D.I.Y. Taxidermy

charlie tuesday gates

October 31st, 2012

Last night a went to see a fantastic D.I.Y. Taxidermy lecture/demo/performance by artist Charlie Tuesday Gates in a dark cellar at The Book Club. The event was sold out in advance and people were turned away at the door!

“D.I.Y Taxidermy LIVE is an interactive journey. Giving first hand knowledge and the confidence to take life into your own hands, proving that you can do it yourself, at home, with little more than the contents of your kitchen cupboards.  Through the medium of performance, video and story telling,  you are taken deeper than ever into this seemingly dark art and mind of an artist.”

hung out to dry

 I have to confess that I found the whole thing very funny, interesting and entertaining (down to the artist’s witty banter). Charlie skinned a lamb live (not alive) and invited members of the audience to come up and skin a rabbit and squirrel.

bird on a wing

The animals themselves were mostly roadkill and the lamb was sourced from a farm, already dead by natural causes. Charlie was quick to point out that fresh smelling animals with bright eyes are easier to work with – much like my advise on cooking roadkill.


I have often wanted to do something with the skins of rabbits I have eaten, or birds that I have plucked. I currently have half a pig skull on my kitchen windowsill (a leftover from roasted pig’s head) and a string of bones from Osso Buco.

bird cage

In essence the skins of animals are carefully removed with a scalpel and heavily salted to cure them. The bones and body can also be salted and dried to make a framework for the skin, though a  considerable amount of time (months) is required for the curing. A quicker method would be to make a metal frame (out of chicken wire or similar) for the skin, which is sewn back over the new skeleton.

skull wing

So what does all this  have to do with food? Well, I chopped up a skinned rabbit and cooked it on a griddle before serving it up to a willing audience. I’m sure Fergus Henderson would approve.

Happy Halloween!

About Mad Dog

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26 Responses to D.I.Y. Taxidermy

  1. What a brilliant idea – I’ve recently seen some very bizarre taxidermy in which the artist has mixed up parts of 5 or 6 different sorts of creatures to make insane hybrids. Funny but creepy.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Roger – these were a bit Frankenstein. Charlie said she hasn’t studied taxidermy, she’s just made it up and learnt along the way!

  2. Fascinating – and why not if you’re going to enjoy eating rabbit, lamb or any other animal?!

  3. expatchef says:

    Hmmm…..this is oddly disturbing….but kind of interesting in its own way.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks – that’s a good response 😉
      Actually I’ve seen some very scared tourist reactions to dead animals (with fur on) hanging up for sale in Spanish markets. How did people get so far away from their food?

  4. ChgoJohn says:

    As a boy, I did more than my fair share of plucking and skinning. D.I.Y Taxidermy? Been there. Didn’t do it. 🙂

    • Mad Dog says:

      I’m sure it’s not for everybody, maybe not even me, but i hate throwing the fur and bones away. Well at least I always cook the bones up for stock 😉

  5. Tessa says:

    Reminds me of when I was studying biology in college… We had to make study skins out of the “road kill” found by students and staff for educational purposes. Mice and squirrels were the easiest to deal with. I had the unfortunate experience to be assigned a North American River Otter. Ugh… Beautiful animal but the process of preparing its skin most certainly abused my nose. Happy Halloween!

  6. Eha says:

    I’ll certainly learn off this on a page . . . but cannot imagine putting it into practice. And, yes, it does remind me of zoology in first year in Med School, and, even more, the following semesters dealing with humans who had crossed the river and now in a formalinized state . . . you either developed a very thick skin or outted yourself at quick notice . . .

  7. Karen says:

    I’m seeing so many animals that have been beautifully preserved by taxidermy on my travels where hunting is still very much a source of food.

    • Mad Dog says:

      In this country, taxidermy went out of fashion about 20 years ago and museums started throwing away the animals – in some places they were burnt. Fortunately taxidermy is back in fashion and people now seem to appreciate the art.

  8. Eek…but interesting! I remember as a child being fascinated by a little museum in Littlehampton which was a massive collection of Victorian Taxidermy “tableaux” – I thing that´s what they were called. Scenes from stories made with animals and all sorts of odd things like two headed lamb foetuses (spelling?) – totalling revolting but to me and my cousins, it was fabulous!

  9. cecilia says:

    I would like to cure my lamb skins but I am not sure about having a stuffed Daisy! c

  10. Un post muy apropiado para Halloween 😉

  11. Discovered your website today, and have kept reading because most of the places you write about I have eaten at or been to. I too saw Potter’s work when I was a little girl. I was totally fascinated by all the little scenes. I was so sad that it has been split up and sold. I did hear that Damien Hirst did try to buy the whole collection when it went under the hammer but was unsuccessful. Shall go back to reading more.

  12. Mad Dog says:

    Thanks Maria – it was a fantastic collection and I was grateful to see a lot of it exhibited again 🙂

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