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When taxidermists go rogue, macabre art ensues

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Minnesota is a hotbed for a genre that's gaining steam in the art world: taxidermy art.

And during this time of year when hunting and Halloween are both drawing near, Robert Marbury tells the Pioneer Press it's high season for rogue taxidermists.

Most conventional taxidermists mount animals in hopes of making them look as they did when they were alive. Rogue taxidermists like Marbury and the other artists featured in his new book in unconventional ways that are often provocative, sometimes grotesque.

It's been a decade since Marbury co-founded the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists along with fellow artists Sarina Brewer and Scott Bibus. Its website says the collective brings like-minded artists together. 

Bibus also creates props for haunted houses and tells the Pioneer Press the first gift he ever gave his fiance was an octopus in a jar. His website, deadanimalart.com, features a gallery of works that include Three-Armed Squirrel (right).

Sarina Brewer describes herself in her bio as an artist and naturalist whose work breathes new life into the animals she resurrects. Her 2004 piece below is called Capricorn.

Since the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists (MART) started a decade ago, the genre has gained popularity. While Marbury has since moved to Baltimore, he tells the Star Tribune the Minnesota organization is internationally esteemed among devotees of the art: “Everyone doing this around the world wants to be in the Minnesota chapter. That’s why it’s still the only chapter.”

National Public Radio featured the emerging art form this summer, describing it as a hipster hobby. The network spoke with a fashion designer and animal stuffer named Jo Spears, who says taxidermy as an art form has reached a popularity it's not seen since the 1800's:

"It really fits with the trend for vintage and is really popular with the sleek and more design-led crowd."

A representative of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals tells NPR the group encourages those tempted by taxidermy to take up a different hobby that doesn't exploit animals.

Marbury emphasizes that taxidermy artists do not harm the animals in their works, collecting the remains from roadkill, owners of deceased pets, or zoos. He tells the Pioneer Press the artists are expressing their love and wonder of animals in every piece.

Perhaps a fitting last word comes from Sarina Brewer, who says of her fine art taxidermy sculptures "I call it art, you can call it whatever you want."

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