I documented the process and shared it on my Instagram - that’s where my career shortly started to take off. With a combination of taxidermy as well as jewelry that I had made using animal bones, I vended my wares at a few street fairs with friends. People took interest both in person and via social media, and after a few months a young girl approached me to ask if I would teach her how to do taxidermy. I said yes, and she became my first student. Around Christmas, I had a pop-up shop at a friend’s print shop and a woman showed up from the Detroit News looking for me, citing that she had seen some of my taxidermy work on Instagram and was interested in doing a profile on me. I ended up on the front page of the Life & Style section - and from there, things just snowballed in the best way possible.
January brought invitations to Cleveland and Chicago. February took me to Cleveland again, and then in March I returned to Ohio as well as flying to Atlanta for private lessons with a shop owner. In April I finished my last semester of college and moved to Cleveland, and in May I took my gigs west to Minneapolis and then Seattle, where I had a write-up in the Stranger.
During all of this I took in so much information from other taxidermists - written works as well as videos. I hadn’t found anything that was very worthwhile, at least not as worthwhile as continual practice and eventual evolution towards refining my techniques - but no guide I found was as helpful as finding a mentor (or three) to take me under their wings.
In some senses the taxidermy industry is much like the tattoo industry. There are some self-taught tattooers who end up being alright and producing quality work, but the majority of top-notch workers are the ones who spent years refining their techniques and seeking out critiques from their peers and superiors in order to become the best they can be. The rest of the self-taught tattooers work out of their basements and are complete hack jobs. On the opposite side of the coin, it’s entirely possible that someone can spend a year or two as a tattoo apprentice and still produce bad quality work because their heart just isn’t in it, or they simply don’t have the right touch. The fact remains that someone is more likely to end up being successful if they seek out help and mentorship rather than trying to work on their own, because getting feedback is crucial to continual positive growth.
With the practice I’ve had and the guidance I’ve gotten from all three of the men I work closely with, I feel confident to continue experimenting and I feel that I’ve really found my groove. I’ve since taught at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland, Portland State University, and the University of Washington. I have a (sold out!) lecture coming up at Harvard, which I’m very excited about - I am absolutely achieving my dreams and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Aside from traveling to teach, I also run a shop in Chicago called The Niche Lab where I teach classes and sell my work - at twenty-five, I think this is a huge accomplishment. I’m not writing all of this to toot my own horn - I’m listing these things as examples of where hard work and dedication can take you if you play your cards right and the stars align and all that jazz. It IS possible.
Getting here wasn’t easy, and I definitely made a lot of mistakes along the way, both career-wise and in the way I related to other people, but I am proud of what the last four years have done for me. Turning a hobby into a career takes a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, and dedication. You learn a lot about yourself. Whether you’re looking to be a taxidermist or a goldsmith, if you think you’re passionate about, here are some pieces of advice that I think will work for everyone.