Immortalized in Taxidermy

One of the many things I like so much about Season 1 is that we get the backstory of how Norman becomes interested in learning taxidermy–from Mr. Decody, Emma’s dad. The transition from interest to full-blown hobby came from a tragedy: when Juno the stray dog he wanted to keep got run over on the highway in front of the motel. That still makes me want to hug him; it was such a sad moment. I can’t help but wonder if it would’ve made a difference if it had never happened and he’d had a real dog. Not just one that was stuffed and came back to life in his own mind later in Season 3.

Anyway, I did some searching on the art/craft of taxidermy, and (surprise, surprise!) there’s a competition reality show on it, where taxidermy experts make these often-very-elaborate creations. May the best one win. The show’s called Immortalized. It gave me one of those “I thought I’d seen everything!” moments. For the record, I watch very little reality TV. The only time I do is when my wife wants to watch a Gordon Ramsey show, and then I’ll watch it with her. But ask me if I saw what happened on last night’s episode of the singing/dating/dancing/what-have-you reality show du jour, and 95% of the time I’ll give you a blank look. They’re just personally not my thing. So the point is that I was a bit more surprised than probably some people would be at the idea of a taxidermy reality show lol

I ended up watching four episodes in a row of Immortalized on Netflix (they’re only about 20 minutes each) because I had no idea what a finely-detailed, intricate art it can be. It has its masters who work in studios just like artists who work in other mediums. It has a rather extensive skill set that takes years of training to master. Hell, the Smithsonian Institution even has its own resident taxidermy expert. The best pieces of taxidermy art by the top masters get displayed in museums. There’s an annual World Taxidermy Championship competition. In reality, it’s far from “bad, sick, crazy..” Norman’s in very good company. A lot of people do it, and they do it very well at that.

Thanks to some more video-watching, I now know what the beginners’ process is for stuffing small animals such as squirrels and mice. Though the Psycho connection gives me a rather sinking feeling, it wasn’t quite as bloody or gory as I anticipated. Before moving on to the real artistic stuff, every aspiring taxidermist needs to master this basic stuffing-and-mounting process.

Screenshots of a taxidermy art piece called “The End of the World.” To me, it’s weirdly beautiful–these stuffed animals mounted so they really look like they’re in motion, leaping away from an exploding rock with fire coming out of the top. It’s not that great captured in a still image, but the taxidermist used what looked like dry ice along with light to give the appearance of fire. Unexpectedly, I think it’s cool. Previously I thought taxidermied animals were just creepy. But in skillful hands they can be used to create art and tell a story. Who knew? So often it’s all about looking at things in new ways.