You might have seen the photo: a trio of women huddled together for HughE Dillon’s camera at last week’s DesignPhiladelphia opening party. One of these women wore a sunny yellow-and-white striped cardigan, another wore a magenta infinity scarf, and the third, well, she attached a strap to a dead baby lamb and carried it around as a purse.
Her name is Beth Beverly and, yes, that lamb is very real. It’s also very dead. And there’s plenty more where that came from.
Beverly is a Kensington-based taxidermist and the owner of Diamond Tooth Taxidermy, a by-appointment studio and online shop specializing in mounts and wearables. She’s Philly’s forerunner in this controversial—and growing—breed of artists, and she straddles the line between traditional mounts (the sort you might see in a hunting lodge) and fantastical creations (a winged rabbit, for instance.)
I’ve seen her work in person, at Art Star Craft Bazaar years ago, and I find it all hauntingly beautiful. These animals weren’t killed for their fur or hides. Every animal Beverly works with has died of natural causes (“expired naturally,” to put it in Beverly’s words); she gets most of her specimens from a farm in Vermont. Sure, some pieces are downright macabre, and none are for the squeamish, but you can’t deny the artistic talent and creative vision behind them—even if you’d never, ever wear, say, a top hat with a full taxidermied squirrel atop it.
Call Beverly, as I did, and you’ll be greeted by a friendly voicemail recording, one that begins as most do—thanks for calling, sorry I missed you—and then suddenly jolts you into remembering that you have in fact called a taxidermist: “If you’re calling about a specimen you’d like mounted, just be sure to get it on ice, freeze it and we’ll take care of the rest.”
But talking to Beverly is refreshingly normal, precisely what you wouldn’t expect from someone who spends their days dealing with dead animals (her Instagram feed is both amazing and disgusting). “It was a stillborn lamb,” Beverly said of the purse she toted to the DesignPhiladelphia event. “I’ve been experimenting with this new technique called soft taxidermy. It’s almost like a literal stuffed animal. I was thinking of making a cute mobile [out of the lamb], and I slung it over my side and thought, oh, no, this has to be a handbag.”
The bag is fully functional, with a brass metal zipper, and a temporary striped canvas lining. (She plans on switching out the canvas for a more luxurious lining with pockets.) Beverly is working on a series of these bags; they’ll retail on her Etsy page for $1,800 to $2,100.
But be forewarned: If you buy one, you’ll need to be smart about where you carry it.
“Most people were delighted and really amused,” Beverly said of the reaction she got to the bag. “I wouldn’t take it out to some kind of vegan event. I know that it’s a design week thing, so there are a lot of creative, open-minded people there. There were a couple people who were horrified, but not judgmental. They were willing to talk to me about the process and how it’s made. Who knows what faces they made behind my back. But for the most part, everyone was into it and wanted to touch it.”
Beverly, a former window-dresser for Daffy’s, became interested in taxidermy after finding dead birds around the city.
“The thought of them just being stepped on or swept into the garbage broke my heart. So I bought a book and taught myself,” she said. “After about 10 years of making terrible taxidermy, I went to school and got trained. It’s a three-month immersive course. I lived in a cabin by myself in the Poconos, and from 7am to 3pm it was nothing but taxidermy. I didn’t have Internet or TV. It was a very hermitic type of life.”
Beverly sees the art form staging a comeback in the contemporary art world, no doubt fueled by artists like Damien Hirst, who has weaved taxidermy into his work for years. “It seems to dovetail perfectly with this general interest in the farm-to-table movement,” Beverly explains. “There’s this lust for nature that people have, and taxidermy—even though it can be a very divisive craft—there’s no doubt that you’re getting a piece of nature.”
Looking to dip your toe into the world of taxidermy? Beverly’s hats are good sellers, especially among the bridal set, as are her “talon charms,” bony chicken legs clutching pearls or gemstones. As Beverly’s lamb bag proves, you’ll be the talk of the party.