This is not your dad's stuffed deer head.
After decades of being relegated to man caves and hunting lodges, taxidermy is hip.
Three television shows delve into the art of preserving animals, and its practitioners, who are, as you might imagine, a quirky lot. There are national taxidermy competitions and conferences and even a Brooklyn museum devoted to the art.
At Bazaar, a Hampden curiosity shop that opened last year, taxidermied ducklings that died soon after pecking through their shells, jars with preserved fox and coyote heads and even a rare albino raccoon are on display. The shop can't keep up with the demand for the taxidermy workshops it started hosting last month.
Tickets for an upcoming class on preserving moles — and outfitting them with eyeglasses and coffee mugs — sold out within minutes, said Bazaar co-owner Greg Hatem, 26.
"We had people lined up at the door to get in the class," he said.
Unlike the stuffed bucks and bears of years past, today's taxidermy skews toward the fanciful. Think two-headed squirrels, goats with fishtails or mice wearing petticoats.
Practitioners are more likely to scour country roads for dead animals than hunt. And, in contrast to the boys club atmosphere in most taxidermy shops, many of the biggest names in taxidermy today are women.
"It's like any other art," said Miranda Beck, 36, a Federal Hill aesthetician. "It's so interesting to me to have these wild, untamable animals in my living room, to bring the wildness in."
Beck vowed to learn taxidermy to mark her 30th birthday, and, since then, she has preserved eight animals. And that's not counting the pets she mummified for friends or the earrings she fashioned from deer vertebrae.
Beck, who grew up in the city, said her closest brushes with wildlife as a child were taxidermied animals in the Smithsonian. A self-described "anatomy geek," she savors studying animals she would never be able to get close to in the wild.
"You notice the different textures of fur," she said. "Otherwise you'd never know the difference between the fur of a raccoon and a fox."
While modern taxidermy — the practice of preserving, stuffing and mounting animals — arose in the 1700s, the current fascination is inspired by the whimsical creations of the Victorian era, said Robert Marbury. He is a Baltimore resident, although he's also the president of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists.
While traditional taxidermists attempt to create a perfect specimen of an animal in a lifelike pose, rogue taxidermists create chimeras — say the head of a chicken on a body of a cat — or pose animals to make them look human. The works are playful, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, and often quite beautiful.
Marbury, whose book, "The Rogue's Guide to Taxidermy," is slated to be published in the fall, says taxidermy provides a connection to the visceral realities of fur and bone and death, even — a sharp contrast to the virtual worlds that consume us.
Beck, the aesthetician, was among a dozen people who filed into Bazaar for a winged-guinea pig-making workshop on a recent chilly Sunday.
A partially thawed guinea pig was placed in front of each seat, and participants studied them carefully, picking the furry face they found most appealing. Some of the students looked a little queasy as the reality of the day's tasks sunk in.
"If anyone needs some fresh air, you can go out the front door," said Bazaar co-owner Brian Henry, 25. "Or if there's an emergency, you can go out the back."
The workshop instructor, Katie Innamorato, 24, handed out scalpels and latex gloves, which, she said, most people prefer to wear.
Innamorato wore a ski hat pulled over her long, wavy Janis Joplin-like hair and a fox tail clipped to her waist band. She peppered the workshop with tales of Banjo, the fox that she rescued from an unscrupulous owner and lived with in a cabin in the woods for several months. Banjo was sweet and snugly, but smelled terrible and had a penchant for stealing brie, she said. Eventually, she gave him to a zoo.