Heritage Taxidermy is an Artistry That Brings Animals Back to Life
By Kayla Anderson
Giving New Life
Story by Kayla Anderson
Photos by Ronda Alvey
MARINA STRADA IS an animal lover – she loves the spunky and very-much-alive animals at her estate just as much as the afterlife ones in her workspace.
At her home and Heritage Taxidermy in Carlotta, three excited medium-sized dogs come rushing over to the fence, furiously wagging their tails. On the front porch, a cluster of hummingbirds buzz around, trying to claim the feeder. And inside, two turkeylings sit in a glass enclosure chirping under a heat lamp and a beta fish named Rudy swims around in a jar in the kitchen. Out back, three more turkeys, a few goats, 15 chickens and four ducks eat, cluck, and happily do their thing in the fenced-in yard.
In her Heritage Taxidermy showroom/workshop, Strada is just finishing up mounting a peacock that someone gave her after it passed away naturally. She spent the better part of a day skinning, washing the feathers, sewing and reshaping it onto the mold. The result is a peacock that looks perfectly preserved, proud and magnificent in its shimmery plumage.
Ever since Strada was a kid, she wanted to be an artist and she loved animals. As she got older, she became interested in anatomy and physiology, and was exposed to the entirety of the animals from working in a butcher shop in Lake Tahoe. It was there where she met hunters that brought in deer and wild game; it enlightened her to how people could use every part of the animal in their afterlife, and not just for the meat.
In 2011, Strada moved to Humboldt County where there’s more wild, open land. She attended a taxidermy school in Oregon and fell in love with the art form, then started doing it in her spare time.
“I think taxidermy is so fascinating and there’s so much to learn. Every animal, every species is different,” she says.
In 2014, Strada had enough clients to officially start her own business and launched Heritage Taxidermy in Ferndale. Strada says that Humboldt is a good place for her business as it’s where she grew up, fishing and going
“Here, fishing and hunting is a way of life,” she says.
At Heritage Taxidermy, Strada handles the whole process from start to finish on her own, including the tanning, skinning, fleshing, salting, curing and more.
“Taxidermists wear many hats. We have to be butchers, seamstresses, chemists and carpenters. And you can’t rush the process, you can’t skip steps,” she says.
Her favorite part of the taxidermy process is when a project is completed and looks like the animal has been brought back to life, along with being a part of a memorable experience.
“I like to hear about kids’ first bucks and parents who’ve taught them the right way to hunt. It’s not just about shooting an animal, it’s about the experience. Hunting is a difficult task; there’s a lot involved in the activity itself and I think that’s the whole purpose of taxidermy, reliving the moment,” Strada says.
“It’s special to me to be part of that experience. I don’t condone trophy hunting; I’m into the people that work hard to get that meat that in turn feeds their families for the year. You’re taking something’s life, and that’s not to be taken lightly,” she says, adding that she still gets emotional after every kill.
Walking around Strada’s showroom, she points out a Himalayan tahr that took second place in the pro division of a recent California Association of Taxidermists event.
“The caliber of art there is amazing. The judging is so involved, they’re in there with flashlights poking around everything. The anatomy must be perfect. That’s what sets you apart from an average taxidermist – the attention to detail,” she says.
Strada has also done work for California State Parks, including Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park, recreating a porcupine and a ring-tailed cat, as well as donated work to the Mendocino County Blacktail Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and other hunting/conservation groups.
“Those are the people trying to preserve public lands, using the money they raise for herd management. Hunters donate the most money to those causes, and a lot of it goes toward research. It’s expensive to buy tags from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, but they need that money to help fight poachers and protect the fish,” she says.
Strada believes that she has the best job in the world because she never stops learning, but takes a moment to address the misconceptions about taxidermy.
“I think that people believe we’re kind of heartless and that’s so far from the truth. Or people think it’s a dirty gross business, but it’s not as bad as you think. I’m just so interested in what’s underneath and putting it back together again,” Strada says. •
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