Beth Beverly got the mysterious call from Hollywood a year ago: five dead squirrels, as soon as possible.
The taxidermist obtained the animals from roadkill and local hunters, then set to work in her South Philadelphia studio — carefully removing the squirrels’ insides and tanning their hides by hand.
She had no idea what show her handiwork would be used for, until she happened to see it on her TV screen in late October: in the second season of the Netflix hit Stranger Things.
“I was bouncing off the walls,” said Beverly, 39.
Initially trained as a jewelry designer at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, Beverly brings an alternative sensibility to a craft once limited to hunting lodges and old fireplace mantels. Her creature creations are meant to be worn, used, even hung on Christmas trees — vehicles of artistic expression, not trophies to commemorate a kill.
And because she is sworn to sustainability — working only with animals that died of natural causes or were hunted for their meat, not for trophy purposes — she is sought out by TV and movie producers. You know those notices in the credits stating that no animals were harmed for the purpose of production? That is Beverly’s calling card.
Another draw is her unusual artistic bent, said Stranger Things prop master Lynda Reiss, who raved about Beverly’s online portfolio.
“I liked her site because it looked like she was somebody who would be more amenable to thinking outside the classic taxidermy box to me,” Reiss said. “It’s an art form that seems to be very old-fashioned, but she’s young and seems to be very much in tune with trying to bring it up to date.”
Beverly’s squirrels were used in a flashback sequence in the show. Living off the land, the character Eleven uses her mystical powers to levitate a squirrel and fling it against a tree, then roasts it over a fire for dinner. Later, she is shown walking through the woods, carrying several squirrels on a string.
Beverly was hired to make five “soft mount” squirrels, filled with rice and cotton batting so they would remain limp like freshly killed animals, rather than the stiff, frozen poses of classic taxidermy (though she can do that, too, having studied the trade at a school in the Poconos).
“It’s kind of like a stuffed animal,” she said.
She also made a foam model of a squirrel carcass for use in the roasting scene.
“They had their props department paint it red and make it all bloody-looking,” she said. “Who knew that something I made would be connected to such a great show that I like so much?”
Beverly also teaches her craft at the University of the Arts, and she has hosted an “alt taxidermy” competition in Philadelphia.
Though there is periodic business from Hollywood, she sells most of her wares on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods. Her home in South Philadelphia is bedecked with animal-based artwork in various stages of completion — including a charm made from a rooster leg, phone cases made from deer hides, and sheep legs that will have new life as candle holders. The latter came from a farmer who had raised the animal for meat. If not for Beverly’s interest, the limbs would simply have been thrown out.
Before giving a tour of her basement studio, equipped with scalpels and other tools for removing flesh from bone, she paused to apologize.
“It’s going to smell kind of farmy downstairs,” she said.
It’s actually not bad, but Beverly said her olfactory system is hypersensitive because she is more than six months pregnant. Though not formally trained in the sciences, she has a keen appreciation for anatomy, pausing to remark, say, on the curvature of a bone.
Beverly concedes that her products are not to everyone’s taste. One of the most unusual is a handbag made from the hide of a baby goat, with a handle made from the animal’s vertebrae.
“It’s a very specific kind of person that would buy that,” she said.
Maybe Hollywood will bite.