Artist Sarina Brewer Expresses Herself Through Taxidermy

Twin Cities artist Sarina Brewer is part of a movement called Rogue Taxidermy, which combines the preserved bodies of animals with mixed media to create surreal sculptures that visually animate the line between the living and the dead. Her work has been exhibited in France, shown in a museum in Switzerland, and appeared in galleries in Los Angeles and Minnesota. (Because only road kill and deceased pets are used, no animals are harmed in the process of creating her work.) 

“I graduated from MCAD, and so did both my parents—that’s where they met. My mom has done children’s books and graphic design, and my father has been a fine artist all his life. They’re really supportive but I’m sure they thought I might do something a little more lucrative with my interest in animals, like veterinary school.”

“I was born on a hobby farm after my parents graduated. It was in Green Isle, MN, and they had lots of animals. By first grade I had a menagerie of strange pets around the house, and my mom would do wildlife rehab. So I’ve been surrounded by animals and art my whole life.”

“My mom’s side of the family was living in Iowa on a family farm. I went there in the summer and was let loose with my cousins. There was a creek running through the property, with arrowheads and stuff—and I found a raccoon skull there, all ocher stained. I hung on to it for many years, and then I started collecting other natural-history artifacts. Around second or third grade my walk-in closet was like a museum, full of these kinds of objects with special meaning.”

“When I was really upset after a pet had died, my mother told me about reincarnation. And that was great, because then they weren’t entirely gone. A part of them was still around. And so when I work with animals now, it’s a story about how part of the animal has left and we don’t know where it’s going to end up next.”

“I moved toward taxidermy. I had been interested in anomalies of nature since going to the Minnesota State Fair and seeing things like cows with extra legs. The first thing I made was a two-headed squirrel—off-the-wall stuff—and there was a market for it. I started off selling to tattoo-shop proprietors who wanted something interesting for their parlors. Then I moved into showing in galleries, and the ball started rolling downhill. It started going crazy.”

“The concept of what is respectful is completely relative to cultures and individuals—we have a certain expectation to conform to standards, but there should be room for unorthodox ways of honoring or paying tribute. I have had a need to have a tangible, physical part of my pets [after they died]. That’s a deep, human need or desire across cultures, to keep something either animal or human.”

“This is definitely a calling. As a child I was very shy, and I haven’t recovered from that. I was never a social butterfly, and animals were my go-to friends. I was the science nerd in the backyard waiting for a butterfly to come out of its cocoon, or for the flying ants to arrive.”

“I used to get hate mail all the time—I think especially because, being a woman, people expect you to be nurturing. If I were a guy, it would have been more acceptable. But that doesn’t happen any more. The people who contact me do it out of camaraderie. I like to say that I’ve gone from controversial to contagious.”

Quinton Skinner is a writer and editor based in the Twin Cities. A former senior editor of Minnesota Monthly, he held the same post at Twin Cities METRO and 
has written for major national and local publications. He is the co-founder of Logosphere Storysmiths and author of several novels, including his latest, Odd One Out.