How does one become a taxidermy artist? AMC’s new unscripted reality show, “Immortalized,” will attempt to answer this question for viewers. Each episode portrays the artistic and technical complexities of taxidermy when one of four expert “immortalizers” faces off against a novice “challenger” in an effort to win over a panel of judges with stuffed creations.
Beth Beverly’s interest in rogue taxidermy was sparked about twelve years ago, when she was living in a loft in Old City. Beverly recalls that while roaming around Philadelphia, she would find dead birds on the sidewalk and would be “too upset at the thought of them going to waste and rotting on the sidewalk” to leave them. She started to discretely pick them up with plastic bags, “the same way you would pick up dog poo,” and tuck them in her purse. Soon after, she bought a book on taxidermy, got to work stuffing her first bird, and hasn’t stopped since.
But Beverly’s interest in art made from natural materials goes back much further than 12 years. Even as a child, she frequently incorporated feathers and animal fibers into the barrettes and earrings she crafted in her bedroom. Her interest led her to study jewelry–making at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, although she says if she could go back and do it over, she would have just gone to trade school. “I just wanted to do what I wanted to” Beverly recalls. “I’m really bad in situations where people are telling me what to do… and there’s a lot of that in college.”
After college, Beverly held what she describes as “an array of bizarre jobs,” including window dresser, party promoter and cruise ship warrantee technician. The flexible hours they permitted gave her free time to actively participate in the “artsy bubble” that Beverly claims to have lived in her whole life. So when she first got into taxidermy, her friends and family didn’t even “[bat] an eye.” Beverly laughs and concedes, “I’ve always done weird stuff.”
Now she has a studio in Kensington that’s full of weird stuff—scraps of fur, gems, sawdust (for stuffing), feathers and various metals. Beverly values the growing “artists’ community” in Kensington, as well as the refreshing “juxtaposition” that Philly natives and their more “hard–ass” mannerisms add to the local art scene. She particularly likes that they’re “not afraid to criticize you and engage in healthy debate.”
At the moment, there is a seven–foot snake sitting in an “enormous” freezer in Beverly’s studio. It belongs to one of her clients and is not an unusual occurrence, as a small percentage of Beverly’s business is preserving owners’ beloved pets. Beverly entered a dog in the Carnivorous Nights (a rogue taxidermy competition in Brooklyn) in 2010 and won. “Elke,” a glamorously–styled white rat terrier, caught the attention of AMC producers, who at the time were in the beginning stages of developing “Immortalized.”
In addition to pets, Beverly transforms chickens (often given to her by friends who own a farm in upstate New York), whole pheasants and ducks from a trusted local butcher into elegantly dramatic art. She is passionate about using the entire animal whenever possible. Once, she entered a hat into a show that “was basically a duck perched on [her] head.” Someone asked her if she had really killed the duck, to which she replied, “yes, I did, and it was delicious!” Beverly wants her work to convey the message that “if you’re going to eat something, maybe you should make something out of it too.”
Beverly focuses on creating wearable pieces, and finds it “rewarding to be looked at,” while donning her work. But she doesn’t wear her art to the supermarket or to walk the dog—Beverly knows that “there is a time and place for everything.” She rarely misses a chance to wear her art to special events, such as Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, where her hat titled “The Bobby” (given its name for its British police hat style) was featured in fashion designer Cesar Galindo’s Fall 2013 collection this past Friday.
While it may seem that “Immortalized” is turning Beverly’s alternative, avant–garde art into more mainstream pop culture, she is at peace with the limelight. “Taxidermy work is messy. There’s enough to keep me grounded,” Beverly states confidently. She hopes that the show will “shatter” some of the misconceptions that still cloud the craft of taxidermy. And at the end of the day, Beverly explains, she’s still “living in a tiny row home in South Philly” and “riding [her] bike to [her] studio,” just like she has been all along.