Waterloo’s Seamus Coyne is a taxidermist, bone carver and artist. “I always feel like I have to make something and the act of creating gets me excited,” he says.
Seamus is fairly new to the world of taxidermy, with a year and half apprenticeship under his belt but he came to taxidermy through his appreciation of animal skulls. “I developed an interest in oddities and curiosities found at antique shops and I discovered this amazing hand-carved, water buffalo skull that I bought immediately,” he said. “It inspired me to go on a skull-finding mission so I could try carving myself.”
In an effort to locate animal skulls, he found a taxidermist in Walton, Ontario who piqued his interest in the field and eventually took him on as an apprentice. Seamus’s basement workshop and house is filled with mounted animals and skulls of all kinds, illustrating how committed he is to his new craft.
Sometimes people misconstrue what he does, thinking he doesn’t like animals or wants to harm them, but he insists the opposite is true. “I love animals and want to preserve them,” he says. “I want to continue to find beauty and art in them after they are dead.”
He isn’t a hunter so the animals he gets for his projects mostly come in the form of road kill, or from local farmers who have removed a pesky critter from their barn (think raccoons) or even from butchers, who give him leftover goat or pig heads.
Lately, he has even received “donations” left at his doorstep in a plastic bag, box or, thankfully, a cooler. As soon as he gets a carcass, it hits the freezer so he can prepare to treat it.
Typically, he will skin the animal, removing the inner squishy bits, tan the hide and clean the bones. He cleans the skull by boiling it for a day. He is quick to point out that he now does this outside of his home studio after a particularly horrible smell infiltrated his house after boiling a snake. The bones then need to be degreased over the course of a week, followed by a week-long whitening session with a peroxide solution. Then he studies them, to determine what design to carve.
Skulls are fragile, so he uses a hand-held Dremel to make his carvings. His early work had mandella-inspired images and as his confidence and artistry has grown, he has moved to more complex filigree designs. In a recent project with a boar skull, he carved an image of the boar on the boar’s jaw [how meta!] and wants to continue with figures designs.
Seamus says one artistic activity can quickly lead him to another. A friend, who raises snakes, recently passed on the carcasses of some snakes that had died. From a deceased red-tailed boa constrictor, he turned the hide into snake-skin wallets, and he can barely keep up with the demand.
He has a significant following on Instagram, which is also the primary way he displays his work. The site helps him picks up commissioned jobs, such as a recent bull head with horns for Waterloo barber, Bright Barber.
He shyly admits that his recent artistic enthusiasms would not have taken off without his amazingly supportive wife Emily. “I have the coolest wife who not only has fully embraced my love of animal hides and skulls, but also really supports what I’m doing,” he says.
Want to see Seamus’s work in person? Head to the Tri-City Roller Derby Beaver Fever 2015 event this weekend – Saturday, May 9. He and his skull friends will be there. Otherwise, keep up to date with him on Instagram.
P.S. Favorite topic of conversation: cool and crazy inventions