore birds and waders can be problematic as they simply have a little more fat to keep them warm. Cleaning these skins can therefore often take a considerable amount of time. Herring Gulls however are not too bad at all, but you do have to be careful with their Uropygial (or preen gland) as they are large birds that use the gland to help keep their feathers buoyant and waterproof. If I don’t carefully remove and clean the gland the oil can tarnish the feathers.

How do you acquire your specimens and what is ethical taxidermy exactly?

Calling myself an ‘ethical’ taxidermist is my way of describing the way I produce work and that I only work with animals that have died from natural causes or as a road casualty. My specimens are donated to me by friends, family, rescue centres, and those who have found me through social networking sites.
Using specimens like these often means the skins can be damaged but I do my best not to waste anything, rebuilding bones and patching fur and feathers where I need to. Thankfully my parents have been understanding about my career choice, considering it does not run in our family. They often find squirrels and other road kill left in the porch by neighbours. 
parakeet jazmine miles long
Taxidermy seems to be back in vogue just now, why do you think that is? 

I think the resurgence of taxidermy originally was due to its use in art works since the 90s, but now natural history, museums and craft making has become very trendy and taxidermy ticks all boxes.

Have there been any especially interesting taxidermy projects you’ve worked on recently?

I enjoy every project I have worked on. I love making taxidermy and learning from the animals and birds I work with. Each specimen is different and teaches me something new every time. The most recent challenge I had was to work on a Corn Bunting that had died in 1982 and had been frozen since.

When a specimen has been frozen for a few years the skin becomes very dry and brittle, but this one was almost mummified! I managed to mount it up and enjoyed the challenge. I also love working with museums, mostly because of the staff. People who work in museums love the collections they care for and it’s simply nice to spend time in enthusiastic environments. It definitely makes a change from the quiet studio I share with my partner and our dog.

Your appearance in the programme is billed as ‘marine taxidermy’, but we gather that you won’t actually be showing us how to dress a crab or stuff a nice, juicy seabass. What can we expect?

No, that’s right, I won’t be working with any fish! On the night I will be showing you how to wire and mount up a bird skin on to a carved balsa body and talking about cleaning the skins.

Watching Jazmine cheerfully at work and fielding questions from a rapt audience is genuinely fascinating (and only very slightly creepy!) so don’t miss this entertaining evening of aquatically-inspired theatrics and natural wonders, including a talk from Brighton dipper Martha Gunn and even an underwater silent disco (we bet the odds of hearing whale song and the Beatles’ Octopus Garden are fairly high!) plus a last chance to catch the excellent Ocean Blues exhibition, which presents the challenges bound up with marine ecology in a particularly vivid and compelling fashion.

Ocean Blues sea waste display

Beneath the Whispering Sea is on Thursday 12 March at 7pm, in Brighton Museum.