Rhinestones and dead animals are a match made in heaven – at least for rogue taxidermist Beth Beverly.
The former Tyler School of Art jewelry student is a choice name in the field, boasting numerous awards, a spot on the AMC show “Immortalized” and an exhibit displayed at Art in the Age at 116 N. Third St. until the end of the month, featuring taxidermies with flamboyant embellishments such as rhinestone eyes. She is known professionally as Diamond Tooth Taxidermy.
The Philadelphia resident’s upbringing might not point directly to a career in taxidermy – her mother is strictly anti-fur. Beverly herself was vegetarian for many years growing up, she said. However, the longer she lived on her own, the more she wondered about the sources of her food, she said.
“The more I thought about it, the more appealing it was to just be a part of the ugly truth and see exactly what my food looks like before I eat it,” Beverly said.
Beverly began her transition to food enlightenment by buying rabbits whole from the butcher – an activity that benefited her in multiple ways, she said.
“I had an art project because I had something to skin, but I also knew exactly where my food was coming from,” Beverly said.
Beverly’s affection for animals came out in her work as a jewelry student at Temple. The taxidermist utilized animal elements in her jewelry, including fur, feathers and hair, she said. Just two credits shy of graduating, Beverly decided to leave school and held multiple jobs in the years following. Ten years after leaving Temple, she decided to enroll in the Pocono Institute of Taxidermy.
Even after studying the trade, Beverly said people were skeptical of her capabilities to turn out successful taxidermies. Their apprehensions didn’t faze her, though.
“When I first got my [taxidermy] license, I went to [a] gun club to promote myself, and the expectations initially of me were so low from these guys who had never met anyone that looked like me doing what I do,” Beverly said. “I think that was to my advantage, because they were even more shocked when they saw the quality of my work and saw that I had the physical strength to do it, as well.”
If anyone didn’t believe in her before, it’s safe to say they are biting their tongues now – Beverly is one of four resident taxidermists on the competitive taxidermy show “Immortalized,” airing Thursdays at 10 p.m. on AMC.
The show’s producers found her from a 2010 competition in New York called “Carnivorous Nights” for rogue taxidermists, Beverly said. She won best in show and producers caught on to the publicity following the event.
The competitive nature of the show is of a different speed than the commissioned work Beverly does daily. The change in pace is one she embraces, however.
“I want to push myself to make something no one’s ever seen and I didn’t know I could make,” Beverly said.
Beverly often adds a fashionista flare to her pieces in the competition. Fashion and taxidermy are two worlds that Beverly doesn’t see as so far apart.
“I’ve always wanted to be able to wear art,” Beverly said. “That way, the world can interact with it.”
And, yes – Beverly wears her own pieces.
“It’s not like I wear a chicken on my head to go grocery shopping, but anytime I have an event, that’s kind of my calling card – I’ll always be wearing something on my head.”
Even for Beverly, the art isn’t all gemstones and glitter. There is an unavoidable messiness that comes with taxidermy, Beverly said.
“If you accidentally puncture an animal’s stomach or intestines, it can get really smelly,” Beverly said. “Fish are very, very smelly to deal with. I mean, everything has an
a–hole, and you’ve got to work around that. And there’s sometimes when you might just not be in the mood for it.”
Even after encountering the less glamorous sides of the craft, Beverly still holds immense respect for the animals she works on and makes a point to try to use as much of the animal as possible. Beverly will eat whatever meat she can, including rabbits, squirrel and raccoon. What Beverly won’t eat still finds a purpose – she gives the scraps to her cats.
“I think waste is the most offensive thing in the world,” Beverly said.
Beverly’s avoidance of waste and strict ethical code are mentioned in the description of her exhibit, “Life on the Farm,” currently displayed at Art in the Age. All the animals in her exhibit come from the same farm in upstate New York, where most of her animals come from. Even with only two weeks to decide which of her pieces she would display, Beverly pulled together a cohesive piece to debut at March’s First Friday. The exhibit included a chicken, a baby lamb, a baby goat and some of Beverly’s taxidermy hats, among other items.
“I wanted to give people an idea of what a farm really looks like – and not a factory farm,” Beverly said.
While her work is not traditional, Beverly is confident in the quirky touch she brings to the art of taxidermy.
“In my mind, I already just figured there’s so many people already doing the traditional mounts that I’m just going to do whatever comes to mind and kind of make it silly and more expressive, because there seems to be more of a niche there for me,” she said.
Judging by her blog, Beverly certainly doesn’t stray away from the silly. Around Christmas time, she immortalized a squirrel by adding little devil horns, a rhinestone jingle bell and an ornament in the squirrel’s paw as commission work for a friend who wanted to have some fun with a lady friend who had a certain disdain for squirrels.
“I’ve always approached [taxidermy] with a little bit of a sense of humor,” Beverly said. “I think you have to have kind of a twisted sense of humor to be so close to death.”
Jenelle Janci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jenelley.[juicebox gallery_id=”81″]