Of Mice and Mannequins – Anthromorphic Taxidermy with A Field Guide

My sister has a penchant for deciding that we are going to experience “sister bonding” whilst doing things I detest. This year she begged and begged until I finally agreed to accompany her to a Anthromorphic taxidermy class.

Anthromorphic taxidermy is the stuffing and preserving of animals whilst giving them actions, accessories, or characteristics from the human species (think gerbils dressed as nurses, pheasants in top hats and monocles and squirrels in school dresses.) Cute as a finished concept, but completely not my cup of tea for a variety of reasons – I’m squeamish, I’m a pseudo-vegetarian, I no longer buy leather and I don’t believe in animal testing for cosmetics – so this wasn’t exactly up my strasse.

However, for the Anthromorphic Mouse class offered by A Field Guide the mice are procured in what is arguably an ethical way for a subject that I had trouble getting my head around. A pet food company in Northampton kills mice and freezes them for snake food. After a few months, if the mice aren’t purchased they are “past their due date” and incinerated – making their deaths a complete and utter waste. This class takes the unwanted bodies of the dead mice that are about to be incinerated and uses them to educate people on anatomy and taxidermy – meaning that the little guys’ deaths aren’t completely in vain and that mice are not being killed to order to satisfy demand for the class.

Ethics covered, this course is well taught and excellent for beginners. The instructor is both friendly and patient, and paces the class well by doing step by step instructions and very thorough demonstrations of each stage. Some people are inevitably quicker than others, but she keeps us all on the same page rather well. For those who are a little faster, there’s always some extra fluffing and grooming that can be done – and those of a slower more fastidious nature are never rushed, just given gentle progress markers.

The process itself is certainly gory, but it’s honestly not all that dissimilar to preparing a chicken for dinner. I’m exceptionally squeamish and needed to ask for help with one aspect, but I’m reassured that this is normal and she’s happy to do the bit I struggle with for me (it’s the eyes. Can’t handle the eyes.) The class teaches you to skin and thoroughly clean your mouse, but the fun begins when you can start making your mouse look like a mouse again. After understanding the basics of preserving and stuffing, we start making all the aesthetic decisions for the little guys. How chubby should their cheeks be? What gestures should the arms be making?

Participants are encouraged to bring accessories but there are some provided for use – including some rather cute plastic top hats. My sister brought a (vintage) dollhouse toilet for hers to gleefully sit on; I opted for some rather subtle and delicate silk flowers from John Lewis’ haberdashery department.

Here’s some shots of the little guy.

I’ve fallen a little in love with his facial expression – I feel like he’s brought flowers for a date and then he sees her and he’s speechless because of how beautiful she looks.
I’ve become rather sentimental about him – but I’m also quite sure taxidermy isn’t for me. This course is a really rather charming and educational introduction to an admittedly strange past time. It’s ideal for beginners, but it’s equally easy to see how this course could launch a lifetime hobby for many.

Below are some shots of the other mice from the class – Gangster Mouse (yo yo yo!) and also my sister’s mouse, sitting happily on his Victorian toilet.

In order to keep my little mouse well preserved and in good shape in my house, I’ve bought him a glass bell jar from Nordic House (a bargain at just £6.95!) and also a piece of slate for him to sit on.
We booked Anthromorphic Mouse Taxidermy with A Field Guide – and did our class at Boxpark Shoreditch. You can find out more about A Field Guide and their upcoming classes here.

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