At the top of my Things I’m Interested in But Know Very Little About list, is the strange world of taxidermy. Rather than roll with my ignorance, I was excited by the opportunity to speak with Katie Innamorato of Afterlife Anatomy, a skilled taxidermist who gave us the ins and outs of the business. Katie’s passion extends far and wide, with appearances on the TV show “Oddities,” displayed work at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles and teaching taxidermy classes around the United States, including one coming up in Brooklyn. Read on to learn more about Katie and her enthusiasm for this ancient art.
Hi Katie! Let’s start with the basics: How did you get into taxidermy?
I wanted to be a veterinarian as a kid, then realized that I could not handle the sight of live blood. I get nauseous and sick feeling. I always loved going to natural history museums and had an interest in skeletal articulations in the beginning. I would pick up roadkill and bury it, then decided why waste the skin if it was usable?
How do you obtain the animals?
I pick up roadkill when legal; not all states allow it and certain animals need tags from state troopers, from abatement or nuisance removal work and scraps from other taxidermists. I like using damaged skins that most people will not touch.
Are there any laws or limitations as to what you can “scavenge” to taxidermy?
There are a ton of wildlife laws. The first big one is that almost all birds in the US are federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. So owning a feather, body, nest or egg is a federal offense. It does not matter how you acquire them either, fines start at hundreds of dollars and jail time is another possibility. The only legal birds are domestics, non-native and legal gamebirds. Non-native legal birds include European starlings, english sparrows and common pigeons. Game birds are legal to hunt and get mounted but not legal to sell often; ducks are always illegal unless farm-raised. Not all states allow roadkill pick up, when they do you either need a salvage or furbearer’s permit or a instate hunting or trapper license. Usually animals can only be picked up during their hunting season. Some animals need tags issued by state troopers too, deer and bear are often some of those animals. Every state has different laws though.
Of course, not everyone is a pro taxidermist. Can you explain the common mistakes people can make with “bad” taxidermy?
A lot of people do not realize the amount of time that goes into properly prepping your skins before mounting. In order to create a nice mount your skin has to be thinned and free of any muscle or fat. Ears need to be split open and inverted, slips and eyelids also split open. Nasal and ear cartilage needs to be removed. The key to becoming a good taxidermist is to never stop learning and surround yourself with reference.
Taxidermy has been practiced for hundreds of years. How have the techniques and practices changed?
Technique has not really changed much but our materials have. Instead of sawdust and paper mâché forms we now use dense urethane foam. High end mold-making materials have made it much easier to cast your own forms and parts too.
Which project was the most challenging for you to complete?
The most recent challenging projects were for a gallery show I just had in NYC. I custom cast forms, horns, teeth and mouth palate, along with carved and sculpted parts.
Well, how did it go?
For trying out new processes and materials with a tight deadline, I am very happy with the results!
I have to ask. What’s the strangest commission request you’ve ever received?
The strangest commission was a cat posed with a silly Home Alone expression. It was for a friend and they wanted it weird for a project. Normally pets are an ordeal to work with.
Lastly, what advice do you have for people who want to learn more about taxidermy?
I coauthored a book which is coming out in October called Stuffed Animals. It has tutorials, detailed pics, history and even some recipes. It’s a good starting point! Every state also has its own taxidermy association, look into joining your local one. You can network, sit in on seminars and check out the competition. Some instructors also travel around the US to teach too!