Friday, March 10, 2000  

When most people think of taxidermy, they might imagine a deer head strategically placed over a fireplace in a hunter's den, or perhaps a grizzly bear posed in a frightful reenactment of attack. Think again.

Thanks to online auction sites, artists and do-it-yourself taxidermists have stolen the spotlight from the traditional craftsmen. Instead of the usual pheasant and fish mounts, silly squirrels dressed in costumes and freakish two-headed ducks are becoming more popular with bidders. And the artists are having trouble keeping up with the demands.

Mark Frierson, a sideshow artist from Houston, Texas, says he's been doing his own form of "white trash taxidermy" for the last 20 years. He takes actual creatures that are already taxidermied and adds or removes parts to transform them into something entirely different. He also creates from scratch completely fabricated beings that never existed at all, and then sells them in online auctions.

"Some of the things I do, like the two-headed alligator and Monkey Dog, are new twists to old carnival sideshow standards, or creatures pulled straight from legends and myths," Frierson says. "I try to create something bizarre, but totally believable that would freak out visitors to a sideshow or even someone's own personal collection in their house and go from there."

Ranging in price from $75 for small animals to $1,200 for human-sized mummies and creatures, Frierson says that since he's started selling his masterpieces on online auctions the greater portion of his actual sales have been people requesting custom work. One of his more unusual pieces made especially for a client included flesh-eating toads from Madagascar.