Rose Kerr – Particle would like to acknowledge and pay respects to the traditional owners of the land we record on, the Wadjuk people. We also acknowledge the role of Aboriginal people as the first scientists in Australia.
Welcome to the Particle Podcast, where we talk about science and the people who just love it. My name is Rose Kerr, your host for the podcast. And this season, we’re talking all things environmental. Today, I’m joined by Francis “Chucky” Raven, who works in taxidermy. He stopped by the podcast to talk all about how taxidermy works, and all things macabre.
Welcome to the podcast Chuckie!
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Thank you.
Rose Kerr – Starting off, we always have to ask this. What do you actually do?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – It’s a broad question. So my role is as a museum preparator, which mostly focuses on taxidermy, but it could be anything from taxidermy to creating displays and sort of getting everything ready to go on display. So skeleton preparation, models, we do a lot of sculpting and molding of like lifelike animals that we can’t necessarily taxidermy. Yeah, it’s a it’s a broad job that covers a lot of things.
Rose Kerr – How on earth do you end up doing that as a job?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Um, a lot of random turns through life. I was always interested in it. I think, as a kid, I thought it was most fascinating thing ever. And I sort of loved science, but I sort of went the way of art. So until five or six years ago, I was working backstage in theater
Rose Kerr – Oh cool.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – And a lot of the training for that was sculpting and molding and that sort of thing. But I got a job overseas in Dubai, where I worked for a couple of months, where it kind of, I’d been working in theater for a while, and like really enjoying it, working backstage and on Fringe Festival, that sort of thing. But I kind of fell out of love with it a little bit when I was over in Dubai. So when I came back to Australia, I thought, you know what, I’m going to take a couple months off and just do whatever I want to do, which had been taxidermy. So I contacted a wildlife clinic and sent them an email, I had to think carefully how to word it because basically, I said to them, Look, I’m wanting to learn taxidermy, I’m really passionate about ecology and you know, conserving nature and that sort of thing. I want to learn taxidermy, do you have any deceased animals that I might be able to use? And surprisingly, they messaged back and they were really keen for it
Rose Kerr – Oh cool
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – So yeah, I, I watched a couple of videos on YouTube, and had a red hot girl at home, had a couple of mistakes and a couple of funny looking possums and that sort of thing. Yeah. And then I got in contact with a lady at the museum, who’s the senior preparator, who does taxidermy. And she was giving me some advice on how to go about doing it, how I could improve. And eventually that turned into work experience. So I spent a couple of months, actually on and off for about a year going and learning taxidermy from her. So yeah, kind of developed from there,
Rose Kerr – When you’re doing that kind of prop stuff, going back to that for a second. So your formal training is in making props?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, props and scenery. So I studied at WAAPA for three years. And it was everything from building sets for their productions. They do? Oh, gosh, they do so many they do like, I don’t know, like 20 productions a year. So we’d have to build the set for that. And all the props and all the painting and, you know, sometimes it would be masks and you know, fake guns and that sort of thing. So yeah, that’s my background.
Rose Kerr – And do you find those skills were helpful in going into taxidermy?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, surprisingly, it’s, it’s so much of it is the same. It’s just a different medium that you’re working with sound might sound macabre. But you’re going from working with like, fabrics, and fiberglass to working with, you know, animal skins and feathers and that sort of thing. But the the practical skills that you need to actually shape things and bring it all together, it’s all pretty much the same.
Rose Kerr – With that in mind, how you said, when you’re emailing the first place, asking if you could have some of the animals to practice taxidermy and learn. And I really wanted to ask, cause one of the biggest questions that we had is, how do people generally react to the whole taxidermy thing?
I’ve, for the most part, people are quite intrigued. Most people don’t tend to freak out. In saying that, some people do tend to freak out. No, a lot of people don’t really know much about what it is. And the people that do kind of have misconceptions about how it’s done and that sort of thing. So yeah, I’ve had some people who are completely against it, they think it’s unethical, and that it’s like insulting to the animal’s memory and that sort of thing. But I try to have conversations with people who hold those opinions because, like, my view is that it’s actually kind of for the greater good of animals. I think. You’re taking something that’s deceased and it’s it’s no longer, I mean, it’s not it’s not doing anything and it’s just going to go to I mean, This might seem macabre, but it’s gonna go to waste. And you’re taking that and if you can prolong its life and give it another purpose in educating people about conservation and about, you know how that animal died or how lots of the animals die, which is road deaths or, you know, cats and you know, feral animals killing them then I think it’s, it’s worth it. Yeah. But yeah, for the most most part people just interested in how it happens.
Yeah. Oh, yeah, I will have so many questions in a second. What do you think the role of taxidermy is in that conservation space? What kind of power do you think it holds?
I think it’s really important. Because like, you can go up to animals in the in the wild, you can only get so close to actually properly appreciate them. They either need to be caged or taxidermy. So like in the museum, you go there. And the in the old Museum, we had the mammal gallery. And so we couldn’t go and see lions and tigers and bears back in the 1940s and that sort of thing when the gallery was coming together. And so they served a great purpose on bringing, you know, African animals to Western Australia and animals from all around the world.
It’s actually a really good point, that the alternative is that animals have to be in cages. I think that’s something that people often forget.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah. Yeah. And also, there’s the importance of, I think, when people hear that, you know, koalas habitats have been destroyed, or that sort of thing, people tend to want to switch off because it’s horrible, and you don’t want to think about it. And you don’t want to think that maybe there is something you can do about it to fix it. Because, well, then you have to, or you don’t do it, and you know that you could, but when you’re actually faced with an animal in front of you, and you’ve got the story of that animal’s life, and how okay, maybe it came from the bushfires or, you know, it died from, you know, being hit by a car or something, you have to face, the fact that those things are happening. And I think it encourages people to do things about it. And also, with animals that go extinct, we can actually keep showing people, the animals that no longer exist, because we’ve got them preserved. And so you can keep reminding people that this is what’s going to happen if we don’t change the way we go about living.
Rose Kerr – Do you see it as more of a science or an art?
I honestly don’t think I can distinguish between the two, I think it takes that art to portray it accurately, scientifically, I guess. I mean, you’re it’s it really is quite a hands on job, you’ve got to replicate all the features of the animal and like all the muscles and the joints and that sort of thing. And you need the scientific knowledge to do that. But you need the artistic ability to make the science work, I guess. Yeah. It probably leans more towards art. Yeah, it’s a fine line.
It really is. Do you feel like you know the animals quite well, because of having to recreate them in that realistic way?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, it’s, it’s really interesting. When when I go back and compare some of the first birds that I worked on, so birds are mostly what I work on, haven’t quite gotten the knack of mammals yet. They’re, like, quite complicated to do. But when I go back and look at past birds that I’ve worked on, that at the time, I thought were really realistic. And you know, like, I was really, really happy with them. And I still am because I had a lower skill set then and that sort of thing. But I look at them now. And it’s they just looked – like they look terrible. They just don’t look realistic. It’s kind of like, you know, the uncanny valley.
Rose Kerr – Yes.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, the idea that I’m not sure if the listeners know about it, but the idea that it’s sort of, I don’t really, like the kind of uneasy feeling you get when you see a mannequin that looks a little bit too human, or when you start drawing pictures of people’s faces, and it looks like quite okay, but there’s something wrong with it that makes you feel uneasy, I find that I actually get that with the birds that are more familiar working with. So I’ll be able to tell like when a Tawny frogmouth doesn’t have the head in the right angle, or that sort of thing. Yeah, and you also get to know them. I’ve learned so much about anatomy of animals, because you are dissecting the animals to recreate it and you’ve got to, I’m sure we’ll get into it later. But part of it is removing the muscles of the animal and replacing it with you kind of recreate them in various materials, but you learn a lot about how wings work and how fatty deposits work and all that kind of thing and how feathers connect into the muscles and all that sort of thing.
Rose Kerr – Yeah, that’s fascinating. Kind of starting off into many questions that we have. What does… say you’re working on a taxidermy project, you’ve just started, what does a kind of day a in the life look like for you?
So, at the museum, all the specimens are frozen for a little while, um, because everything needs to be quarantined, because we don’t want to bring any bacteria or bugs or anything like that into the collection. So normally we’ll take the specimen out of the freezer. And you actually begin taxidermying it while it’s frozen, because it’s a lot easier to work with. You think about trying to cut up a chicken breast that’s frozen versus while ago, semi defrosted, it’s always easier when when you can grab a better hold of it. It’s such a, it’s quite a long process, but essentially with with with birds, you would lay it out on a butcher’s paper to clean up the mess, and you separate the feathers along the along the breastbone. And you part them aside, you wet them down so that there’s like quite a neat part and then you dissect through from the, essentially the breastbone through to the cloaca. And do what I call ‘taking off the pajamas”,
Oh, so good.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – There’s not really a nice way to put it. But essentially you are taking the pajamas, the skin off of the actual animals, so you have to follow around all the muscles and everything. And there’s a there’s a thin layer between the muscles and the skin and you essentially have to stay in that layer. Because if you go too far into the muscle, then you’re going to leave muscle on the skin. And if you go too far out that you’re going to nick the skin, you end up with an animal full of holes. So yeah, so you work around the, all the breast tissue and all you go around all the back and then you’ve got to separate, you leave the wing bones in the actual skin along with the feet, bones and the skull. And then you put the body to one side because you’ve got to recreate that in a little bit. Um, so then you have to… the whole purpose of removing the muscles and everything is you’re going to, you have to remove anything that’s going to rot. So you have to go all the way into the neck and the skull actually stays with the animal because with birds, it’s too hard to replicate a skull and then put it in the pajamas. So you leave that in, you have to clean it all out, and you remove all the, all the tissue from all the bones, you have to remove the fat anywhere that there’s deposits. So a lot of birds have fat at the base of where the feathers actually enter the skin. Because I’m assuming, I’m not entirely- I’m not a bird anatomist. But I believe it’s because they then transport some that oil out to their feathers for the waterproof coating. So you have to try to remove most of that. And we’re using something called borax, which is actually a cleaning agent. It’s kind of like a salt. And what it does is, it’s called sweetening. It sweetens the meat, but it basically becomes bacteria-proof. The bacteria can’t eat it, and it really dries it out and that sort of thing. So as you’re dissecting it, you’re sprinkling this almost like talcum powder all through the animal. And you’ve got to work quickly, because obviously that then dries it out. Yeah. And then…
Rose Kerr – Yeah, what goes inside?
Yeah, yeah. So that’s the that’s quite the tricky part is you take essentially, what’s the torso, I guess, I’m trying to think how to explain it so people can visualize it. But it’s the basically the, the, the cooked chook, if you imagine it, you end up with basically removing that from the specimen. And you have to replicate the size and shape and all those muscles and everything in hemp. So yeah, so we take this hemp rope and you pull out fibers, you bunch them all together, and you slowly wrap it with twine and molded into the shape of the animal. The reason we use hemp is that it’s a little forgiving, you can kind of work it into different shapes, and it also stays dry because it’s quite a dry product. So you replicate the body in that and then that will go into the pajamas, you then thread wires along all of the wing bones and all of the feet bones. And you then replace any of the, so the muscles on the legs in the wings have to be replaced. Again, same method with hemp and you sort of wrap the hemp around the wing bones to secure it to it. And then you fit that with wire into the body form that you’ve created. And then everything gets stitched up and positioned and the wings get brought into the right way. And then you’ve got wires that come through the legs. You got wires that come through the legs, and that will connect into your mount. And then you’re, you end up with kind of a stuffed animal that then needs all the finishing done to it. Yeah,
What are some of those kind of finishings?
So with birds a lot of preening the feathers, so you actually have to go through and a lot of the feathers will get sort of messed up a fair bit as you’re moving it. You try as much as possible to not move it around too much when you’re working on it. Because you know you can you can snap feathers and they get kind of separated and that sort of thing. But basically my technique is to go through with basically a mascara brush works really well to pull the feathers together and then tweezers to basically position them on top of each other and you’re trying to get all of the, yeah, all of the down on on the chest, like, into position and cover up the stitches, and that sort of thing. And yeah, it’s a lot of, at that point you’re looking at heaps of reference images of the animal. And if you’ve got other specimens of the animal taxidermied, then you kind of bring those in. And you can use those as an example because different birds, like they put a weight in a different area. So owls kind of stand upright, but then you get, you know, you think of Willy Wagtails and they’re kind of a little more horizontal. They’re, their face is a bit further, faces a bit further forward. Yeah.
That’s fascinating. You must have the best attention to detail.
Yeah, I obsess over a little bit. Yeah. But um, one thing we actually do, because you can kind of get tunnel vision, you start thinking that you’ve got it right. We actually put it in the freezer overnight, which helps keeps it damp, and come back and work out the next day. So it’s usually it’s usually two days work, and it helps to walk away from it and come back and you go, okay, actually, that’s not what it would look like it’d be moving a bit far more forward, and the wings would be a bit tucked back and that sort of thing.
Jumping in. This is our last episode for season three of the Particle Podcast, very exciting stuff. But we will be returning soon with a new summer season. So if you’ve got any questions regarding to bushfire, sunscreen, or surfing, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. As this is our last episode for the season, I’d like to say a huge, huge thank you to Richie from the Rawr Den, who’s been letting us record after hours in his shop. The smell of Chai has been an absolute delight every time we’ve come into record. Also, a big thank you to Michael and Zaya, who come in every single week to film the podcast, Rocky who edits and Marlo who listens to every episode before it’s released. And of course, I can’t let the season finish without thanking all of the wonderful guests who join us on the Particle Podcast. They take time out of their busy schedules, just to come and have a chat to us. And it means the absolute world to get to share their stories. If you have enjoyed the podcast, please leave us a comment. Let us know on Instagram, rate us in a podcast app, tell a friend. we’d really love to see the audience grow. Back to the podcast.
I don’t doubt there’s quite a few of these because you work in such a specific area. But what are some unexpected skills that you’ve picked up moving from prop design into taxidermy?
Hmm, I I’m pretty good with a scalpel now.
I do sort of art in my spare time. And, you know, like, yeah, just getting better with like Exacto blades, that sort of thing, cutting out fine details and that sort of thing. And carving, when you’re doing sculptures and that sort of thing. I’ve got quite quite good at that. And also just, I think understanding the anatomy of animals. And I’ve, I mean, I learned, I learned as much as anyone did in high school about it, but I didn’t go to study biology or anything in university. So I think a lot of things come as a shock to me when you start understanding, you know, where certain bones are in birds that are in humans or, you know, similar to lizards? Yeah, and that sort of thing.
Yeah, absolutely. And I guess, with that in mind, what are some kind of essential skills you think you need to have to be a good taxidermist?
Yeah, I think attention to detail. It’s it’s one of those things that you can’t half do it. And I think also, it’s one of those things that you’ve really got to have a passion to do, you’ve got to really want to do it. Because to be honest, it is, it’s, it’s a bit gruesome, because you are dissecting animals. And you kind of have to work through that. I mean, I’ve got a pretty strong stomach. And I’ve always been interested in kind of the macabre and curiosities and that sort of thing. But even I find at times that you, you’ll have to kind of just swallow and, you know, and keep going with it. Yeah. Um, but also, even aside from skills, it’s, it’s a really hard thing to get into, because there’s just not many avenues for it. You kinda just have to teach yourself and hope that you find someone that can teach you. Over in England, they have some schools and stuff, but in Australia, for the most part… There are some small courses you can do here, here and there in Perth. But yeah, most people that I’ve met, have been self taught, and then have gone on to find someone who could mentor them. So… yeah.
Do you hope to mentor someone else one day?
I would love to, I think not yet because I’m probably not where I want to be before I start teaching people but I honestly, I love passing on knowledge. And I mean, I think that’s one of the great things about working in museums, is that you get to just pass on knowledge about everything and anything and yeah, definitely.
That’s, overwhelmingly we’ve heard from people at the museum is there’s lots of sharing of information, which is lovely.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – I did begin to teach my brother taxidermy, but life got in the way. So we haven’t actually finished that project yet. But yeah, so I’ve got a freezer full of projects. At my wonderful mother’s house.
Rose Kerr – I feel like that sets the tone really well for our next section which is our questionable questions. These are from the broader Particle team. So Zaya and Michael who are with us. All right, some of these we touched on before, but I’m gonna include them anyway. Would you ever taxidermy your own pet?
I, so we’ve got stick insects at home.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – And believe it or not, you can kind of taxidermy stick insects. You preserve them in a way that, um that. I always get this wrong. I always go to say etymologists.
Rose Kerr – Entomologists!
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Terrible! But in the way that entomologists do, so you clean them up, dry them out and pin them and that sort of thing. So I do have designs to do that for some of our stick insects. As far as pets go, I don’t know that I could do it to my own pets. I originally thought that I could. And like, I thought it would be quite a nice way to remember them. But like, I’ve gotten quite attached to pets now that I think it would it be a bit heartbreaking to see them. But that being said, I have seen some really beautiful pet taxidermy done. Particularly, there’s, it’s like a sleeping pose. So if you imagine a cat curled up on the floor, and it tucks its head under its arm, or like a dog in a similar position. And those are like really beautiful pieces of taxidermy, because it’s not trying to make the animal alive. It just looks like the animal’s sleeping. Um, so I think that it can actually be done in a respectful and actually beautiful way,
Rose Kerr – Just hard to do your own pet I imagine. Yeah.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – I also, I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I would do their, taxidermy their pets. The tricky thing with it is, I would say yes, but it would have to depend on the, kind of on the person and the view that they have of their pet. Because again, it’s with the… we like, you might not be able to tell a dog doesn’t look like a dog did when it was alive, but the person will
Rose Kerr – Yes.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Um, and like one of the hardest parts to get right about pet taxidermy would be the eyes. Because you look at your puppy dog’s eyes and that sort of thing. And they do. You’d know if they don’t look how they did back then. So if I had a friend that wanted to taxidermy their dog, who I knew was like really attached to their dog, I’d probably say no, because I can’t make it look how the dog did. But if I had, like a friend who’s like me, who is a bit quirky and wants to get you know, like, well, yeah, their dog or ferrets or anything like that, then it could be done in a way that that person is happy with it. But I’d want to make sure that they know what they’re getting into before I go and you know, yeah. I actually did get to taxidermy, a 40 year old, I think it was 40 year old barn owl. One of the wildlife centers, it couldn’t be returned to the wild. So it did stayed with the, the lady in charge of the Wildlife Center. And so it passed away, sadly. But because I had such a good relationship with them, and they had helped me get off the ground with my taxidermy. They asked if I want, if I could taxidermy it for us. So thankfully, she was really happy with how it turned out and so, yeah, it was beautiful.
Rose Kerr – That’s a good example of when it’s quite special. And they can still tell the story of the 40-year-old owl
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, exactly.
Rose Kerr – Can you, maybe not you specifically, but can people taxidermy humans?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yes. –
Rose Kerr – Ah!
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – And it’s been it’s been done, although questionably. So, the trick with it… It’s it’s bizarre to talk about this. The trick with it is if you think about birds and and mammals they have feathers and fur to hide the skin. So when you actually taxidermy them, if you were to push away the feathers, the skin takes on a lifeless quality, it’ll look yellow or it will be you know, tanned, like leather. So, there have been people who have taxidermied people, and you kind of tan the skin and turn it into leather. It never ends up looking like people because that uncanny valley thing is almost possible to get right. And obviously the skin ends up having to be painted over and you end up with these like really weird patchy things. But there’s a guy called Gunther von Hagens, who’s a amazing nutjob. I think he’s from Germany, and he invented Plastination. And if you’ve heard about that, so there’s a exhibit, the tool is called human, I think it’s called the amazing human body exhibit. And basically what he’s done is he’s taken people who’ve donated their bodies to science or specifically to his thing, he preserves them in ethanol to take all the water out, and then he puts them in a vacuum in a tub of silicon. So, the ethanol evaporates and all of the ethanol is replaced with silicon. So all the veins every tissue, every cell is impregnated with silicon, and then he catalyzes it so it turns into you know, so it solidifies and you end up with actually just a really lifelike human body, all the veins are intact, all the stomach, you know, all like everything is intact. So you can actually do amazing kind of like medical displays of like, I saw one where they… it’s kind of diverting from taxidermy a bit, but they had the entire nervous system of humans because they put the silicon into the nervous system, and then dissolved away the rest of the person so you end up with this like spiderweb in the shape of a human, a spider webs in the shape of human veins.
Rose Kerr – That would be phenomenal to see.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, it’s really it’s, it’s incredible. They’ve actually used Plastination at the new museum for a lot of the reptiles on display. Reptiles are really hard to taxidermy, because they, I mean, their skin is really, really thick. Even under the scales. It’s really hard to actually take all the pajamas off. Yeah. So they plastinate it and it preserves the color a bit better. And then if that fades they have to paint it, but yeah
Rose Kerr – Wow. That’s fascinating.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah it’s really, really cool. I mean, you’ve got to be mad to invent something like that.
Rose Kerr – Oh, 100%, a little bit weird.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, yeah. It’s astounding
Rose Kerr – Such a good name for him, as well.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, it’s he’s got that and he’s got like, he’s a short guys, he’s bald. He wears like a black Fedora and round glasses. He just looks like the kind of guy that would do that.
Rose Kerr – That’s perfect. Have you ever had any really strange requests come in to taxidermy?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Um, probably Yeah. One of my friends asked if I could do her ferrets when they passed away. Yeah. That’s about the weirdest I’ve gotten. Yeah, yes.
Rose Kerr – That’s not too bad. I thought it would get really weird.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – No, it’s not too bad. No. Or, actually… Yes, my… I’ll say a friend of mine. Who’s covered in tattoos?
Rose Kerr – Yes.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Desperately wants their tattoos preserved when they pass away.
Rose Kerr – Oh wow.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Which is it is a company in America that does it and they, it’s, it’s incredible. They basically do it like leather. And I’ve, so this friend of mine is actually asked whether or not that would be possible. Slash legal. To do in Australia. There’s like, gray, gray area laws around it.
Rose Kerr – Because some tattoo studios I’ve seen they actually have the skin up there.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah. It’s Um, there’s a couple of full Japanese bodysuits.
Rose Kerr – Wow.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Um, yeah. of like, Oh, I think. Yeah, just like full body tattoos that have just been preserved. That’s probably the weirdest I’ve gotten.
Rose Kerr – Yeah, even if it’s only hypothetical. What’s the most difficult animal to taxidermy? Or one maybe that you’ve either never done or…
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – So. The hardest one that I’ve done was an Echidna?
Rose Kerr – Oh whoa.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah. But actually, from the perspective of cleaning the specimen, they’re so muscular, and like, there’s just like, they got muscle and muscle and muscle and to actually get through it, to get to the skin is really, really difficult. And they have, the quills actually go into the skin into a layer of muscle. So when you take the pajamas off, you actually end up with like, yeah, it’s like a layer of muscle that’s like, woven into these quills and you’ve got to remove it all because it’ll it’ll rot. So that was honestly, a couple of days of like using wire brushes to try to just try to remove that and then also positioning echidnas because the issue is they really wrinkly animals, they’ve got like a lot of excess skin. So you can end up making a giant echidna from a small echidna. Because if you don’t give it any wrinkles, you end up with this big spiky pillow. On that there’s, there’s a great photo of one of the first walruses that was ever texted me. And it’s enormous because the bloke that did it had never seen a walrus, he got there and so he tried to get rid of all the wrinkles by stuffing it as big as he could.
Rose Kerr – Oh no!
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – So it’s a massive walrus. Yeah, but I think in terms of difficulty, a lot of mammals are really hard to do. Horses in particular, I know, have like a lot of veins on their face, like and you won’t necessarily notice it until it’s not there. So a lot of the sculpting that they do for mammalian taxidermy is incredible. So they take off the hide and they tan it but then they will spend like weeks carving from foam and putting all these veins in different channels in. And they they will sculpt each individual muscle of the animal so that it’s realistic. Yeah.
Rose Kerr – That’s incredible.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – It’s some of the, they have taxidermy, like, championships in America. And it is. It’s incredible. The detail they go into is amazing
Rose Kerr – What animal is like on your to do list that you’d really like to taxidermy.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Funnily enough, it’s just a kookaburra. Yeah, it’s my favorite bird. And it’s, it’s one that I would love to have in my collection, because I have my own private collection of ones that I’ve been working on and that sort of thing. So I’d love to do a kookaburra. I’d also love to do, I do a lot of… well, a lot I do as a hobby, a bit of skeleton articulation. So I take like roadkill that’s, that’s already been cleaned by ants that sort of thing and try to bring all those bones together in the shape of the animal. And so I’d love to do a full fox one day. Yeah, I think that’d be cool.
Rose Kerr – What an interesting challenge. Does it feel a bit like a, like a puzzle?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, yeah, it’s, it’s, um, I recently… So you’ll see some at the at the new museum, one skeleton in particular that I had to put together. And it was, I think it’s about 300,000 years old. And so putting that together, obviously, we couldn’t drill through the bones and just thread them together on a wire or anything. So we had to make individual supports for each bone and bring it together. So that was the trickiest thing that I’ve done to date. But if you’re just doing sort of specimens that aren’t as important, you know, like foxes and that sort of thing, you can just drill through the spinal column and you put rods and that sort of thing. So it’s a bit bit more straightforward. Yeah, yeah.
Rose Kerr – If you do find a fox, or some kind of animal that has been killed on the side of the road, what’s the, what can you do to give it the kind of the best chance either pass it along to someone else to taxidermy? Or maybe if you are someone who wants to taxidermy yourself?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yep. So actually, a lot of the I did a couple of early pieces that I did were from roadkill. And one of the important things is that it has to be fresh. We do get a lot of offers of people saying, Oh, you know, I’ve seen this animal on the side of the road, it’s, it’s dead. But do you want it to taxidermy. And unfortunately, a lot of the times because of Australian summers, if it’s been out there for more than two hours, it’s it’s, it’s too warm, and it’ll it’ll just rot by the time we get to it. That being said, with foxes and rabbits, anything that’s a feral animal is, if it’s, if it’s an introduced species, it’s fair game, anything that’s an a native animal, you actually need the proper permissions to do it. So, there’s a there’s kind of some gray areas, and the laws are changing around it. But you can actually just get in contact with I think it’s Department of Parks and Wildlife, but they always change the name. And you can basically say, Hi, you know, I’m a hobby taxidermist or feather collector or whatever, I found a specimen, just want you to just want to let you know that I have it. I’m not going to, you have to not profit from it, or sell or trade or anything like that. And they’ll basically say, okay, that’s fine. Um, but yeah, so if you do happen to hit an animal, and it is fresh, and it is deceased, you can contact the museum. And if not, if the museum doesn’t want it, then there’ll be someone who the museum can pass you on to. So recently, a mallee fowl, which is quite a rare bird. Yeah. There was a roadkill one of those. And so we’re actually really thankful to have that because they’re really hard to come across because you know, they’re endangered. So yeah, check if it’s fresh. Yeah, but if it’s not fresh, get the bones. Yeah, so um, yeah, I’ve lost count the amount of times that I’ve stopped on the side of the road to try to collect something to find out that you don’t want to put it in your car. Yeah. So normally, bit gruesome, but check the eyes. And if the eyes seem fresh, then the animal should be fresh. But if there’s bugs around them, or they’re too cloudy, it’s best to leave it,
Rose Kerr – Yeah, leave it for the animals. They can take care of it.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah. Exactly
Rose Kerr – So if you do find one, then do you have to… Is there anything you can do to make it as safe as possible?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – I always carry gloves and plastic bag, mostly for the smell in the car. But also because yeah, you have to think that a lot of animals like kangaroos and stuff will have ticks on them. That just were naturally there when the animal was alive, but now that it’s deceased, or looking for someone else, yeah. So you’ve got to be careful of that sort of thing. But the best, the best protocol to follow is to freeze it. Preferably in a freezer that’s not got your food in it. I would definitely say don’t do that. So I have a freezer that’s separate for my taxidermy. And I put it in there for usually about a week minimum is good, because it just kind of kills any, um, any sort of bugs or viruses or anything that might be in the animals. Yeah, just wash your hands. I wear gloves when I taxidermy, not everyone does. It just depends on where the animals come from. So if it’s off a farm, and you know where it’s come from, and you know, say you’ve got a friend and some farm animals passed away, then it’s going to be cleaner than a fox on the side of the road. But yeah, and you tend to wash the animal as well as your taxidermying in it. That’s one of the steps is to sort of rinse everything out. And yeah, yeah, good hygiene. But that’s, that goes for everything, especially in this time.
Rose Kerr – Sealed bags I’m sure.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Sealed bags. Yeah.
Rose Kerr – And whoever you’re carpooling with needs to be… to agree to it.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah. Shout out to my sister Anna, who was the first person to stop to let me pick up a fox on the side of the road. So that was that was kind of what got me into it.
Rose Kerr – What a legend.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – I had just we were coming back from busselton. And I was getting into taxidermy. And I said to her, I like, I will give you $200, if we see a fox on the side of the road, if you let me pull over and get it, and we looked up and it was a fox on the side of the road. I haven’t paid the $200. But I got the fox.
Rose Kerr – Oh, that’s amazing. Yeah. I had questions about that actually. With the skeletons when you’re doing taxidermy in general, do you keep them and use them for anything?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – So I kind of keep, I really like having like a collection of skulls. It’s hard to do with bird taxidermy, because you actually have to leave the skull in the animal. But so with the echidna that I did and a few other ones I have, you remove the skull and I’ve got those that I’m going to clean up and add them to the collection. Because of the nature of bird taxidermy, you’re actually leaving most of the skeleton, like leaving the arms or the wings and the legs in the specimen. So you don’t really end up with a full skeleton at the end of it. Yeah, but with larger animal text me, so if we ever did lions or anything like that we are actually skinning the animal and tanning the pelt and you’re actually taking all the bones out with them. And something as valuable, you know, conservation wise as a lion, they clean that up with these, they’ve got these sort of tanks, these like, of bugs, essentially flesh eating beetles. So they they remove all the muscles, the scientists will remove all the muscles and as much as they can from a skeleton, they will dry it out for two weeks, and then they give it, put it into these tubs with these bugs, and they will strip it clean. And then that’ll go into the collection. So the museum actually has, like thousands and thousands of skeletons in little, you know, boxes that have all been cleaned. And yeah,
Rose Kerr – What a cool use of nature, to let the bugs do it.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Oh yeah. It’s amazing. Yes, I think it’s, that’s what I- like, a lot of hobby taxidermists, I think also, I’ve seen, sort of will try to use everything in the animal. So yeah, like I have, I’ve taken like bird bones and that sort of thing and tried to claim them and use them in jewelry or something like that, you know, to kind of not let anything go to waste.
Rose Kerr – Yeah. When you look at other people who do taxidermy in their work, are there any kind of like stylistic things that are done which means you can tell his who’s done the piece?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Um, interestingly, a lot of old taxidermy, like pre 1900s is identified through sort of like trademark looks and that sort of thing. I think there’s I think the taxidermist’s name is Rowland Ward, but I might have that wrong, did a lot of foxes and coyotes and wolves and that sort of thing. And they have like a really quite like, what’s it? How would I say it? Um, like a trademark snarl to them. So their teeth, are bared in a certain way and the tongue’s a certain shape and that sort of thing. And they’ve got wrinkles on their nose in a kind of threatening way. And that taxidermist in particular is kind of famous for that. So a lot of old taxidermy is identifiable through that. Modern taxidermy, I think it’s hard to say because I think the focus is less on making it impressive than it is on making it true to nature. So you imagine if back in the day, if someone did shoot a lion and wanted it taxidermied, they want it to look as threatening as possible. When lions really, they don’t walk around snarling at everyone in anything, they’re giant pussycats. So nowadays there’s probably less of a signature of the artist than they used to be. Yeah, of course, this I’m sure there’s artists in terms of hunting trophies, and that sort of thing that do in a particular way, you know, try to add a flair to the to the art, but yeah,
Rose Kerr – A cheeky little extra bit of design.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, make the teeth bigger on the boar and that sort of thing I’ve heard of people doing.
Rose Kerr – Because you’re dealing with, you know, specimens of animals that have died. And it is, as we’ve said, quite macabre. How has that affected your relationship with death? Do you find you’re numb to it? Does it make you reflect on your mortality more? Like has it changed your thoughts?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah. I think, um, so I was raised Catholic and was Catholic, sort of until I was 16. And I kind of fell out of faith and I’m an atheist now. Um, but it’s actually been kind of a long journey that’s been happening alongside my interest in taxidermy and that sort of thing. I am definitely not numb to death. I think I find it terrifying, but fascinating. And I think taxidermy has actually helped me feel a bit more at peace about it. Because when you’re handling the animals, yes, it was an animal. And it was it was a being that had, you know, thoughts and needs and that sort of thing. But now it’s kind of what’s left. It’s kind of, I don’t see that as the animal anymore. It’s what that animal left behind in the world. Yeah,I kind of, it’s gonna sound a bit hippy, but I kind of take the view of, you know, we all return to the earth kind of thing. It’s like, the atoms that are used to make me eventually when I go into the, you know, when I get cremated are going to go and create something else in the world. So yeah, I think being that close to death, and that sort of thing has changed my view for the better and made me a bit more comfortable with it. Although interestingly, I think it’s kind of, kind of alienated me in some ways in talking about death with other people. Um, I think we’re kind of closed off to it in Western culture. We don’t want to be involved in, in funerals and that sort of thing. We get a funeral director to do it, it’s always third party and then you go to the funeral and it’s done and that sort of thing. But I kind of want to be involved in it, be closer to it, to deal with it. Yeah, I kind of go that way about it.
Rose Kerr – Yeah. I can imagine working with it for so long. It would almost seem strange to then be so separated.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, yeah.
Rose Kerr – Is the taxidermy industry, kind of thriving? Is it on the decline? Is it always gonna stay niche? What is your thoughts on that?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, I think, I think it depends country to country. Um, Australia doesn’t have a lot of game animals. I think they won’t really ever be a large. Gosh, what’s the word sorry. Um, I don’t think that we’ll ever really need lots of lots of game taxidermist and that sort of thing. I think museums will always need taxidermists in the same way that they’ll always need scientists and sculptors and molders and that sort of thing. It’s just always going to be a part of the nature of the work. We, there are, you know, you can make models and replicas of things, but you can never quite get as good as the real thing. And as close to the real thing is the real thing but taxidermied, so. Yeah, I think it’s, it’s, a lot of people say it’s a dying craft. But I really don’t like to think of it like that, because it’s not dying. It’s just always been quite a niche craft. And I find also that a lot of the crafts that we say are dying crafts, are just crafts that we don’t necessarily need anymore in our culture, but are needed elsewhere. You think about shoemakers and that sort of thing. And you think cobblers and that, you know, it’s a it’s a dying craft. And there’s not that many, but in third world countries, they need cobblers. Because they don’t have you know, they don’t have the the money or you know, to actually go and buy the things that we can afford. Yeah,
Rose Kerr – Yeah. Ilike that. And maybe just because you don’t know about it doesn’t mean it’s actually dying out,
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, exactly. It’s just not as prevalent here
Rose Kerr – Thinking about how there’s not many taxidermists out there, and not many that you’ve met yourself. Have you met some strange people?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah. Yeah, a lot of strange people, but they’re always the best people. I think anyone who can give you a bizarre perspective on life is someone who you’re going to remember forever, and life is going to be boring as all… life’s gonna be very boring if you only ever stick with people who tell you what you think and you know, tell you the same things that you believe and that sort of thing. Yeah.
Rose Kerr – And then thinking I guess about, you know, sharing your love of taxidermy with your family and your loved ones we’ve mentioned you’ve been trying to teach your brother Yeah. How does your kind of closer inner circle feel about your work?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, they love me for who I am. I think when I got into it, they were just they just shaking their head saying, Of course, I mean, that’s that’s so Chucky. Like, I’ve always been interested in weird stuff. I think when I got into it, mum told me that when I was 12, for my birthday, I asked for a bottle of formaldehyde, which is what preserves animals. And sadly, I didn’t get it for my birthday. But she said that from then on, she knew that I was always going to do something weird like this. So my girlfriend is wonderfully supportive of it. Got a couple pieces around the house, that sort of thing. And most of all my nephews, my nieces just think it’s the coolest thing. Oh, yeah, they, when they come stay at Grandma’s in I, a lot of my taxidermy is at my mum’s house. I just don’t have a space for it at my house. But it’s set up in a room. And that’s the room that they sleep in. So there’s all these owls on the walls and echidnas and that sort of thing. So yeah, and people just really came to learn about it. Yeah, I think it’s it’s, um, I’m never short of a conversation topic at parties.
Rose Kerr – This is true. Very true. Yeah. I have no doubt, just like I say every single week that you probably have a million fun facts. But I was wondering if you had a fun facts you would like to share with the listeners?
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Mm hmm. A fun fact. There’s so many I mean, there’s there’s lots that I’ve got from the museum and that sort of thing. But in terms of taxidermy? Um, I might have to think about it for a while. I meant to have one planned, but I didn’t.
Rose Kerr – How do you do the eyes, are there any fun facts around just like how you do the eyes,
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah, we found out a really good cheat. So you can order, there’s places that sell specific bird eyes. And so you can buy tawny frogmouth eyes and this sort of thing, in the different colors, but they also sell just sort of a dome shaped piece of glass. And you can order that in different sizes. And all you do is you get a really high resolution picture of the animal’s eye, you print that out and you stick it to the glass. And so you end up with really realistic eyes because it’s got the iris in it. It’s got all the colors through it and that sort of thing. Yeah.
Rose Kerr – That’s a great fact.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – Yeah.
Rose Kerr – Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast Chuckie.
Francis “Chuckie” Raven – It’s been great.
Rose Kerr – Thank you for listening to the Particle Podcast. You can find more of our content on all of the socials as well as that particle.scitech.org.au. Particle is powered by Scitech and everything we make is made in the wonderful science hub of Western Australia, on Whadjuk country.