Thinking of taxidermy, I immediately draw to mind flannel-jacketed Uncle Bruce watching the fishing channel in his wood-paneled den decorated with protruding buck heads and a coffee table otter.
But out in Tempe, Arizona, 21-year-old Morgan of SlightlyCurious puts her own sideshow-spin on the animal stuffing game. But wait! Before you get all up-in-arms about animal cruelty, here is the disclaimer she has on her MySpace page:
“While I’m no activist, I do not kill animals to create my work. They are roadside splatters, casualties of the seafood industry, or simply weren’t meant to survive. I merely take what isn’t stiff yet.”
I’ll admit, as a vegetarian I was a little “OMG” when I first saw Morgan’s shop. But that initial shock quickly turned into intrigue; there is an innate creativity flowing there that I can’t deny and I was excited to find out about the inner-workings of taxidermy and to learn more about the artist herself.
1. Taxidermists have always intrigued me, because how common is it for someone to realize one day that hey, they have a genuine need to sew up some dead carcasses, right? What’s your taxidermy story?
Honestly, I wish I had a more captivating story to relate. When anyone asks (and, invariably, everyone eventually does), I tell them the short truth – I woke up one day with a silly idea bouncing around in my head, and went with it.
But here are the details I usually leave out:
Having grown up in the Midwest, taxidermy was vaguely in the background of my childhood. We had a shoulder mount of a buck, a couple of stuffed bass, and that was the extent of it. Several of my relatives were hunters. When it was time to clean a deer, this was commonly done by hanging it upside down in the garage, splay-legged, glassy-eyed, and dripping blood into a kiddie pool. My kiddie pool, that I occasionally liked to fill with water and splash around in. But I digress. Without fail, I always wanted a turn hanging onto the hide of the deer to help pull it off the carcass. I spent a good deal of time running around barefoot, poking at anything that looked alive, or like it may have once been alive. Typical kid stuff.
Okay, I still do that. But I wear shoes, because my neighborhood is full of crackheads who don’t care where their syringes land.
At the time taxidermy piqued my interested, I was begrudgingly in college, kind of flapping around like a drugged fish and looking for any excuse to quit. Again. I kept going to classes, though, to use the campus computers to check out taxidermy schools. Then I remembered what a cheap bastard I am. The following Monday, I withdrew from classes, picked out a taxidermy shop from the phone book, and showed up there. The first person I came in contact with happened to be deaf. We spent the next twenty minutes trying to communicate via hand signals and his chicken scratch hand writing while the owner was in the bathroom taking a shit. That last part is important, because it pretty much sums up my experience there – unorthodox methods of communication, and watching the shop while the owner took a shit.
I lucked out, and the guy ended up being one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. I spend the next year and a half hanging around his shop, eager to learn anything I could. Unfortunately, he’s in the early stages of selling his shop and filing bankruptcy. Not many people these days have a few hundred extra dollars for that trophy mount.
2. What were you like in high school? Did you ever wear animal bone necklaces to freak out the preppy bitches?
Don’t we all just love to reminisce upon our teenage years? I pretty much kept to myself aside from a very small group of people who were mostly the “skater” kids. I got called “goth” a lot, even though aIl I wore was t-shirts and jeans and didn’t have any angst to speak of. Go figure. I was mainly unconscious of my appearance – I don’t think I owned a skirt or dress until I was at least 18, I never wore makeup, and was frequently mistaken for a boy. So no, I didn’t get up in the morning with the intention of freaking anyone out – that just happened on its own. It was probably a fairly typical high school experience.
Believe it or not I was actually interested in learning something, but everything was so dumbed down for the gangster kids that not many of the teachers gave a shit. At one point, I was going straight from AP Lit to regular ol’ retard English. Since then I’ve never had brain function come to such a dramatic, screeching halt. By my sophomore year, I was spending the lunch period as a teacher’s aide. I started going to school for only half a day my junior year and still managed to graduate early in order to save my nine remaining brain cells. So yeah – lots of words to basically say “nothing special.”
3. What I love about you is that you take something ordinary like Grandpa’s prized bass and give it a creepy, Burton-esque twist by sticking its head on the body of a squirrel. Pretend you were just granted permission to do this same procedure on two of your favorite celebrities, what would you do?
That’s a tough one, I’m guilty of being entirely out of touch with pop culture. But I would love to do something horrible to Criss Angel. While I’m doing charity work, I’d probably give Gordon Ramsey (Hell’s Kitchen) lobster claws. Sometimes it really seems like he could use them, even if it’s just to emphasize a point.
4. Is your work area anything like the grandpa’s work area on “Lost Boys”?
It’s probably more like the father’s shed in “Pervert!” If you haven’t seen that movie, it’s worth a look. The guy’s penis escapes and becomes a serial killer.
5. You’re driving down the road and see a beaver flattened against the asphalt. Do you literally scrape it up, dust it off, and take it home to work on, or is there some sort of dead animal store you go to purchase your supplies?
Living where I do, I would be fairly skeptical of the origins of said beaver. I have, in fact, made someone stop on the freeway so I could collect (what I could find of) a dead rabbit. Usually, if any scraping is required, the animal is just about useless to me. The more fresh and intact, the better. A lot of things I use are intercepted on their way to the dumpster from the taxidermy shop, or have been discarded by hunters. Because it gets so hot here, birds will occasionally drop from the sky, and I usually snatch those up whenever I see them. The neighbors are a little wary of me.
A lot of people tell me that they think of me whenever they see a dead animal. I’m not sure what to make of that association, but at least people are thinking of me. I had a couple friends bring me a “present” from a short road trip. It was a garbage bag of raccoon. He came back the next day and gave me a box of latex gloves.
6. I’m inherently nosy about the music people like. What were the last 10 songs you listened to on your play list:
Afro Man – Colt 45
Murs – Bad Man
Of Montreal – Oslo in the Summertime
Oingo Boingo – Little Girls
Atmosphere – Say Hey There
The Doors – People are Strange
The Tiger Lillies – Banging in the Nails
Robbie Williams – Rock DJ (That video, oh my god. Go watch it. Go! I’ll wait.)
Mac Lethal – Mermaid Pornography
Looking Glass – Brandy
7. When you’re not stitching up animals, what are your favorite things to do in Tempe?
Go somewhere else. Ha! Really, I spend a bit of time practicing sideshow acts, some time cooking delicious food, lots of time fighting with my cat, some time sewing. Yeah, it’s exciting around here. If I’m feeling really adventurous, I may even take a walk to the liquor store. Or do some aggressive cuddling.
Lately I’ve been keeping busy helping out with the filming/production of our (by “our” I mean myself and the Cut Throat Freak Show) DVD. You can watch the preview here:
About 2/3 of the way through is a bit of documentary about my taxidermy. /shameless self promotion
8. Any guilty pleasures?
Feeling guilty would imply I was doing something wrong, wouldn’t it? Sometimes I like to drink too much and smash electronics in my back yard. If we’re neighbors, you should grab your microwave and head over. It’s probably the most entertaining thing happening in Tempe right now.
Other potentially incriminating activities include playing Minesweeper and Bejeweled, eating raw meet, patronizing Chinese buffets, public intoxication, and finding new old furniture in the dumpster.
9. I do have a Blackberry I’d like to smash. I imagine you must get the occasional bizarre request, like “Please fashion my dead Betta into a bow-tie.” What’s the weirdest request you’ve ever got?
A stranger came up to me in a bar and told me his cat “has the FIV,” would probably die soon, and wanted me to stuff her. I gave him my card, but I haven’t heard from him. Either his cat is doing okay, or he was too drunk to remember having talked to me.
10. Your Etsy shop is a contestant on Jeopardy and Alec Trebek needs a synopsis for when he does the introductions. What do you want him to say?
Oh geez. Let me put on my game show voice.
“Our third and final contestant, with a freezer full of squirrels and a slight odor of formaldehyde… Slightly Curious!
And now, the host of Jeo-
I’ve just received word from our producers that the studio must be evacuated due to a health code violation. Thank you, and good evening.”
Find out more about SlightlyCurious here: