Taxidermy with Derek Frampton


Written by Kieron Monks
08 Friday 08th May 2009

Derek Frampton is a taxidermist of some distinction. Over an illustrious career spanning 35 years he has populated the most eminent museums and galleries in Britain, winning numerous awards along the way. Numbering Vinnie Jones and Heston Blumenthal among his teeming list of clients, Frampton has created everything from hybrid duck-rabbits to a 21 foot dragon. Don't Panic visited Frampton's countryside retreat in Aspley, Hertfordshire for insights into his unique art.

How did you get into taxidermy?

When I was 12 I found a dead bird in the gutter and took it home. Its feathers were beautiful and I liked drawing them and putting them in different positions. After a while it started to smell and my mum told me to get it out of the house, but I kept the feathers in a bag under my bed. I started looking for dead animals, but I didn't know what to do with them. After a couple of years I stopped drawing and began preparing them. The revelation was that once you'd preserved them you could put them in any position. The fascination was to get things looking very real-you could create any image you wanted.

Derek in his studio

Where do you get the animals?

Usually the customers supply them. A lot of the museums get them from zoos or private collections. Individuals who ring up tend to have have picked something up from the road, usually birds.

Who generally buys them?

All sorts - museums, celebrities, artists. I've done quite a lot for Vinnie Jones. I made Heston Blumenthal's cockatrice, which was a lot of fun - I do enjoy working with artists. Collectors tend to be very enthusiastic.

What's been your most interesting project to work on?

I made a diorama for the Royal Scottish Museum which was a 40ft history of the forests in Scotland. It starts with Tundra, goes through Birch woodland to Caledonian pine forest at the end. Apart from the animals it's a whole botanical site with a cross section of geology, which took two years to complete. I also made a 21 ft dragon for the first Harry Potter film.

Duck rabbit hybrid for artist Simon Cunningham-Is it a duck...or a rabbit

How has the industry changed over your 35 years?

The materials have come on leaps and bounds. Rules are a lot stricter now, you need licences and article 10s to keep birds. You're not allowed to accept birds that have been shot. I still use quite traditional techniques though. With a large mammal I make a sculpted mould and then pour foam in, whereas a lot of modern taxidermists order a mannequin and put the skin over it. The advantage is that it fits the animal, instead of the animal fitting the mannequin. More lifelike.

Derek knocking up an eye

Can you restore anything?

It depends how fresh the animal is. If they've hung around too long it's impossible and sometimes the wounds from road kill are too severe. But quite often things like badgers just freeze on the road and get a clean whack, so often it's easy to restore. As long as the fur is in good order, bones don't matter so much. Pigeons are a nightmare because their skin is like wet cigarette paper so it takes a long time. Parrots have skin like boot leather so they're easy.

How long do stuffed animals last?

Once it's set up, almost indefinitely. They are susceptible to insects like moths and carpet beetles, but can last for centuries.

Find out more from the Taxidermists Guild

Photography by Matthew Hass

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  • Guest: xtiaan
    Fri 12 - Aug - 2011, 04:56
    um a mower is something you do your lawns with, I think you mean Moa