I grew up a mile from Schwendemans Taxidermy Studio, the father and son firm that has worked with The American Museum of Natural History for fifty years. One day in 1994 after a safari gone awry, I wandered into their dusty workshop with its stuffed owls, antelope heads, snake skeletons, and strange tools. I found the place completely engrossing and wanted to know more about this intriguing art form that thrives despite its fringe reputation. Over the years I’ve come to understand what compels people to preserve dead animals: the answer, you’ll find in Still Life, turns out to be far different than what I expected when I first immersed myself in the taxidermy world: an absurd—almost fanatical—love of animals and the beauty of organic forms.
In addition to the Schwendemans, whom I cover in the book, I spent years shadowing a Smithsonian contractor and bear hunter from Alberta who recreates extinct species; and the provocative English sculptor who preserves the animals for Damien Hirst. Combined, these gifted taxidermists’ obsessions (science, hunting, art, respectively) tell the whole story of taxidermy, I believe. In the end, however, it’s the taxidermists’ love of nature and their unending quest to understand it on its own terms, which ultimately unites my characters more than even the science or art of their craft. This emotional depth and striving can be found in any human endeavor, I believe, no matter how unusual.

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© 2010 Melissa L. Milgrom  All rights reserved.