Some find it macabre, but Ivory Burke is dedicated to the art of taxidermy.
The 20-year-old from Chase has spent the last few years learning everything she can about making hunted or trapped animals into display pieces worthy of the trophy wall.
Burke’s dad introduced her to a taxidermist plying her trade in the Shuswap when she was around 10 years old.
“I went to her shop and it was like, ‘holy man, this is what I want to do,’” Burke said.
Burke put herself through training, learning from an expert taxidermist in Castlegar. The fine process of fitting an animal’s skin to a foam or plastic mount to create a lifelike appearance is a trade that Burke says few people choose to pursue, and the care and precision involved appeals to her.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s an art. You don’t pick it up overnight either,” she said.
Burke said after she receives an animal, she skins it then packs the hide in salt to get rid of grease, extra water and any mites or ticks which may be living in the hide. After salting, she wraps it up and sends it off to a tanner.
While the hide is away at the tannery, Burke places an order for the foam forms the hide will be fitted to, and other pieces such as the false eyes and teeth. Burke hand-sews the hide so it will fit over the form and, after test fitting and making adjustments using clay, it is put in place with hide paste.
The first animal Burke handled in her taxidermy training was a small weasel, but she worked with animals of all sizes. She said she is especially proud of how the cougar she worked on while she was in training turned out.
Along with an attention to detail and clever hands, Burke said she learned quickly that a strong tolerance for blood and guts is a necessary skill.
“If you’re going to do it you have to do it right, so it’s one of those things you kind of have to get over.”
Unusual requests are also come with the territory.
“I had a person call me the other day about their pit bull, they wanted their dog done,” Burke said.
Burke said she had to say no to a few requests to have pets taxidermied. The foam forms for taxidermy pieces are pre-made to fit game animals, not pets, and Burke said she doesn’t agree with having pets taxidermied.
“I don’t think I could even put a knife into it honestly,” she said.
That is not the only ethical dilemma Burke has had to face in her short time as a taxidermist. She also receives calls from poachers.
“They say, ‘hey, I’ll pay you extra if you just keep your mouth shut and do my animal for me,’” she said.
Burke said it is common for people to call asking to have taxidermy pieces made from game animals which they cannot present tags for and birds of prey like eagles, owls and hawks which there is no legal hunt for.
Burke said she needs to see the potential client’s hunting license, tag and id before she’ll start work on a piece for them. The rules regarding what animals taxidermists can work on are well enforced; Burke said her work space is subject to search by conservation officers.
While her work makes some people uncomfortable, Burke feels having a taxidermy piece made honours the animal.
Burke hopes to grow her business enough so that it can become her full-time occupation. She is continuing to learn new skills, including working on birds, which she is going to Prince George to practise in April.
Examples of Burke’s work and her contact info can be found by searching Ivory’s Taxidermy on Facebook.