Whilst working in a cramped office and playing accidental footsie with my colleague Katie, she received an email with details of a course. The course was for a day of taxidermy.
We exchanged glances and soon we bought our tickets.
The course was held at Hackney City Farm, a bit of a cruel joke I thought, but circle of life eh?
We were met with a frozen mouse laid a top of some magazines, just so we didn’t make a mess with all the guts and that.
My mag happened to be a TV listing so would soon to be dumping my mouse innards over the judges from ‘The Voice’- Sorry Sir Tom Jones.
The mice hadn’t quite defrosted, so this gave us time to browse the selection of props. Our instructor Shannon had provided lots of teeny tiny accessories to help us anthropomorphisize our mice. I was in Dadaist type mood, so I went for a tiny mouse, a mouse holding a mouse. I also chose a top hat as I wasn’t about to make a vagabond of a mouse. Ladies, please.
The next part was where it got grim. For most of the day I was excited about the
class, but now we were actually instructed to cut into the mouse.
Being slightly heavy handed I made the incision and freed the mouse guts. If you are a skilled taxidermist you can cut the skin without breaking the membrane that contains the organs, I am not a skilled taxidermist, I could see guts, in great detail.
You then have to spend some time releasing the skin from everything else inside. To do this you have to break some tiny mouse bones. It was certainly a strange sensation to crush a mouse skull and try and keep the eyelids in tact whilst removing the eyeballs.
We started to talk to the other class members about why they had come to class and where they’d seen it. Many had just been curious and seen it on the various ‘crazy stuff you can do in London’ websites, mail outs and apps. The best answer was one from of the chaps sharing our table- he had become interested in in taxidermy after acquiring a stuffed squirrel holding a machine gun. The squirrel was called ‘Commander Conker ‘
Rather unsurprisingly by pulling my mouse’s guts out I had stained it’s lovely snow white fur. We all lined up with our pelts and gave them a little shampoo and what’s follows a shampoo? a blow-dry.
Katie and I had volunteered to dry out the classes pelts. I must say it was one of the more surreal moments of my life, blow drying little white mouse skins. Our aim was to dry out the skins 80%. Soon I was struck by the responsibility of the task, if I ruined my classmates work, they’d have my guts for garters, even though there was a great supply of guts readily available.
Next we had to treat the pelts, there were two stages to this. First the tanning oil, this was just brushed on to the inside of the skin and would keep any creepy crawlies from shacking up in my majestic stuffed trophy.
The other treatment was to any muscle remaining in the mouse, we applied a powder that would dry out the flesh, so we added this to the inside of the wrists ankles and bits of the skull that were remaining. This, as I am sure you were wondering, is when we could remove the mouses’ tongue, it was just like a human tongue but very very small.
It’s time for padding. My mouse was a lady and thought she’d want to live out the rest of eternity with an athletic physique. The padding was made from a combination of wire, cotton wool and twine, trying to keep in mind the natural shape a mouse would be and the shape I wanted it to be, which was midst an existential crisis holding another tiny mouse.
Once the main stuffing was in, I added extra little bits of stuffing to fill out the arms, legs and face. To stuff the face, you had to shove cotton wool in the mouse’s mouth, trying not to dislodge his little mousey teeth.
After this the sewing began, I used my neatest over stitch to join up the split down mousey’s belly.
The mouse now felt firm, but still a bit empty. We were told not to over stuff , as the skins would dry out over the next few days.
It was here Katie hit a conundrum- her mouse was a male and had a rather large and proud pair of testicles, she would either have to stuff the balls or castrate the poor fellow. She went with castration, it would have been an intricate job to staff and also might have prohibited his standing
Then it was time for accessories and eyes. The eyes were tiny black beads inserted into the eye sockets, this was very fiddly and the floor of the classroom must still be scattered with eye balls beads.
Due to the mice needing a little extra drying time we were advised to leave the wires uncut too, this means they could dehydrate into their poses.
Here’s an example of other attempts in our class- these mice were not anatomically correct, but being ‘C’ shaped emans it’s easier to play chess.
The class was run by Shannon Harm @felineinlove