Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Shoebox Dioramas on Steroids

Every once and a while you find yourself in situations that makes you reevaluate the shape of your life. Mine came last weekend when a friend and I were walking away from a flea market holding two deer jaws and a cow's rib while complaining about how expensive the horse skull we wanted was. This, I would imagine, is not typical behavior.

In my friend's defense, she is an artist who uses animal bones in her work. She was searching out materials. I, however, just wanted a horse skull because that's the sort of person I am. I am the type of person with a perfectly preserved scorpion in resin on my desk. I am the type of person who does not get many "yes" replies for dinner parties at my house.

Now I know what you are thinking, and you are wrong. It is not a morbid preoccupation that draws me to have deer antlers on my wall. It's a fascination with nature. As a child, trips to natural history museums were a huge deal for me. Given the chance, I'd sit at the foot of a dinosaur's skeleton naming all the bones I knew (and making up the names for the ones I didn't). Anyone who walked pass me was likely to receive an enthusiastic lecture about the triceratops the likes of which can only be mustered up by 6 year old boys and paleontologists.

But even more than the bones, I liked the diorama rooms. It was in those halls of fake (and often poorly painted) African savannas and rocky outcroppings that I became enamored with taxidermy animals. Being a suburban kid, these specimens were about the closest thing I could get to the real animal. I'd never seen a bear, bobcat, or even a raccoon. And here they all were without the added bonus of their ticks or their fleas or their high likelihood of mauling me.

Of course, nature shows were on television, but being seen on the 12 inch screen we had (which seems laughably small these days) just didn't do the animals justice. There is something sad about a giraffe dwarfed by the potted plant on top of the TV . Standing next to an enormous gorilla in a museum helps put reality into prospective.

And so, since I can't own the taxidermy polar bear from the American Museum of Natural History (and believe me, I asked), I settle with an occasional antler or scorpion or deer jaw. I must also note this is a practical matter. Should a Night at the Museum sort of situation occur, the damage my apartment sustains will be far less than if I bought that taxidermy hyena on Ebay a few years back.
posted by jw