‘Crap Taxidermy’ stuffed with weirdness

(All photos courtesy of Ten Speed/Crown)
(All photos courtesy of Ten Speed/Crown)

Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you.

But it’s hard to tell who won in “Crap Taxidermy” (Ten Speed, $12.99). It’s a new photo book drawn from Kat Su’s ghoulishly hilarious Web site, CrappyTaxidermy.com. This is not be confused with Adam Cornish’s Web site, CrapTaxidermy.com, which this month has inspired its own equally surreal photo book, “Much Ado about Stuffing” (Andrews McMeel, $9.99). Clearly, there’s too much formaldehyde in the air this month.

Victorian Ceiling Fan, spotted in London.
Victorian Ceiling Fan, spotted in London.

Su claims her interest in these abused and mangled pelts arose “completely out-of-the-blue” like, say, a flying cat. She had just moved to Brooklyn and wanted to decorate her new place with something besides the usual pillows and blankets. “I wanted my apartment to feel more like a hunting lodge in the middle of the wood rather than an interior design spread in Martha Stewart Living,” she says via e-mail. “I settled on taxidermy because I thought that it would make my apartment cozier.”

This is not a typical sentiment in a borough that sports 18 different kale salons. . . .

Inflated Horse, spotted in Beijing.
Inflated Horse, spotted in Beijing.

Alas, already burdened with college tuition at the Pratt Institute, Su quickly discovered that quality pieces are prohibitively expensive. “The taxidermy in my budget were things like squirrels holding guns,” she says, “heavy-handed attempts at preserving rodents and birds, or very wonky century-old pieces that were mounted before there was literature on how to accurately capture the likeness of an animal.”

Relaxed Toad, spotted in Sydney, Australia.
Relaxed Toad, spotted in Sydney, Australia.

But as often happens when a young person leaves home for the first time, her heart took her in a direction she never expected. “I ended up falling in love with these pieces, because I thought they were hilarious, and I thought that they had more character.”

In that moment, a blog was born — or stuffed. Since that day, five years ago, she’s become a connoisseur of the grotesquely cute and the ferociously bizarre.

The key, she tells me, is to look for pieces that display two or more of the following characteristics:

  • wild proportions
  • cartoonish facial expression
  • adorned in clothing and accessories
  • sewn together with a different animal
  • holding some kind of prop (preferably a firearm or a miniature bottle of booze)

Her hobby has brought her into contact with a rich community of amateur taxidermists and fine artists. “I thought that most taxidermists would be creepy and Norman Bates-esque,” she says, “but the taxidermists that I have met in NYC are incredibly charismatic and funny, and they all have an affinity for both science and the fine arts.”

Fearsome Barn Owl, spotted in Ohiya, Sri Lanka.
Fearsome Barn Owl, spotted in Ohiya, Sri Lanka.

Naturally, she couldn’t hover forever on the sidelines without taking up the knife herself. Her new book offers instructions on “How To Stuff Your Own Mouse.”

In the end, she discovered that bringing a dead animal to lifelikeness isn’t so different from her career in fashion design. “Taxidermy parallels the process of making clothing,” she says, “in that you have to take a flat, two-dimensional object and turn it a 3-D object that makes sense and feels natural from every angle.”

There are, of course, notable differences.

“Fashion is probably a bit easier,” Su says, “because you don’t have to worry about things like puncturing internal organs or accounting for a poop sack when you’re cutting your materials.”

Coco Chanel had it easy.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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