Julianna Stevens, the president of the Evolution Store in SoHo, has witnessed the changing demographics of the taxidermy community. The shop has sold collectibles and artifacts like skeletons, mounted specimens, and preserved fossils since Stevens’s father, William, opened it in 1993. “My dad always had a really dedicated following,” she said. “Mostly older white men: collectors, people really interested in this esoteric natural-history world. And then it changed. Instead of the stuffy professor we’d always seen, nowadays, our demographic is much younger, more diverse, and much more female.”
It may seem surprising that women are charting the future of taxidermy, but there’s historical precedent for it. At the turn of the 19th century, both fashion and leisure led many women to craft with animal parts. Victorian housewives and aristocratic ladies spent much of their downtime on “fancywork,” which is commonly understood to mean needlepoint or ornamental crocheting, but it often included using materials that allowed urban women to engage with nature, such as shells, mosses, feathers, and insects. Magazines and books from the late 1800s encouraged women to try their hands at bird and bug taxidermy in order create decorations for their homes, bonnets, and frocks. It was not uncommon to see stuffed hummingbird earrings, gowns embroidered with fish scales, and hats adorned with shiny, multicolored beetles.
There were famous professional female taxidermists of the era, as well. “It’s like every other part of history,” said Anantharaman. “Women have been there. You just don’t hear a lot of their stories.”
Australians Jane Catharine Tost and her daughter Ada Jane Rohu were pioneers in both taxidermy and female entrepreneurship. Together, they exhibited their award-winning work internationally, and in 1872, they opened their own establishment, later named Tost & Rohu, which was called
“the queerest shop in Australia.” There, they sold their pieces along with historical artifacts and curiosities.