Reviving Dead Art: Rest in Pieces Makes Taxidermy Cool Again
Natalie Delaney-John of Rest in Pieces ventures to make taxidermy a comeback through her classes and workshops.
When one hears of the word ‘taxidermy’, either they have no idea what it is or images of elk heads in dusty halls come into play. From mouse stuffing to deer head mounting, the 19th century practice of taxidermy has been making a comeback in the form of craft classes and workshops. This quirky hobby is becoming increasingly popular and fits well with the vintage trend of the current generation, because of the unique and rustic appeal to this centuries-old craft.
In the case of Natalie Delaney-John, then a full-time finance manager and now a prominent taxidermist in the country, she was simply looking for a creative hobby to partake in. Her curiosity for this bizarre practice grew into a ruling passion that would later impel her to opening the first Taxidermy workshop in Australia and establish her business, Rest in Pieces. Today, we talk with her and ask about her story, what inspires her to do her work and what we can expect from her workshops.
How did you get interested in taxidermy? Please tell us about your journey.
My interest began as a simple curiosity. I had purchased a few bits a pieces like skulls and hide for the ground and some people would come over and find it strange. I, however, found it beautiful and became more curious in finding out more about it. My interest grew when I found out that taxidermy had not been formally taught in Australia since the 1970’s. Wanting to know more about this art, I sought out award-winning mentors from all around the world. I stalked a mentor and sent over 200 emails! I ended up volunteering every weekend with a mentor for 3 years before pursuing international travel and lessons. I then launched Rest in Pieces three years ago.
What were you doing before this?
I still work in the Insurance and Finance Industry. It pays the bills whilst I try and grow Rest in Pieces. I will say, however, that my manager has been very supportive and has given me Fridays off so that I can focus on RIP.
Why did you decide to teach this discipline to others?
Given that I had to travel to Spain, the USA and Canada to learn, I figured that there may be more people like myself in Australia that are interested in learning. I was keen on finding ways to open up the art to more people, and also to seize recognition for this amazing practice.
How does it feel like pioneering taxidermy in Australia?
Haha, I don’t know about being a pioneer! (albeit flattering) I think I am incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to breathe new life into a dying art. I am also very grateful for all of the gorgeous students I have met who all have a passion for science, art and animals. It’s amazing to feel as though Rest in Pieces is creating a community of friends and like-minded people.
What’s the most challenging thing about what you do?
Misconceptions about taxidermy can lead to some fairly awful persecution from people. Whilst I found this very upsetting in the beginning, it has inspired me to use my talks and art as a platform to educate people and to create mindfulness.
Rest in Pieces is also very proud to donate a portion of our proceeds from our Revival Kits to Mt. Rothwell - which is a nature reserve that dedicated its time and land to the protection of native animals.
You don’t always hear ‘passion’ and ‘taxidermy’ together - but what are you passionate about with taxidermy? What drives you to do what you do?
Taxidermy is an incredibly unique art as the word taxidermy means the arrangement of skin. Once you have learned the process of how to remove the skin from an animal and how to preserve it properly you then need to re-create the entire body and also setting or habitat. This is where you need to be highly skilled in an incredibly diverse range of mediums. As my skills progress, so will the list of things I need to master and develop.
Taxidermy incredibly interesting - it teaches you a deep respect for animals and biology. What is there not to be passionate about? Everyday you learn and grow a little bit more and your love for science, art and animals flourishes.
How do people perceive what you do?
As I mentioned previously, this is one of the challenges with being involved with taxidermy. There are a number of misconceptions the main one being that taxidermists kill or are cruel to animals.
This one I find interesting as taxidermy is about bringing a beautiful specimen back to life. The specimens can come from a variety of sources, including natural death, game animals, frozen python feeding animals (such as mice). And yes, others come from trapping programs (like Indian Mynahs) or hunting (Such as foxes, hares, wild pigs) which are part of conservation projects to cull introduced species in order to protect our native animals.
All of the taxidermists I have met are conscious minded and animal loving, not to mention incredible artists. People might find it interesting to know that 30% of my students are vegetarian or vegan!
Is there a funny side to taxidermy?
There are a lot of bad jokes that go hand in hand with taxidermy haha. I will leave these to your imagination. One thing you will notice from our reviews is that Rest in Pieces workshops and talks focus on education, humour and lots of wine :)
What are your current goals? Where do you see Rest in Pieces going?
Rest in Pieces continues to work hard to grow and develop new and interesting workshops. We pride ourselves on developing workshops that are Australian firsts and provide access to a range of underground arts. We currently teach taxidermy, skeletal articulation and basic entomology (the pinning of Ulysses butterflies and Death’s-head hawkmoths). We will continue to tour Australia and are working with a number of regional galleries so that we can reach people outside of capital cities.
Ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty? Check out Natalie’s classes below and dive into the wonderful world of taxidermy!
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