It was the lamb that did it. A couple of years ago, I was browsing at the London Craftacular – a fabulously cool event for anyone interested in what’s happening in the craft world right now, run by State of Craft author and How To Spend It’s very own Victoria Woodcock. There I saw an utterly arresting sight: a teeny-tiny, days-old lamb (second picture) curled up on a table and seeming so contented and peaceful that, were it not for its surrounding companions – which included a suspiciously stationary blue tit, a pheasant and, oh yes, the head of a rabbit – I would have sworn it was asleep. The sheer beauty of the animal and the fact that it was so tragically dead were deeply moving.
The macabre menagerie belonged to Jazmine Miles-Long, an “ethical taxidermist” (and life-long vegetarian) who only works with birds and animals that have died from natural causes (birds from about £160 – blackbird in first picture, herring gull in third picture; mammals from about £300). After gaining a degree in fine art/sculpture at Brighton, where she used live and dead (but unpreserved) animals in her sculptures, she worked voluntarily at Brighton’s Booth Museum of Natural History, while teaching herself about taxidermy. The nature of it didn’t worry her: “I found the muscles of the animals (my first was a mole) more interesting than gory – it’s not as bloody or gross as you’d imagine.” Miles-Long’s main aims are to show people “how fragile and beautiful these creatures are” and to give taxidermy “a better reputation. It’s not all hunting and trophies – there are other ways of doing it.”
She creates captivating pieces from creatures brought to her by a network of friends and contacts, and which I view as true works of art. After our first meeting, I left with the sharp-eyed, dainty blue tit (which each year graces the top of the Christmas tree). But I knew I’d be back. I’ve since bought a stunning green woodpecker that sits on the mantelpiece and transfixes visitors, and I’m eyeing up a squirrel. But I’m still mad about that lamb.