two cat sculptures in gold and black
Work by Sarina Brewer

MCAD has always been a place that fostered artistic pioneers—and the art of rogue taxidermy would not exist today without MCAD alumni.

Rogue taxidermy is a contemporary mixed-media sculpture practice that combines forms of traditional fine art with work constructed from synthetic and organic taxidermy-related supplies, in a broad spectrum of styles and materials. Work being created within the genre runs the gamut from D.I.Y. craft-caliber creations to fine art sculptures exhibited in major museums. The main difference between rogue taxidermy and traditional taxidermy? All materials used in rogue taxidermy pieces are ethically sourced and/or completely synthetic.

MCAD spoke with founder Sarina Brewer ’93, veteran Joel Sisson ’91, and emerging artist Maggie Falco ’16 in celebration of rogue taxidermy's monumental benchmark.
bright pink taxidermied squirrel with a tattoo that says "Franky"

Sarina Brewer

Talk a bit about yourself and your practice.

Art and animals were a central part of my formative years. Both of my parents attended MCAD and both were fine artists. My mother was also an avid collector of natural history objects and was an occasional wildlife rehabilitator when an injured animal came along that needed nursing back to health. 

In an attempt to alleviate my sorrow when an animal friend died, my mother introduced me to the concept of reincarnation. I took comfort in the notion that the dead animal wasn’t entirely gone and that part of it would live again in the form of a different animal. I was fascinated with the concept of an afterlife and the body merely as a "vessel". Animals didn't cease to exist just because they were no longer using their physical body, yet I felt like part of that animal’s essence was forever attached to the discarded vessel. So I felt the need to have a part of their body near me after their death. When I found animal bones outside I would collect them and incorporate them into little “shrines” in my bedroom. 

The work I create now versus the work I created then has only changed in appearance—the philosophy has remained the same. I still preserve the vessel, only now instead of incorporating it into a shrine, the vessel itself is the shrine. 

What did you study at MCAD? How did this influence your current practice?

My major was fine arts studio with a focus on painting; specifically mixed media reliefs created on masonite, wood, or steel panels. I was enthralled with Anselm Kiefer and his use of palette knives and trowels. Much of my work was abstract. It was all about the texture and what the texture could support (in terms of found objects that I applied to the surface). Chunky, thick layers of oil paint and tar were a staple. I was in love with decay—rusted metal, weathered wood, and bones—but the remains of naturally mummified animals were a favorite element to incorporate into my work. 

bright pink taxidermy lamb clock on a black background

Do you have a favorite piece you’ve created? Describe it!

Garishly colored animals are among the very first taxidermy sculptures I ever created and my signature pieces. It was a prominent strain of my work when we formed the genre and has since become a popular practice among people working with taxidermy. My contribution to the genre in this regard makes my work with dyed animals very special to me. 

I don’t have one specific piece that is an all-time favorite but there are a handful that were hard to say goodbye to when they sold and I still miss a few of them. I like some pieces for their aesthetics and outward beauty, while others I like for the statement they make; but I’m always particularly fond of pieces that relay the story of where that particular animal came from.

One piece that fits all of those categories is a bright pink taxidermy lamb piece I made in 2016. My husband found the lamb frozen to death while he was hiking a remote rural road. The little lamb had somehow wandered from safety and ended up outside the pasture fence where it couldn’t fend for itself, miles from its home. It was a moving reminder of the harshness of life. It was also a story about crossroads—how every decision affects the course of one’s existence. The lamb’s story was such a powerful one that it needed to be woven into the many layers of the piece.

As one of the founders, can you talk a bit about the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists (M.A.R.T)?

The genre was the brainchild of three individuals: Scott Bibus, Robert Marbury ’04, and myself. The styles and themes the three of us were working with had nothing to do with one another, however, our work all subtlety shared one attribute: we all were utilizing taxidermy-related materials in some fashion. Upon this realization I suggested the three of us put together a group show that tied together our three styles using taxidermy-related materials as the common denominator. Robert orchestrated our inaugural exhibition, which was hosted by Creative Electric Studios in the Minneapolis Arts District. On October 15, 2004, we unveiled our work and presented our three styles as a singular category of art. We titled the show Rogue Taxidermy.

Response to our work following our inaugural exhibition was overwhelming. We were bombarded with emails and requests for press interviews. There was also enormous interest among the art community. So shortly following the exhibition Robert hatched the idea to form an online artist collective built around our three types of work so that artists working in the same realm could network with each other. Scott and I loved the idea so Robert set up a website and the three of us began actively recruiting other artists to unite under the umbrella of rogue taxidermy. 

We wanted to name our group something that created a catchy acronym so we called ourselves the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists (M.A.R.T.). Scott came up with the name for the group and it was intended to be tongue-in-cheek—contrary to what it implied, M.A.R.T was not an association of taxidermists; we were a consortium of artists. Additionally, membership was not limited to Minnesota; we had members from around the country, as well as a number of international members. Some members worked with animal hides, some worked with taxidermy, some worked with mounted insects, some worked with bones, some worked with 100% manmade materials, etc. We had a wonderful mix of styles and our group beautifully exemplified the diversity of materials the genre of rogue taxidermy encompass. 

The group had a good run and we had about fifty members at our peak, but we disbanded just after the ten-year mark so we could each pursue our solo projects. The legacy of M.A.R.T has not only endured—it has proliferated. The work we did gave rise to an intercontinental artistic movement based not only on the category of art we created but also on the ethics behind our work. 
photograph of two-headed deer taxidermy with bright blue accents

Joel Sisson

In your own words, what is rogue taxidermy?

It colors outside of the lines. It’s taxidermy with mythology. As a kid I was always drawn to the jackalope. They seemed so real and I was amazed that people could actually make one. 

Talk a bit about your MCAD experience.

I was one of the few interdisciplinary students at the time. It seemed odd to study just one path to be an artist; I wanted an arsenal. My biggest influence at MCAD was Kingi Akagawa. He touched my heart and soul by exposing me to public art and all of its potential. 

How did you get started in this medium? 

As a sculptor I’d been making metal animals for years. I had some taxidermy ideas that I had to work out so I went that direction for a bit. After working on a couple of deer heads I decided no more real animals. They’re so beautiful and sweet—it’s like working on your dog. So now I work mostly with taxidermy forms. Since antlers and horns are such a valuable commodity I make my own by laminating strips of wood, glued around forms and then sanded to shape. 

"It seemed odd to study just one path to be an artist; I wanted an arsenal."

'What's your favorite artwork you've created (so far)?

I recently finished re-working the Twins [pictured above], an albino two-headed deer shoulder mount with richly applied royal blue intricate lace to outline facial features and laminated wood carved antlers. 

What's next for you?

It seems as if this two-headed unicorn is ruminating in my psyche. I think I’ve figured out how I’m going to make it. We’ll see.

Anything else you'd like to share?

I made a commitment a few years back that one-third of all sales go towards efforts to stop human trafficking. For me, true art is keeping the discussion about trafficking forefront the rest is just unique things to look at.

mummified bunny on a black background

Maggie Falco

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a sculptor, rogue taxidermist, and oddities enthusiast that really loves animals, horror movies, and all things art-related.

One of the key definitions of rogue taxidermy that stuck out the most to me—and that I abide by for my work—is that the materials used are ethically sourced or faux animal-like material. All animals are either found as roadkill or naturally deceased in the woods, hunters and taxidermists’ unwanted scraps, donations of pets or from farmers whose livestock passed away, etc. I have a strong belief in never killing anything for the purpose of making art. I would much rather an animal be living, but also see a great opportunity in maintaining the memory of a species and giving it a second life in an art form.

What does your practice look like? How do you hope to evolve as an artist?

I take on various commissions for things such as illustration, taxidermy repair, bone processing, specimen preservation, and pet memorials. My current commissioned project is a pet memorial where I will be cleaning the bones of someone’s pet that recently passed away. Once the bones are cleaned and whitened I’ll be returning it to the owner. I’m not willing to do taxidermy of a pet for the time being, but I am open to almost anything else. Creating clay or ink paw prints is something I’ve also done before and I am always willing to drive out to the location I’m needed to create the prints or pick up as long as it’s within the Twin Cities area.

My future plans are to establish my own brand and business for rogue taxidermy related work. Any of the commissions and requests I receive currently is through networking and social media. I would eventually like to get my name out there more after I have a better understanding of how to run my own business and also finding a bigger work/studio space.

What did you study at MCAD? How does this influence your work now? 

I primarily studied sculpture. My time at MCAD definitely influenced the way I maintain a work/studio space and helped me learn how important it is to talk with other artists to form connections and build community. The most valuable things I learned while at MCAD were actually from other students and my time working in my studio.

How did you discover rogue taxidermy?

I eventually got started working in this medium through a series of life events and interests. My love of animals, horror movies, practical effects, comic books, oddities, natural history, biology, and a fascination with death and preserving fading memories were all big influences for my work. My fascination with pathology, biology, animals, and mortuary science eventually lead me to experiment more with natural found objects including roadkill, skulls, and mummified specimens.  

I transferred to MCAD after attending Normandale Community College, the University of Arizona, and Kansai University. I was originally going to college for forensic pathology but leaned more towards art after realizing how cathartic creating art was for me during my final year at Normandale. I was actually going to cut art out of my life entirely when I began college to focus completely on my studies, but I realized I really needed art in my life to help me cope with my depression and anxiety.

As much as taxidermy intrigued me, I just didn’t like the idea of killing an animal for only making art. I did a lot of research online and eventually discovered Sarina Brewer’s rogue taxidermy movement. Sarina and artists such as Jana Miller (BoneLust Studios), Tim Prince (Forgotten Boneyard), and Katie Innamorato were some of the few artists I discovered and grew a great admiration for through their involvement of using ethically sourced animal remains. I’ve actually gotten to either meet or talk with them online, and all have been incredibly kind and willing to share their knowledge with me.

Maggie posing next to taxidermy coyote bust

Talk about your favorite piece.

My favorite piece will always be the first taxidermy I’ve ever created. I made a taxidermy coyote bust for my senior show back in 2016. The hide I used was salvaged from a scrap sale from a taxidermist. It was considered craft scrap because there were quite a few holes all over the hide and especially on the ears. I took the time to rehydrate the hide, stitch up every hole I found in the cape, repainted the nose and eyelids since they lost their coloration, and I fluffed his fur to give him his cuddly appearance. I loved this project because I wanted to embrace the imperfections and work with what I had with what knowledge I gained through my extensive research. It’s not perfect, but it’s a piece I will always be proud of and a reminder to myself that I accomplished teaching myself the art of taxidermy.  

Creating rogue taxidermy through 3D scanning, 3D printing, and CNC routing is also a fun challenge. During my time at MCAD, I combined a few of my scans and resculpted some models I created through 3D scanning and eventually cut the majority of the model out with a CNC router in the 3D Shop. I covered my sculpture in resin, deer hide, and beeswax to make my own fantasy critter. I’d really love to try this process again if I ever can gain easy access to this type of equipment.

As an emerging artist in the genre, what do you see for the future of this medium?

I see rogue taxidermy evolving into something being more widely acceptable for art galleries. I ran into the problem of some people believing this type of work has no place in an art gallery and should remain in only in science or natural history museums, but as time has gone on I’ve seen more instances of rogue taxidermy being apart of the art scene. With more exposure and artists being more open and willing to share their art process, the more rogue taxidermists will emerge.