Friday, May 23, 2008

Taxidermy; The Agony and the Ecstasy

I finally got a call a few weeks ago from Ralph Akers letting me know that Oscar the Rooster was ready to come home. I was really excited. I have wanted a stuffed chicken ever since one of my students at Western designed a piece that featured her aunts collection of stuffed fowl. I had to have one of my own.

Fast forward to that day a few months back when Oscar jumped me for the last time and in a fit of PMS rage I called Ralph, who is coincidentally my neighbor, to come over and whack the bastard. We joked a lot about it afterwards. Mark claimed renewed respect for me and vowed never to really piss me off.

When I went into Ralph's place I was prepared to be wowed by what I saw but my excitement was replaced by something quite different. The bird I had loathed enough to sacrifice was not the example of taxidermy I had imagined. At least I was not having the reaction to him I had expected. I put on a brave face for Ralph and wrote the check, took Oscar home, put him in my office and left for Mark's for the weekend.

Don't get me wrong here, Ralph had done a great job. I was reacting to the way Oscar looked dead and stuffed. It was a bit creepy. Taxidermied animals who you did not know when they were alive are one thing. Animals you knew are quite another. What troubled me the most was Oscars comb, the red fleshy thing on his head. In life it was full and erect and bobbed a bit when he moved, now it was dry and pointy. I considered molding him one out of Fimo clay and attaching it with a chin strap. This idea got a few laughs but ultimately I felt like a shit for having this bird killed (by suffocation so as not to marr his fine body) and then paying a pretty good price to have him stuffed. I was experiencing terrible remorse for this act of pure bravado. It was a real slap down.

When I got back to my office after the weekend a few new realizations surfaced. Taxidermied animals smell slightly. Each time I opened the door to my office I was met with the reminder that a once living thing was now in a preserved state in my sacred workspace. Pearl, upon returning from my office one evening said the rooster freaked her out. He scared the heck out her while alive and was still doing it dead, great. Even the dog was disturbed by him. She would not lay down and relax because I had Oscar placed on a shelf above the couch where she normally sleeps while I work. I moved him to my work table where he was in my peripheral line of sight which made me want to constantly turn my head to see who was there, it spooked me. As the the week progressed Luna got a little bolder, running in and sniffing him, saying hello perhaps, and then settling on the couch. The cat sniffed around him quite a lot but kept a safe distance. I gave up thinking about the prosthetic comb.

By that Friday I decided I had better take a few pictures of Oscar for the blog. I was waiting for Mark to arrive so I took Oscar out on the porch of my office where the sun was setting and snapped a few pictures. In the process of doing this I had to look at him really closely and suddenly I fell in love with him. His feathers were so beautiful, vibrant and iridescent and his little glass eyes seemed alert and watchful. A stuffed Rooster is not a live Rooster and takes a little getting used to, I had to replace my previous knowledge of live Oscar with the new stuffed Oscar and honestly I like the stuffed Oscar much better now. What a relief.

Purchase the Letterpress Print that immortalizes this proud bird.

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