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Melissa Milgrom: The weird world of taxidermy

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You’ve been working on this project since 2003, right?
Milgrom: Even longer, really. My fascination has been developing since 1994, when I went on a safari and wandered into a hunting camp. I saw all these skin pelts, and it was completely gruesome. And I just thought nothing could be more ludicrous than taking an animal and turning it into a replica of itself. Then I went back home, and to satisfy my macabre curiosity, I wandered into [a taxidermy] shop, expecting them to be creepy animal killers like Norman Bates. But instead, I felt as if I’d fallen into Darwin’s study, because it was such a magical and beautiful place.

You describe taxidermists as a cautious bunch. When did they begin to trust you?
When I stuffed — taxidermists say ”mounted” — my own squirrel. That was a rite of passage, because I actually did it.

Do you have your squirrel at home?
I do. And it freaks people out. People just scream when they walk past it on the way to the elevator. I love my squirrel.

You also write about Potter’s, a museum that featured a lot of bizarre taxidermy, like a kitten wedding.
I recently saw Fantastic Mr. Fox, and I thought that if Wes Anderson was alive in the 1850s, he would have been a Victorian taxidermist creating little scenes of kittens dressed as brides. And bespectacled lobsters and athletic toads. It’s the amateur love of nature.

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