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Gotham Gigs: A fashion designer becomes an award-winning taxidermist


Divya Anantharaman knows there are dead mice in the basement of her workshop—because she put them there, in neatly labeled plastic containers in a freezer. She also has dozens of birds, rabbits, squirrels and other small animals on ice.

The professional taxidermist will one day transform these frozen specimens into lifelike works of art for museums and private clients. “I’ve always been drawn to the space between art and science,” Anantharaman said.

She custom-forms the body of each creature, casting urethane foam or hand-carving wood into the animal’s final pose. The pelt, which she cleans and preserves, is fitted over the form. Then she works on the eyes, ears and whiskers—sewing, gluing and fluffing. “There’s no Photoshop here, just my own two hands,” she said.

Growing up in Miami, Anantharaman liked to observe the birds, frogs and lizards passing through her backyard. Though she did well in biology, she followed a more creative path. “Take our anatomy textbook: I loved reading it, but I was always more focused on the illustrations,” she said.

Her first winter in New York, she found a dead squirrel frozen in snow. Following YouTube videos, she skinned, cleaned and stuffed it. “Skinning is different from dissection,” she said. “It can be done without opening the body cavity, so you don’t see internal organs or blood.”

Anantharaman began attending local workshops and competitions, but taxidermy remained a weekend hobby as she pursued a career in fashion, designing shoes and accessories for about a decade.

Friends would occasionally ask her to preserve a deceased pet, but she would refuse, lacking confidence in her talent. Then in 2015 she won second place at the New Jersey Garden State Taxidermy Association Convention. “I finally thought, OK, now I’m ready to take on real commissions,” she said. She quit her job to pursue taxidermy full-time.

Anantharaman is currently preparing more than 30 animals for an upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Food and Drink in Williamsburg. Birds are her specialty, and she works with Audubon New York to preserve found specimens for education programs. She has a couple of clients who hunt, she said, but others have more sentimental goals.

People hire her to preserve beloved pets, supplying photos for reference. “I’m working on a Pomeranian right now,” she said. “It took me six months to get the eyes right.”


Divya Anantharaman

AGE: 32 BORN: Kingston, Jamaica RESIDES: Brooklyn EDUCATION: Bachelor of fine arts in fashion design and sculpture, Pratt Institute FEE SCALE: Pricing is based on complexity, such as $100 for a mouse and $2,000 or more for a peacock. FANTASIA: Anantharaman also practices alternative taxidermy, creating mythical creatures using found carcasses and castoffs from local food suppliers. SHARED WISDOM: She teaches workshops and wrote Stuffed Animals: A Modern Guide to Taxidermy. ALL CREATURES BIG AND SMALL: Her largest job was to preserve a full-grown elk, and her smallest was a blue dacnis, a tropical bird with a coin-size body.

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