Interview with Polly Morgan

Written by Michaela Widergren

The first time I saw one of the art pieces by Polly Morgan, I was immediately drawn to the beautiful and delicate animals. Polly Morgan is a taxidermist and an artist, combining the two in an enchanting and most original way. “All taxidermied(sic.) animals are either road casualties, or have been donated to the artist by pet owners and vets after natural or unpreventable deaths.”

How did it come, that you became a taxidermist? Did you ever think, while growing up, that you would become one?
 No, but that was really because I didn’t know any taxidermists so it didn’t occur to me that I could be one. I think if I had, I would have decided to learn sooner. I was certainly keen to hang on to dead animals when I found them but was carefully encouraged by my Mother to bury them instead!
How did your education start, and how did it feel, touching the deceased animals for the first time?
 It started because I researched taxidermists online and found a practitioner willing to teach me in Scotland.
It began as just a day’s lesson but he then became more of a mentor and I returned to him whenever I got the chance and spoke to him regularly on the telephone. Touching the first bird was thrilling, as everything was new to me – I had never studied animals this closely before and it was fascinating.
Are there different techniques to taxidermy, or is there only one way to go?
 There are different techniques. The traditional technique, which I use, is where the skin is first removed and tanned, the body constructed either with wood wool or cast foam or fiberglass, and the skin then stretched over and stitched up around the form.
There is another technique called erosion casting, where a mold is built around the body and it is then left to rot before the mold is removed. Within both these techniques there are many variations too – there is no singular way to do it.

While reading about you online, I got the feeling that you just happened to become an artist, is that the actual fact? Or, was it always the obvious choice?
 It wasn’t something I really planned, although looking back over my youth I can see that I was always heading in that direction. My interests were always very arts-focused and I gravitated towards artists, I just didn’t see myself as one until I started working with taxidermy.
How do you choose which animals to work with?
 Sometimes they are integral to the piece for symbolic reasons; other times it is more about the shape and form of the creature that is particularly important. The other consideration is always what I can get hold of. Sometimes I think of a piece of work that involves animals I can’t get hold of and I have to put it to one side and work on something else.
For your art pieces, do you have a definite plan from the beginning, or do you work on intuition and impulse?
 Mostly these days I have a plan. I then have to experiment awhile in the studio to help me work out the execution of the piece. Sometimes I discover things along the way that change the outcome.
Which one(s) of your art projects has been the most emotional and personal creating?
 There isn’t really one in particular. Each new piece takes a lot out of me and makes me feel very insecure at times. Making art is a very personal thing and I feel very exposed showing it to others. There is also a sense of relief when something is complete that makes it all worthwhile.  

Which one of your pieces is most precious to you today? Is there any of your pieces that you are extra careful about?
 No. I like to be rid of everything as soon as it is made. I find it very difficult to move on with new work if I still have older works in the studio. It doesn’t matter how happy I am with a work, I don’t want to hang onto it.
Is there an animal that you have not yet gotten your hands on, that you would like to work with?
 This idea changes all the time, depending on what I am working on. Right now I am looking for Lovebirds for a new work but in a few months it could be something completely different. It is always nice to work on something I’ve not worked on before as I learn so much about the creature as I go.
We would love to see your work showcased in Scandinavia, when will it happen?
 When I am asked by a good Scandinavian gallery!
And lastly, what are your plans for the future?
 I had a show in Nicosia, Cyprus in March 2012 and shows in Ireland and Italy next year. I am moving into more casting work and can imagine my work developing to the extent that I don’t always include taxidermy.

All images by Tessa Angus, except Still Birth (courtesy of Other Criteria).

rest a little on the lap of life
to every seed his own body
still birth
dead ringer
the fall
ep harbour