Taxidermy transformed my life: Norfolk artist on overcoming mental health issues
PUBLISHED: 09:15 18 December 2018 | UPDATED: 09:25 18 December 2018
Butterflies come into being through a remarkable transformation from caterpillars. That sense of emerging into a new life is something that Norfolk taxidermist, entomologist and artist Jenna Lingwood can identify with and butterflies were her starting point.
After being diagnosed with mental health issues and finding herself homeless, the 27-year-old began creating artworks from the colourful insects and in the two years since has established a thriving business with clients as far afield as the US.
From butterfly collections to decorated skulls and sculptures made from bones and skeletons, her remarkable creations, made in the Diss home she shares with her two pet boa constrictors, Lady Penelope and Princess Delilah, are much in demand.
She said: “It all started with the butterflies. I had recently lost my job and become homeless and been diagnosed with mental health and fibromyalgia, so it was a really weird time for me. So when I moved into a new flat I was looking for something to decorate it with, something a bit different, and I came across butterflies. Being an artist I looked at it and I thought I could give this a go.
“It was almost immediately that I realised the butterfly had a significant meaning to the place I was in, within my life in that moment. The fragility of the butterfly resonated, and reflected my current mental state. After pinning my first few I felt a frenzy coming on. I was instantly addicted.”
Though she had studying fine art at South Essex University, taxidermy was something new and she is entirely self-taught through a mixture of YouTube videos and butterfly encyclopaedias.
“I did do a lot of things wrong at the beginning but I learnt as I went along,” she explains. “I bought in all the stuff that I needed and started practising and realised that it is very delicate and you have to be very patient, but I found that helped massively with mental health, being able to focus on something.
“Though doing this I think I have learnt so much about myself. Before I started this I was not a patient person or an approachable person, but now I feel like I have completely turned that around. It takes so much patience for each piece.”
Taxidermy has traditionally been associated with hunting and trophy collecting but Jenna is part of a new generation who see taxidermy as art.
She said: “Obviously taxidermy has a bit of a stigma with it. Some people assume you go around killing things but that is not the case. Everything is ethically sourced from sustainable sources and everything has died of natural causes. In a sense I see it as honouring the animal by creating something beautiful from it and giving it essentially a second life.”
As part of her treatment for mental health she was encouraged to set up her own online business, Jenna’s Curio Cabinet, which now has a big following of loyal customers, many in America but increasingly in the UK.
She hopes to open a shop in Diss and plans more home décor and interior design work and taxidermy involving larger animals.
She said; “I would like to do some large animal full skeleton articulations, even if I could just get hold of farmyard animals. I am hoping to get more exploratory.”
As she has progressed into working with bones and skeletons to create sculptures the work has become more complicated but it hasn’t left her squeamish.
“My dad used to hunt when I was growing up so we’d have rabbit around the kitchen and I’d be exposed to skinning and things like that,” she said.
“When I buy things online, like the skulls, they will quite often be road kill that has been found. I hate to see it go to waste when I found be creating something new from it.”
The creation that holds most significance is titled Walking With A Heavy Heart, a sculpture of a fairy made of small rodent bones, frog beetle shell, damselfly wings, reindeer moss, dried flowers and a small pine cone
“For me that is quite a powerful piece,” she said. “It symbolises my struggle with mental health. There are lots of people out there who are struggling with a similar kind of thing and who find it difficult to voice their opinions. When you have these negative thoughts it tends to go on a spiral and it is very difficult to break out of that. I think people can relate to the work.”
• Visit Jennas Curio Cabinet to find out more