How many of you think taxidermy is beautiful? How many of you think it is vulgar? There is often a fairly substantial divide. I happen to like taxidermy that is well done and I have had the privilege of visiting a taxidermist who did some work for my father: a bard owl, a pheasant and a large-mouth bass. The level of craftsmanship and knowledge it requires to create an inanimate representation of something that was once living is impressive, to say the least. When executed properly, the results can be striking. At its best, the art of taxidermy honours its deceased subjects with a kind of eternal dignity.
Far removed from the ‘trophy heads’ that line the walls of smoky dens and pool halls, specimens can often be used as educational tools or can, ostensibly, rescue a deceased creature from decay by turning it into an artform. (It should be noted that many of the best examples of taxidermy were not got by first hunting and killing the animal. The unmarred bodies of animals that have died of natural causes – often age or winter starvation – usually make the best examples of taxidermy.)
I was taken recently by the work of two artists who have elevated the craft of taxidermy even further. No lives were lost in the creation of their unusual and colorful specimens and their creations evoke a deep sense of wonder. Frédérique Morrel is the collective name for a husband and wife team in France who create beautiful, sculptural taxidermy using textiles and tapestries. Frédérique and her husband Aaron collaborate to create these wondrous beings, which are covered with a skin of beautiful, patchwork tapestry.
“We like materials that tell stories of simple, ideal happiness and that have been caressed by many hands,” say the artists on their website. They go on to further explain their philosophy: “They are like friends of the family who just happen to have shown up unexpectedly. Far from the hunting trophies to which they bear some resemblance, these are living creatures that have literally poked through the walls in order to deliver their personal stories to us.” Below are five examples of their work. Click here to see photos of their fantastical studio and more examples of their work.