When looking at something like a taxidermied Janus kitten—that is, a tiny feline with two faces—one might assume that its maker had a rather dark view of animal life. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Being able to give something another life, elevating it into something beyond death—that gives me chills,” said Divya Anantharaman, one of New York’s best-known practitioners in the modern taxidermy movement and the maker of the taxidermied Janus kitten, which was a special commission for the person who cared for the animal during its short life. “[Taxidermy] is very emotional and humbling,” Anantharaman added. “The thing I think the most often is: Don’t mess it up.”
This reverence for the deceased is common among a contemporary breed of taxidermists. Far from the traditional profile of gruff men in rural areas mounting animals they hunted to display as trophies, today’s innovative taxidermists are younger and more diverse, and they tend to live in urban environments and skew heavily female. They often work with small creatures like birds and rodents rather than hulking deer or bears, and they’re pursuing their craft ethically—acquiring animals that have died naturally, and thus distancing the art of taxidermy from the pursuit of hunting. And while they’re often trained in traditional practices, many favor turning out artistic creations that depart from the way the animals looked while alive. They’re breathing new life into a centuries-old discipline, pursuing it with joy, respect, humor, and heart.