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Learn to Turn Roadkill Into Bejeweled Art From This 'Dead Animal Addict'

By Janet Upadhye | August 5, 2014 8:28am
 Divya Anantharaman teaches taxidermy classes at Morbid Anatomy Museum in Gowanus.
Divya Anantharaman
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GOWANUS — Divya Anantharaman would never let a good piece of roadkill go to waste.

The Fort Greene resident is a self-taught taxidermist who makes a living skinning and re-molding dead coyotes, rabbits and squirrels and adorning them with pearls, Swarovski crystals and preserved flowers. Her whimsical — if morbid — artwork sells for upwards of $5,000.

Now the former fashionista, who also came out with a line of footwear made of stuffed sparrows and declares herself a "dead animal addict," is showing others her technique.

Anantharaman, 30, teaches sold-out taxidermy classes twice a month at the recently opened Morbid Anatomy Museum in Gowanus.

Students in her last class, entitled "Anthropomorphic Mouse (One Or Two Headed)," turned frozen white mice, taken from animal feed distributors that are throwing away old stock of their frozen critters that would have become food for snakes, into creative figurines dressed in wizard costumes, crowns and angel's wings.

During the five-hour session, participants learn to use a scalpel to skin mice — or sometimes quail, rabbits and chicken — remove innards, create a mold made of foam, reconstruct fur and sew preserved skin over the mold.

They then pose the animals as if engaged in human activities such as "a bespectacled, whiskey-swilling, top hat-tipping mouse or perhaps a rodent mermaid queen of the burlesque world," Anantharaman said.

"I teach students to approach their animal with a lot of respect," she said. "Taxidermy is really about loving animals and paying tribute to them."

Anantharaman first dabbled in taxidermy seven years ago when she came across a dead squirrel while hiking in upstate New York.

After months of reading manuals she felt "excited and nervous" to experiment on her first carcass.

While she says she botched the first try — "you know, one leg was pointing the wrong way," she said — she was hooked on the art.

She now sells her work on Etsy — with prices ranging from $100 for a quail mounted on a wood plaque to $5,000 for a crystal-studded lamb hanging from a vintage gold chain — and teaches classes in Brooklyn and around the world.

She says that there is a lot of demand for dead animal art in the city.

"I think for people that live in New York it is a way of bringing the outdoors inside," she said. "To me it's like hanging a plant in your apartment."

The next class, on Aug. 23, focuses on chickens with special oddities, like beards or crests. "Fancy Chicken Taxidermy," will immerse students in "everything about the fancy chicken and classic bird taxidermy."

In a description, it says that the animals — "domestically raised show or pet birds that are naturally deceased" — are "disease free" and that "nothing was killed for this class."

"Although there will not be a lot of blood or gore, a somewhat strong constitution and maturity are necessary," the description says. "We will be seeing meat. In this manner, a good taxidermist prides themselves on working cleanly!"

The fee is $400, but the class is sold out.