Immortalized: AMC series explores world of competitive taxidermy

Beth Beverly, one of the taxidermists on AMC’s Immortalized, strives in the world of competitive taxidermy. Wait, you didn’t know there was a world of competitive taxidermy?

Beth Beverly of AMC's immortalized wears one of her rogue taxidermy creations.Well, that’s why it’s great we have shows like Immortalized to open up new parts of the world for us. The unscripted AMC series — premiering Feb. 14 at 10pm — is stuffed (sorry) with interesting people carrying out a profession some deem art while others find it just plain creepy.

In each episode, one of the four “Immortalizers” — Beverly, Dave Houser, Page Nethercutt and Takeshi Yamada — will face off against a challenger to see who can impress the judges more on the bases of originality, craftsmanship and interpretation of the designated theme. There’s no money at stake, just pride in an art form for which all the participants carry a thorough dedication.

Beverly is billed as “Philadelphia’s premier rogue taxidermist,” meaning she sets up animal scenes that don’t occur in nature. Think turning a goat’s feet into candleholders, or trimming a duck foot with fox fur and using it to clutch a Christmas ornament. She says she hopes the show will dispel some myths about her profession. Mainly, that they’re not all just dark and disturbed Norman Bates types.

Channel Guide Magazine: What does it mean to be a “rogue” taxidermist?

Beth Beverly: I would say “rogue” means any kind of using taxidermy to create creatures or situations that don’t appear in nature. The term “rogue” is best applied because it’s off the beaten path, and it’s veering from the traditional. There are a good deal of traditional commercial taxidermists who don’t appreciate dressing up deer so they have jewels in their antlers, or they’re wearing a nose ring or something. That doesn’t appeal to them. You’d obviously have to ask them, but when I was in school my instructor would say it’s a respect for the craft to keep it consistent with how it’s been done for so many years. They would say the point of taxidermy is to recreate what is in nature, and so it seems absurd to someone who isn’t interested in rogue to be dressing up rabbits to have a tea party or something like that.

CGM: What are people going to learn about taxidermy watching Immortalized?

BB: What surprises me that people didn’t already know is what actually goes into a taxidermy mount. People still will bring me animals to this day [with the meat still inside]. That’s what leads to this misconception that it’s a very messy and dirty and bloody, gory craft. Actually, it’s no more messy than carving meat in the kitchen. People will take away from it a brief education, the nuts and bolts of the craft itself. Also, what I’m hoping people take away from it is that we are artists, whether you’re in the rogue variety or you do commercial mounts, I think we’re all artists, we all care a great deal about animals.

CGM: How much have you been involved in the competitive aspect of taxidermy?

BB: I’m definitely not as involved in it as Page and Dave. That’s how a lot of those guys can really get more business is from going to shows, collecting first-places. There’s also a ton of prize money in some of those competitions. It’s their bread-and-butter for some of those guys. For me, I’d like to get more into the competition, but I’ve been focused more on the rogue competitions, and also competitions that aren’t even taxidermy-related. I bring taxidermy into hats and wearables. I am way off the beaten path, I guess, as far as competition market goes.

CGM: So how was it all of a sudden competing on Immortalized

BB: It was a little gut-wrenching at first, I have to admit. I was very nervous, because it was so blind. I didn’t know who I was matched up against, what they were capable of. I had no idea what was in store for me, but what I really like is performing, and so being able to talk to the judges and give them a performance, so to speak, of this is why I interpreted the scene the way I did, and here’s what I did. To incorporate that into the entire competition was really suitable for me. It’s more well-rounded, it’s not just “Here is my mount,” and then you walk away and watch people inspect it.

CGM: How did you handle having the cameras there for all the non-competition parts?

BB: That was fun. It felt unusual at first. It was a new experience, because I’ve worked on shoots before, but always from the stylist’s perspective, I’ve never been the subject. That took some getting used to, but it was really fun to play hostess and have people come to Philly and show them all the great stuff here. And also show off all the stuff in my studio.

Photo: Credit: Ben Leuner/AMC