We’d never heard of a ‘fleshing wheel’ until we spoke to taxidermist Ryan Hanley for Smith Journal volume one. (Mental note: it’s a motor attached to a metal brush used by a taxidermist to shave any fat or flesh missed by the knife.) Ryan recently launched his new site ‘The Taxidermist’ and made it through Florida’s gator season, so we thought we’d catch up with him and his wife Jen (founder of motorcycle blog Sex Savages on Wheels and Gnarlitude) and chew the fat, so to speak.
Hey Ryan! What have you been working on since we last spoke?
I've been making 'shooting squirrels'. At first they were just for Jen and I to have in the house, but once we showed our friends I started getting all these requests. Now we have a whole army of gun-toting squirrels drying around the place! Otherwise, I’ve been working on the occasional alligator, some armadillo foot keychains and one massive Cobia head for a customer; I'm going to make look as if it's busting out of the wall. We actually just found out our friends’ pet chicken got its neck snapped by a bobcat, which was a bummer. They want to overnight it so that they can have it on the mantle forever. I also just made my very first rug with a deer hide that I had in the freezer, it came out great and now sits on the floor in our living room. I'm doing a wild boar rug next.
Can you tell us about the S&M raccoon on your site?
It was made for our friend Caroline Snow who's making a horror film. (The guy brings home road kill to pleasure himself with or something…)
You learnt a lot of your trade from books – which ones teach it right?
Most of the books around teach the old methods, which is great because you learn the history of how it started and how much has changed. The first book that I really got into was Taxidermy step by step, which came out in 1975. New ways to learn are by DVD from taxidermy supply companies like McKenzie. I haven't used the DVDs personally, as I learnt from a taxidermist himself, but for small tips I sometimes will see what I can find on YouTube.
You guys both work from home. What’s an average day like?
Jen: Well, even though Ryan is in another room of the house we usually are listening to music and talking. Watching him work gets me super distracted because each step that he goes through with an animal is so fascinating. Every room in the house has taxidermy in it. Even the bathroom has a vintage hard plastic deer and about 15 garfish, which are seriously prehistoric. I love all of it. We really lucked out finding each other because we love all of the same shit.
Can you describe your place for us?
Jen: Where do we start... come up our stairs and you're immediately faced with a raccoon hanging on the wall, a hundred picture frames, more taxidermy and a million odds and ends. (The living room has the most stuff in it, especially with my huge collection of books.) Basically every single person that comes over has said one of these things within the first five minutes:
A. “It's like being in a museum”
B. “There's so much to look at, I don't know where to start”
C. “It feels like we’ve been transported back in time”
We love to hear this stuff, especially since we live in a 100-year-old house. We like to think that many of our things could have existed in the house when it was first built… though maybe not our massive record collection.
A full feature on Ryan’s work, ‘taxidermist’, appears in Smith Journal issue one.