Why you should care
Because reimagined taxidermy is just so cool.
Brooke Weston’s workshop is a bright, pretty studio stained with paint and piled with what looks like the prop closet for a community theater that for some reason needed an unusual number of stuffed squirrels. Outside the window, a balcony holds a bucket containing scraps of wood and fur and a flowering tree — even in December — in the dry, warm breezes of middle-of-nowhere central California.
Oh, there are also animals. A smirking deer mounted on the wall, its neck half sawed away to reveal a dreamlike hideaway of a soft chair, a tiny rug and a stack of books. A horned ram’s head is home to a treehouse piled with sideshow memorabilia. It’s a marriage of the delicate and the brutal, bringing out the macabre in the miniature and the magic in decades-old carcasses. This is how Weston spends her days in the studio: Taking old taxidermy pieces, and building tiny dollhouse worlds inside them. Step right up.
Weston (aided in the studio by her tailless black cat, Bones) often has to first rebuild the animals themselves.
“I always had this concept of small worlds inside of objects,” says Weston, who began showing the pieces in 2008 and now sells them for thousands of dollars. “I had a whole collection of oddities and taxidermy and thought, ‘I’m going to cut into it and see what’s inside.’” She’s not the only artist currently working with taxidermy — in fact she’s a member of a group of artists who call themselves the Rogue Taxidermists, who now show collectively at certain Los Angeles galleries and help each other with their work, like the mouse-specific artist who makes bearskin rugs (well, mouse-skin rugs) for Weston’s dollhouses.
Scouring Craigslist and eBay for available used taxidermy at estate sales or from those whose spouses no longer want giant dead animal heads in the house, Weston (aided in the studio by her tailless black cat, Bones) often has to first rebuild the animals themselves, reattaching ears or re-creating rotted elements before drilling into the mounts, cutting away pieces and layering the insides with plaster and paint. “Usually at that point, I’m completely obsessed,” she explains. “I’m looking everywhere for objects that will fit into the piece. If I’m doing one that’s nautical-themed … people will start giving me little shells. It just always works out that way.” When she doesn’t have to take a side job, she can finish a piece in a couple of weeks.
It’s easy to layer analysis atop Weston’s complex, beautiful work. Hunting and dollhouses smoosh together traditional gender roles, and she somehow manages to pay homage to the imagination of the human and the creature at once, preserving the integrity of the original animal, as well as the taxidermied object … while adding miniature refrigerators and ashtrays. But for Weston, it’s simpler — and the culmination of years of imagining: “I wanted something that looked like you could play with it, and tying that into my history of loving oddities … it’s everything I love just clashing together.”