Only in Brooklyn: A taxidermy studio thrives in Greenpoint
Many words come to mind when one thinks of Greenpoint: pierogies, condominiums and film studios to name a few.
But there’s one more word to add to that list: taxidermy.
Near the eastern edge of the neighborhood on the second floor of an industrial sheet metal building at 681 Morgan Ave. lies Brooklyn Taxidermy, a studio filled with dozens of taxidermied animals.
Taxidermy, according to Dictionary.com, is “the art of preparing and preserving the skins of animals and of stuffing and mounting them in lifelike form.”
The workshop is owned and operated by Amber Maykut, an Anderson’s Whitetail Taxidermy School trained taxidermist and former special exhibitions intern at the American Museum of Natural History.
The studio is filled with a wide-range of taxidermy pieces for sale, including framed fruit bats, foxes and the head of an American bison, but Maykut also uses the studio to teach students how to pin butterflies and taxidermy animals such as mice, squirrels and foxes.
“People love the mice one because it’s a good beginner class and the most affordable,” Maykut said. The class goes for $150 and teaches people how to skin the mouse and mount it on a wooden base.
For people concerned about animal cruelty, Maykut said that “Nothing is dying for the sake of taxidermy.”
As part of New Jersey’s Garden State Taxidermists Association, she follows and supports ethical guidelines with respect to animal welfare. “None of the animals we use to create taxidermy pieces were harmed or killed for the sake of taxidermy; their deaths are not related to the art,” she wrote on her website.
The small animals, such as the mice, are feeder animals that anyone could buy to feed their lizard or snake.
Once students skin their mice, Maykut puts the leftover organs into a bag in the freezer which she later gives to friends to feed their pets. From there, students clean the skin and insert stuffing inside. The mice’s eyes are replaced with glass replicas, and their skin is sewed back together. Students can then pose their mouse with pins and once set, the piece is sprayed with a conservative to preserve it and keep it in place.
Claire Sullivan, who has lived in the neighborhood for over a decade, said she wasn’t aware that such a class existed in Greenpoint, but said she would “definitely attend a workshop or presentation to know more.”
Interestingly, Maykut said the majority of people who take her classes are women. “It’s about 90 percent women, it’s more related to an art class,” she said. “It’s like an alternative to knitting class.” Maykut noted that both of her studio assistants are females as well.
While Maykut and her assistants may very well be the future great taxidermists of Greenpoint, the neighborhood was originally home to the legendary taxidermist John Rowley. He created many of the great pieces found at the American Museum of Natural History and wrote a book called “The Art of Taxidermy,” which was published in 1898.
Rowley is mentioned in a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article dating back to Feb. 18, 1940. In the piece, he is described as a self-educated man who “became one of our country’s most noted taxidermists” and was “the first one in his time to shoot and mount his own animals.”
Rowley went on to become the head of the taxidermy department at the American Museum of Natural History and is credited with mounting “Jumbo,” the famous elephant that was used by P.T. Barnum’s circus.
Although John Rowley has since passed away, his legacy will live on through his work which can still be seen at the museum today.