Meet Divya, Brooklyn's Hottest Taxidermist
Divya Anantharaman is a total fox. Fitting, because she's been working with foxes (well, the one fox ended up being a coyote), deer, bears, etc., on a regular basis for the last seven years. Divya's a taxidermist in New York City. We admit that our bias has gotten the best of us, and it was a bit of a shock that someone of Divya's appearance/demeanor would choose a line of work most often associated with...well, not someone who looks like Divya. (She even teaches taxidermy classes on the side!)
Divya, who before this worked in fashion but has no plans to go back, was kind enough to take us into her morbidly beautiful and bizarrely nice-smelling studio to take pictures, talk dead bears, and touch some animals we swore could have come alive at any moment and bitten our wrists.
Obvious question, but how did you get into the taxidermy scene?
I've been doing it for a while. My mom was a biology teacher and she'd always have her jars of specimens and things like that. And I never thought it was something weird—I appreciated anatomy. I guess I wasn't like the traditional scientist; I've always had an explorative spirit.
"I wanted to start collecting roadkill earlier, but my mom told me I couldn't. After I moved and went to college, I would collect little skulls and clean them—because it's easier than skinning and tanning."
How did all of these animals die?
A bunch of different ways. I get most of my animals discarded from food services—and that includes snake food, like these chicks, and other animals. That's where all these mice come from; they come frozen like mice popsicles for snakes. And the rest, I don't want to create a demand for, because it'd be weird to go out and get them. That's why I like discards.
Interesting. So this is second-hand stuff?
I work in garbage. A lot of the birds I just buy whole. A small percentage are discards from other taxidermists or, during actual hunting season, I will go and harvest the meat and do the dirty deed that no one wants to think about.
Did you kill this bear?
[Laughs] No, this bear is very old. He was given to me and he doesn't fit in my home anywhere. He's really sweet, he has such great character. People expect to see this kind of stuff in my home—lions and tigers. Maybe one day.
"I don't buy a lot of new taxidermy. I usually just trade with other taxidermists. Most of the stuff I have is old and has a great story."
What's your favorite piece thus far?
My favorite piece I sold. It was a Duiker mount and it was in this guy's freezer for like 40 years. They're small animals, about the size of a deer, with little tiny horns. It was little and he didn't care about it. He had a bunch of stuff for me, but he just didn't call me for a while.
What sort of guy was he?
He was a prolific hunter. His home was Explorers Club style...it was like Noah's Ark. I ended up befriending his son and when his dad died, he left all of his animals for me. I assumed he thought I was just some f**king hipster from Brooklyn.
How much of the cleaning and tanning of the animal happens in your studio?
In here, I put stuff together—unless they're small, like chickens or pheasants. I clean the animals wherever I get them. You have to clean and prepare them as soon as possible or they'll spoil, and people want the meat.
Kinda like when you're cooking.
Some of the stuff I have are from game farms—that deer fawn, that stillborn sheep. They just save them for me and I'll skin them and take measurements. Sometimes I'll take my stuff there and make a death mask.
What was the hardest animal you've worked on?
The lamb was pretty difficult. Small animals are a lot more delicate and hard. A lot of people think the deer heads will be the hardest, but people have hunted deer so much and it's so commercially viable that you don't need to do anything special for your own.
What's your clientele like?
It's funny, I thought it was going to be a lot of goths, but it's really been all different types of people. I get a lot of first-time buyers with the prettier pieces, like birds and bunnies. Probably because they're all little and cute.
"I remember my first taxidermy—it was a little freeze-dried deer fawn and it was adorable. The small pieces make sense, especially in NYC."
Do you get any weird reactions to your appearance? You look nothing like a taxidermy enthusiast.
This generation has more women working, so it makes sense to have more women doctors, more women taxidermists. In all the classes I teach, there are 90 to 95 percent women.