Why Do Nashville Hipsters Love Taxidermy?

This Wild boar, for sale at the Gas Lamp Antique Mall, runs ferociously through a desert scene....or is it dancing joyfully? Image WPLN/Mack Linebaugh

This Wild boar, for sale at the Gas Lamp Antique Mall, runs ferociously through a desert scene….or is it dancing joyfully? Image WPLN/Mack Linebaugh

“Hipster” can be a divisive word: No one is quite sure what one is, but everyone is sure it isn’t them. No pigeon-holing intended by the use of it here, but it was East Nashville’s The Crying Wolf — a dark and mysterious burger and bourbon bar — that piqued the curiosity that led to this post. And The Crying Wolf is a very hip place… full of dead animals.

Amid wild west-inspired wallpaper and a photo booth with a ragged American flag for a curtain, there’s a Grey Wolf head, an enormous elk mount (on loan from the bar’s plumber), a hyena, and at least one snake.

Crying Wolf bartender Jake Manny says that a love of animals and a thrift store ethic of re-purposing old things contribute to the taxidermy aesthetic. Image: WPLN/Mack Linebaugh

Crying Wolf bartender Jake Manny says that a love of animals and a thrift store ethic of re-purposing old things contribute to the taxidermy aesthetic. Image: WPLN/Mack Linebaugh

The mounts fit in well with The Crying Wolf’s decor and clientele of Nashville creative-types, but why? Doesn’t taxidermy speak to a more rural aesthetic? Isn’t its natural environment the hunting lodge? The man den?

Left: A moose mount for a kids room, hand made from a re-purposed stuffed toy. Right: a buck mount adorns the wall at Billy Reid in Green Hills. Image: WPLN/Mack Linebaugh

Left: A moose mount for a kids room, hand made from a re-purposed stuffed toy. Right: a buck mount adorns the wall at Billy Reid in Green Hills. Image: WPLN/Mack Linebaugh

Heads In High Fashion

When you start digging, you realize taxidermy’s appeal is penetrating deeper than hipster enclaves. It’s finding its way into mainstream fashion and design, and even cute decorations for kids’ rooms.

There’s a buck on the wall of Green Hills clothing store Billy Reid, where a men’s jacket can easily set you back $750. At nearby West Elm, faux deer mounts of white papier-mâché are for sale alongside sleek home furnishings. At the Gas Lamp Antique Mall in Berry Hill, you can score anything from a rabbit mounted on a snowshoe to a complete wild boar appearing to gallop, open-mouthed, through a stand of plastic cactus.

Maybe some concurrent social trends shed light on this: There’s the local food movement that has us raising chickens in yards and seeking grass-fed beef from nearby farmers. There’s this growing community of “Hipsters Who Hunt”. And “DIY” culture is inspiring everything from knitting to canning. Is taxidermy all of these impulses rolled into one?

Sew It Yourself

Still, it’s one thing to like the look of a mount on the wall and yet another to roll up your sleeves and take up taxidermy as a hobby. But apparently, this is happening too.

Mickey Alice Kwapis is the twenty-three year old founder of the Detroit Academy of Taxidermy. When she isn’t doing her own artistic work or preserving fallen family pets for clients, she teaches classes on the road. She’ll be in Nashville in March.

Mickey Alice Kwapis says her students are often pleasantly surprised to find that doing taxidermy isn't gross. "It's akin to peeling a furry, wet orange." Image courtesy of The Detroit Academy of Taxidermy

Mickey Alice Kwapis says her students are often pleasantly surprised to find that doing taxidermy isn’t gross. “It’s akin to peeling a furry, wet orange.” Image courtesy of The Detroit Academy of Taxidermy

The class photos on Kwapis’ Facebook timeline paint a certain not-your-father’s-taxidermy picture: Urban and stylish young professionals concentrate over dead bunnies. (The bunnies come from a Michigan food processor who rejects rabbits under a certain size). Kwapis practices “ethical taxidermy”, which she defines this way:

No animals are ever killed for the sake of taxidermy or art or trophy. The skin is used for educational purposes. The skull and bones are either used for teaching collections in schools or ground into bone meal (a special kind of fertilizer) and the organs and meat are used for feeding other animals. Bottom line, nothing goes to waste.

One of Kwapis' students working on a rabbit. Image courtesy of The Detroit Academy of Taxidermy

One of Kwapis’ students working on a rabbit. Image courtesy of The Detroit Academy of Taxidermy

Kwapis is the first in her family to take up the craft. She says she got into it on a fluke when “a night of cheap red wine and a dead squirrel turned into a full-blown business for me.” She steers clear of talk of hipsters and trends, attributing a deeper explanation to taxidermy’s popularity:

I think humans have a fascination with mortality. Because of technology we’re so much more connected with people we otherwise wouldn’t be, and in turn we become affected so much more intensely when someone we’re vaguely connected with ends up passing away. I believe that awareness of foreboding death makes us fascinated with the ability to take an animal which has died and preserve it forever.

But she says she doesn’t consider her work to be “a celebration of death”. Conversely, she says the point of what she does is “to create something that looks lifelike and alive”.

Do you have a love of taxidermy? Would you be interested in learning it? Tell us why in the comments section.

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