Mouse Taxidermy at The Observatory: So Gross but So Awesome

WARNING: Graphic images of a little dead mouse getting cut up follow.

See that cute little guy up there?  Up until yesterday, he was a frozen dead mouse that had been ethically obtained from a company that raises mice to feed snakes, lizards, etc.  This is what he looked like when he was first put on a plastic plate in front of me, at The Observatory in Brooklyn:

The class is called Anthropomorphic Mouse Taxidermy with Susan Jeiven, and if you want to take it, you better sign up for her wait list, because they are sold out all the way through August.

I don’t know why I thought this class would be a breeze…friend Lara mentioned that someone she knows had taken the class and loved it, and I imagined myself sitting in a room filled with cute little mice already gutted and ready to be dressed.  I basically wanted a mouse to dress up, which I think really jives with my obsession with little hamsters eating food that’s been made to look like pizza or other human food.  I think I just like rodents doing human things?  Oh.  Probably because of Splinter.

In any case, the class was definitely NOT like that, and while I have to admit that I found it to be pretty disgusting, I would also be willing to go again…teacher Susan was right when she said there was something so satisfying about taking a poor little dead animal that would have just been thrown away and giving it some sort of weird immortality by making it look happy and cute in a new home that you’ve made for it.

From here on out pictures of nasty guts abound so turn back if you have a weak stomach!

A brief breakdown of the process:

1. First, you hold the mouse and warm it with your hands.  My first bits of queasiness came from the hard mouse becoming soft and squishy as I handled it.

2.  Some quick incisions down the back through the skin are made.  All throughout this process borax is generously applied to stop any blood and to tan (preserve) the skin as you go.

3.  Peel off the skin, being careful of the stomach, where as Susan puts it the “shit bag” is located.  The thought of puncturing the intestines was so horrifying to me I had to have someone do this part for me because I’m a baby.  Pull the legs and arms out of the skin and snip them off at the elbow and knees.  At this point the skin will be attached to only the skull and the tail…Susan called this “Mouse Purse”.

4.  Cut the body off at the neck.  Remove the tail from the skin, then throw away the “innards” of the mouse.  All that remains now is the skin with the skull, hands and feet still in it.  Susan called this phase of the process “Mouse Puppet”.

5.  Here is when it gets really gross.  You invert the skin, expose the skull, and scrape off all the tissue.  Then you stab the skull and squeeze out the brains.  It was whaaaack.  Then just when you think you’ve reached your gross-out limit, you take the eyeballs out.  To be fair, you’re so focused at this point that you become sort of desensitized to it.  Not completely, but enough to soldier on.

6.  From there it’s the fun stuff…using clay and cotton to fill out the body, wiring the arms and legs, and sewing up the back.  Add some eyes, put your little guy on a base, decorate and you’re done!

The cost of the class is $60 and it was well worth it.  They stay until the bitter end and I never felt rushed (I was one of the stragglers leaving at the end).  The class went from 7pm to almost midnight so if you go, prepare to have it be your entire evening and to be tired for work the next day.

To cleanse your mental palette, enjoy these adorable little guys created by some friends I attended the class with!

Take Mouse Taxidermy and more classes at the wonderful The Observatory, follow The Observatory on Twitter and like them on Facebook!