Ancient in practice but always novel in theory, taxidermy’s literal ‘movement of skin’ on dead creatures makes us think ‘why’? For the only New York City-based taxidermist (who recently opened her studio in Brooklyn), former painter Melissa Dixson, taxidermy is “an art object, rather than trophy or natural history specimen.” Recently featured in the New York Times “One in 8 Million” series, Dixson’s taxidermy is a way to bring nature indoors in the form of fine arts objects (several of her pieces were sold at an exhibition held by Moss in May of last year).
Before taxidermy Dixson painted mounted animals, but got involved with the craft after her husband (then boyfriend) bought her a taxidermied hen, “… which I absolutely ADORED. Soon after, I was channel surfing and caught an ad on the Outdoor Channel for a taxidermy school in Pennsylvania. I was absolutely fascinated! Taxidermy school!?” Not soon after, Dixson was skinning partially frozen animals and molding carcasses in plaster to create lifelike versions of once-foraging mammals (and the occasional once-beloved pet). Her motivation for the pursuit of taxidermy? “I’m not quite sure why… I wanted to learn how to do something I never in a million years thought I’d be able to do. In 2007 I spent the summer in Montana attending taxidermy school, where I could attempt some more ambitious projects than I had been able to do on my own. I haven’t looked back!”
Reference photos and anatomical life studies are sources of inspiration, as is “everything from Nymphanburg porcelain figures to Disney movies for ideas for narrative and composition.” Of her art in particular, she follows the minimalist grid, preferring not to imitate dioramas akin to the American Natural History Museum, “with sticks and leaves and dirt, mainly because they have no place in a New York City apartment.” Unlike struggling artists kicking themselves for pursuing their creative passions in these dire economic times, Dixson’s taxidermy business has yet to be negatively affected — or at least not enough to inspire a change of heart: “As far as business goes, I have really only started selling my work after the economy already started to tank, a little over a year ago; I am fairly new to the game, so I have absolutely no idea if the economy is hurting sales.”
While no exhibitions of her work are currently scheduled, you can shop her bespoke mammal taxidermy studio here.
* Update: Dixson tells us she’s probably not the only living taxidermist in New York. We still like the way it sounds.