Another fun Christmas commission I can now write about (recipient is pleased, no spoilers, etc) involved a collaboration between myself and another very accomplished jeweler named Doug Bucci. Mr. Bucci’s first role in my life was that of teacher: he taught my stone-setting class in college. Being as Philadelphia is a small city and the artistic community a tightly woven one, Doug and I have loosely kept tabs on one another throughout the years, along with most of my other jewelry school survivors. It felt like a war, sometimes, and we have the PTSD to prove it.
BUT. I digress. Doug and several others in my jewelry clique have moved onto the art of 3D printing. An example of Doug’s outstanding work in the CAD arena:
Despite the fact that my studio-mate owns and operates one of these crazy newfangled things in the space we share together (I have seen it work with my own eyes), I cannot wrap my mind around this phenomenon. I don’t quite care to. I’ll let my hands do the talking and leave the techno stuff to the experts. However, I am quite happy to endorse, receive and benefit from the articles produced by these machines. (Have you seen me sporting my Loop Hoop earrings by the amazing Maria Eife?)
Imagine my excitement then, when Doug approached me about making a jackalope using antlers designed & printed from this technology. This piece was to be a gift for his daughter and I was instantly smitten with the idea of not only a dad commissioning such a cool piece but also contributing his own talents. He designed, printed and cleaned up the antlers, brought them to me and I got smurfin’.
These days I always seem to have at least one rabbit head (and feet, skin, etc for that matter) in my freezer, compliments of my boys at the Farmer’s Husband. I thawed one out, cleaned his skull and built a form around it with clay. The antlers were deliberately large; we thought an exaggerated look would be fun. After all, this creature doesn’t exist naturally so why not make it as fantastical as possible? This thought process is Rogue Taxidermy at its best, in my opinion.
I was nervous about supporting the weight of these bad boys on my rabbit’s head but I drilled holes through the skull and wired it up. Success.
I got swept up in a Victorian theme, leather & lacing the shit out of this thing. Much to my delight, I might add.
I used grey fox eyes instead of the anatomically correct hollow black glass ones to give him more personality.
I’m a terrible photographer and this piece, due to its dimensions, was difficult to capture. These photos are disappointing to me but I suppose they get the point across.
He’s snarling. Those are the rabbit’s actual teeth.
A few months back I was proposed with a fun and clever design for a commission piece. The liaison between myself and the designer was a friend who I’ve done work for in the past.
And the individual who wanted this item? A young man slated to start the seventh grade this Fall. A talented and creative mind, no doubt, this little guy has no idea how much I appreciate getting projects like this.
Here are the sketches I was provided:
I was nervous about sourcing a boy’s top hat at first, until I noticed that this kid is a size 7 & 3/8 which is a full-grown adult sized head. Must be all those big thoughts he’s having. I ordered the proper topper (I have yet to possess the facilities or training to make a top hat from scratch, which is why I hesitate to call myself a “milliner”) and went about fitting a squirrel form into the proper position. Here it is, broken into several pieces and pinned into place:
After getting the placement and angles of the bits and bobs all sorted out, I secured with glue, pins, wire, and slim wedges of foam inserted into gaps for reinforcement. After that comes the clay to smooth things out. I then had to determine the contact points at which the squirrel would meet the hat and anchor some wires at those spots:
Maneuvering the skin over this form, wires and all, proved a challenge but in the end came out just peaches. Here are shots of the finished product:
I recreated the sketch to the best of my ability; due to the squirrel’s size it does occupy a tad more real estate on the hat itself but I think that’s OK.
I’m actually quite proud of this red ribbon- I made that bow myself!
Also, this squirrel was a female! Almost all the squirrels I have ever skinned were male; I just assumed they were the ones being brazen enough to get hit/killed/shot/etc. I forget how this one perished; I think it was a fall from a tree or something but I almost wonder if she got shocked on an electric line because a teeny patch of her skin was bare of fur and the area surrounding is was slightly discolored.
I’m almost as excited for the flight as I am for the purpose of my entire trip, which is this:
I’m over the moon to be showing with some folks I’ve been admiring from afar for quite some time now. It’s truly an honor to be in their company. I still have pangs of self-doubt here and there as I prepare for this trip, wondering how my pieces will measure up in person when displayed next to everyone else’s.
And yes, I know it’s not a competition and I know those aren’t pretty feelings but it’s me giving you the truth. I also know that everything I fret about always turns out fine in the end so I’ll cross my fingers, kiss my elbow, and enjoy my mini vacation.
Speaking of crossing fingers, you may recognise that gal above from such things as your childhood, saturday mornings, or recent forays into tv nostalgia. It’s Jetta, from the Misfits. My three submissions in the show are hats of course, all made from chickens sourced at my dear friends’ farm. As the pieces came together and I listened to MIA’s “Bad Girls” song on repeat (I cannot stress enough how much of an inspiration this video has been on every single facet of my life) , these identities started rearing their naughty heads.
Jetta is composed of a Brahma Hen mounted atop a vintage pillbox cap.
Sparkly embellishments abound, of course.
I’ll bet you remember most clearly Pizzazz, the leader of the Misfits. Man, what a bitch.
This Polish rooster was just dripping with attitude (wait until you see the spurs on this cock) and came to be Pizzazz quite naturally.
I see you!
This guy is also perched atop a vintage hat, this one an old mink pillbox.
Last and never least is Roxanne. Did you know she was from Philly? Of course she was. And I’ll bet she walked around with a razor blade stashed in her mouth, Goretti girl style.
Roxy is a Buff Orpington Hen with a bad-ass beak piercing, nestled firmly into another vintage pillbox hat. I should mention that the brass sculptural elements are from a remarkable lamp I trash-picked one Sunday morning- a time which I never would have been out and about except for walking what was at the time a brand new puppy. So thank you, Jonesy, for that.
So that’s that. In keeping with my theme I’ve whipped up a poultry themed ensemble which I will be tweeting and facebooking and blogging all about so stay tuned should you be so inclined.
Along with the show opening, I’m pretty pumped to catch some good comedy in LA (I’m a stand-up hound, did you know that?) and perusing some estate sales. Or napping in a hammock and eating some stellar sushi. For now, toodleooooooo!
This sassy little dandy doesn’t have a name yet but he’s the manifestation of what happens when I ask myself, “if my client were a fox, what would she look like?”
Another commission for Kiki Hughes, one of my fave rave patrons, I was given carte blanche basically,with this piece. The parameters I was asked to work within were that it had to be a fox, posed luxuriously with some flair.
It took almost 8 months to source the right specimen while staying within the ethical boundaries I have set for myself and my practice, but I think this piece was worth the wait. More important, my client did as well- in spades. She was simply over the moon with joy upon finally meeting her little dandy, and looks forward to incorporating him into he shop window displays. If you’re in the Philadelphia area, by all means take a stroll down 21st street (259 21st street to be exact) and say hello to Kiki and her fox!
“Oh ‘ello there. Welcome to me humble home. Care for a spot of tea? Jeeves! Put a pot on for these lovely readers and make it snappy! *snaps feathers* In the meantime, entertain yourselves with the above video and accompanying photos plus the story of, well, MOI.”
I see you’ve met Mr. Moon. He’s a sassy old boy, isn’t he? He did great last Friday at the Bellhouse where I submitted him as my entry for the 6th annual Carnivorous Nights Competition, hosted by M.A.R.T. and the Secret Science Club. While I have no photos of my presentation, I was wearing a black floor length ball gown from 1940 and my black rooster head-piece, along with some mink-tail arm cuffs for good measure. To provide a vague visual:
But I digress. Back to Mr. Moon, who began his first stage of life as an extremely rare breed of chicken known as a Silkied Ameraucana. They began as a spontaneous genetic mutation resulting in these darling birds with fur-like feathers. There are only thirty or so of them in the country; if you’d like to learn more about the species, please see this lengthy conversation between breeders which documents their discovery.
While I was working on this mount, I was deep into a very thick biography of drummer Keith Moon. As the drummer for a band called the Beachcombers and later on The Who, he turned the traditional role of percussion on its head. Before he came along, a drummer’s role was to set up a steady foundation upon which the singer and guitarist could shine. Not content to be the audio version of wallpaper, Keith made himself into a frontman, a total fucking rock star in fact. He had the largest, most outrageous drum kit in the world and just beat the thing to death every night onstage. He broke the mold, not unlike this new species of chicken.
The downside to this breed is that they are short-lived. Something about their silky feathers (which make them so remarkable in the first place) not holding enough body heat to sustain them. Again, I drew parallels to Keith Moon and other famous young artists who perish so early in their lives: they are like these furiously burning comets just hurtling through life, bound to burn to death. What makes them so outstanding can also be their demise.
Since Mr. Moon was developing into a rock star rooster, I found it only fitting that he be completely embellished with genuine Swarovski crystals on his face and feet. And for some reason the bob cat glass eyes seemed fitting.
Anyway, while it’s tragic that these inexplicably magnetic beings expire so early in their lives, it shouldn’t go unsaid that while they are burning away, they are also lighting up the lives of anyone in their orbit.
So why not give Mr. Moon a second life as the most beautiful fiber-optic taxidermy lamp that ever existed? After all, the driving thrust behind my passion for this craft is the idea that I’m giving these wonderful creatures an eternal life, so to speak. Why not let him keep lighting up the lives of all whom he meets?
This was no easy task for me, as I’d never made a lamp before. It took some time, but I figured out how rig a bird form with hundreds of fiber optic threads, all emerging from several points, and then painstakingly taxied the skin onto the whole mess. There was much fenageling, but eventually I got the threads to sit just where I wanted them to. After trimming them all to the right lengths, I found a light source that was bright enough to make an impact after traveling through the cables but not so hot that it would melt them. Next up was finding the lamp/stand. I sourced an oldie from a second-hand shop nearby, rewired the whole thing (I’m a junior electrician now too!) and covered the glass panels in a patterned white brocade to mute the light. And, tada!
Good evening to you as well, Mr. Moon.
That was, give or take a few words, my entire presentation. I knocked it out of the park. I absolutely love being able to flex my showmanship muscles while flaunting something I’m so very proud of. I get such a rush from being on stage/performing, I can feel it all night. I guess I want to be a star too, kind of like Mr. Moon.
There were some other amazing pieces, I havent been able to find too much coverage online, but one young woman brought an entire beautifully mounted coyote named “Winnie” which would’ve taken a ribbon at any conventional taxidermy competition, no doubt. There was Nate Hill, ( known for his squirm-inducing Chinatown garbage taxidermy tours) tipping the gross-out scales with a live specimen tree-trimming presentation. There was an insect trapped in a chunk of amber that somehow still moved. The two-headed mouse with a top hat. I also missed several presentations while waiting backstage to go up but fortunately for you (and myself) this was all being filmed by a television crew. Not really sure what I am allowed to say without stepping on anyone’s dicks so I’ll just leave it at that and then post more when the show airs.
There was also a large dog with a monkey on its back and a whole smattering of other artifacts, as well as a mounted fox, also sporting a monkey on its back which was wielding a bottle opener. Why? Because the mount was concealing a beer cooler. But if you’re like me and hate the brew, fret not. The thing pissed whiskey too. (note to self: booze + taxidermy= crowd going apeshit). For photos of all the entries and a wrap up from a guest perspective, check out this Good Days blog by Sir Snuggles.
So who won? The pissing fox took Grand Master and the dog placed second, no shock there. I came in third which is still pretty rad. The competition was fierce and people really stepped up their game. I’ll just come back next year with an even more outstanding piece. Competitions are good for that; unlike client custom work, I really push myself to go out on a ledge and venture out of my comfort zone, skill-wise. I take risks, both conceptually and physically with the actual mount and pour my heart into it. I’m also extremely competitive and I hate losing. So long as I keep it in check, that can be a healthy driving force behind my growth as an artist.
I was at a complete loss of words while accepting my trophy, and muttered something like “feels like home” which I’m sure made no sense at all. What I was trying to convey is that, in the presence of the judges (whom I hold in the highest esteem), and my fellow taxidermy enthusiasts, I feel like I’m really home. It’s a unique feeling and I took a mental snapshot so I could hold onto it for when I get lonely in my little studio in south Philly.
We were ushered backstage to pose with our trophies for photos, and with the three of us left standing there after it all was over, I began to sense I was the third wheel in a bromantical masturbatory fest so I excused myself (not to one in particular as I was apparently invisible) and packed up my bird, extension cord, etc. When I emerged from backstage the entire show room was cleaned out, chairs folded, floor swept. I heaved a giant sigh.
The spell was broken.
Back to life.
In this instance, that means getting right back on the saddle for another quick jaunt up to NYC to knock out two of my Twenty4Twenty projects in one night. Stay tuned!