Call it macabre or plain crazy, but Reid Peppard is gaining quite the following for her taxidermy accessories and animal-based jewelry. But this is no play for morbid curiosity. Approaching taxidermy from an artistic angle, the London designer elevates the practice to a level of luxury. Besides, someone has to clear roadkill…
What made you start looking at dead animals and seeing their potential as accessories?
I had been using taxidermy in my art practice for a while before I began on taxidermy accessories. I learnt taxidermy under a master taxidermist in Yorkshire while completing my degree in fine art at Central Saint Martins. With the accessories, I wanted to find a way to take the same concepts that drove my art installations or static sculptures and make something that could exist as an artwork outside the constraints of a traditional gallery setting. When you wear one of these works, people approach you to talk about the concept behind the piece, making it both a sculpture and a performance. It makes people think.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever found when preparing an animal for its next life as a purse?
The squirrel clutch I made for the Park collection was a particularly sad case. The squirrel had been run over in Finsbury Park near the station. When it came time to skin her I was treated to my first ever experience with curdled milky breasts. The scent didn’t leave me for a few days. But I think the worst thing is knowing that when she was run over it wasn’t just she who died. Her babies probably passed away, too.
Where do you look for roadkill and what’s the craziest thing you’ve done to get your hands on a carcass?
I ride a bike, so I see roadkill all the time. I also have an amazing network of friends, all of whom are on constant lookout for roadkill. Probably the craziest thing I did for roadkill was take a massive dead fox on the bus. He was in a bin liner, or two, but he was fucking heavy, and when I got back to the studio I realized a few claws had poked their way through the plastic, exposing a single bloody paw. Nice.
Couldn’t you catch a disease when, for example, making a necklace out of a squirrel’s heart?
No, it’s pretty hard to catch anything while making taxidermy. Unless you’re licking a ten-day-old corpse, you’re really going to be fine. I freeze everything I work with before skinning, which is going to kill off 99% of any nasties, and I always wear gloves. Also, the sterling silver jewelry is made entirely of sterling silver. No little squirrel heart is set within the jewelry—a common misconception. So the only risk there is that you’ll scratch up your fingers when you’re hand-filling silver, which does happen but isn’t fatal.
When you die, what would you like to be made into?
I’m a registered donor, so slice and dice me as you please when I’m gone. I do have plans for a lovely breastplate that I would like to have made from my scalp, but otherwise I’m pretty open minded.