Now taxidermy’s cool (and ethical): Mickey Alice Kwapis teaches her trade in Houston

When you see the word “taxidermist,” what kind of image comes to mind? Perhaps it’s a burly man with a Gandalf beard wearing a stained flannel shirt standing next to a deer carcass. If that’s you (as it was me until just this week), get ready for that image to shatter.

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Mickey Alice Kwapis, taxidermist, is changing the world of taxidermy – one critter at a time. In an age when anything and everything is going digital and the word “millennial” is thrown around as a burn, this young professional is making waves by embracing the rich tradition and art of taxidermy.

Kwapis performs freelance taxidermy and travels the country to teach classes to the general public. On her website she says, “The point of what I do is to create something that looks lifelike and alive, and to teach others the skills necessary to do taxidermy the traditional and anatomically correct way.”

If you check her out on Instagram or Tumblr, you can see the variety of animals she’s worked with – everything from kangaroos to octopi – and she only started this work toward the end of her time at college. Of entering the field, she says, “One night after work, my coworker invited me over to help with a biology project for one of her classes. A night of cheap red wine and a dead squirrel turned into a full-blown business for me.” Tada! (And to think of all the road kill I’ve passed without a second thought…)

Since that one fateful night, she’s gone on to teach classes and sell her product all over the country. And it seems that everywhere she goes, people are surprised by this young, intelligent woman so clearly passionate about taxidermy and how infectious this passion becomes (she was actually in Houston last year).

In a piece called, “Why Do Nashville Hipsters Love Taxidermy?,” NPR tried to determine what the craze was all about. Beginning with the growing community of “Hipsters Who Hunt,” NPR discussed how “DIY culture is inspiring everything from knitting to canning.” The interview posited the question, “Is taxidermy all of these impulses rolled into one?”

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If you follow Kwapis’ business model, it certainly seems true.

You see, for her, nothing goes to waste. On her About page, she states:

“No animals are ever killed for the sake of taxidermy or art or trophy. The skin is used for educational purposes. The skull and bones are either used for teaching collections in schools or ground into bone meal (a special kind of fertilizer) and the organs and meat are used for feeding other animals. Bottom line: nothing goes to waste.”

So there you have it folks! There’s a young, funky, environmentally-minded, ethical taxidermist coming to HMNS to teach you! Don’t wait – sign up for her class (on March 29) now. (Register A.S.A.P.; space is very limited!)

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ABOUT MICKEY ALICE KWAPIS
Mickey Alice Kwapis is a twentysomething licensed taxidermy educator and biology enthusiast based in Cleveland, Ohio. She travels internationally to teach traditional taxidermy techniques for affordable prices to anyone who wants to learn. She will be offering two classes at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on March 29. More info is below.

TAXIDERMY CLASSES AT HMNS
Learn traditional taxidermy techniques from licensed taxidermist Mickey Alice Kwapis. You will acquire the skills necessary to do taxidermy the traditional and anatomically correct way the first time. You will transform a frozen rabbit into a beautiful taxidermy piece over the course of a few hours, as well as learning the fundamentals of ethical taxidermy. The class fees are inclusive of all supplies needed. Participants must be 15 years of age or older. Participants under 18 must be accompanied by a parent.

Beginning Taxidermy: Full-Body Bunny Mount
Saturday, March 29, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Tickets $235, Members $200

Advanced tickets required. For tickets, call 713-639-4629 or click here.

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Getting to the point: Medieval swordsman John Clements offers classes at HMNS

As a child, I loved two things: dinosaurs and swords (and you can probably see why I’ve wound up at HMNS). Like many children, the movies I watched informed how I’d play – and having grown up on classics like The Princess Bride (which you can watch at HMNS on March 21) and Star Wars, it’s no surprise that play sword fighting was my favorite activity. I had at the ready all the materials I needed in my backyard: a stick for a sword, a tree as a stand-in dragon; what else could a kid ask for? As a teenager, this interest continued as my friends and I would craft “weapons” (nothing dangerous, I assure you) from objects around the house, but it wasn’t until college that I really started to learn about and appreciate the history of the sword and how one is to be used properly.

While there are many, many types of swords, used throughout different times and places as prize fighting items, the idea behind their design and how to use them has remained the same (no, not just the pointy-end-goes-in-bad-guy concept). Swords were meant to be a very economical way to fight, allowing the knight (or the dueler, etc.) to expend as little energy as possible while holding their opponent at bay. Aided by a good foundation in basic mechanics (i.e., fulcrums and levers), one seeks to use their appendages with the most efficiency — a small bit of movement and a twist of the wrist should be all one needs to propel the blade through your opponent’s defense.

Building from this principle, swords have been designed to be best suited to different fighting environments. The broad sword, invented in the Middle Ages, was best suited for combat and dueling. The aptly named cut-and-thrust sword is designed to cut and thrust. The rapier was designed with similar intent, made to work like a giant ice pick, so that you could fight in the crowded city streets of France and Italy. The modern sport of fencing was invented when a French blade was blunted – also called foiling the blade (this is where the word “foil” comes from).

So now you’re up-to-date on swords. But you know you want to learn more (and how could I blame you; swords are awesome!). In that case, you should join us for some upcoming events where you can learn the art of sword fighting (no prior experience necessary!). John Clements, one of the premier swordsmen of our age, will talk about the sword of the 13th century and the knights who wielded them (on Feb. 26) and teach you the Art of Defense in an evening workshop (on Feb. 27).

To take advantage of this special offer and reserve your spot, purchase your ticket at the HMNS Box Office or call 713.639.4629 and present coupon code $10offsc to receive $10 off your ticket. (Discount not available on online ticket purchases.)

MEDIEVAL LECTURE
13th Century Sword & Buckler: Origins of the Knightly Fighting Arts
John Clements, ARMA
Weds., Feb. 26, 6:30 p.m.

The liberal arts in medieval times were those subjects studied by a free man—who was free precisely because he was armed and trained in the fighting arts. Much of what is known of 13th-century sword and buckler training is documented in the only surviving fencing manual of the period. John Clements, martial arts historian and director of ARMA (Association for Renaissance Martial Arts), will describe the science of defense developed in this period, as well as the arms, armor and chivalric work of knights. This lecture will be followed by a live demonstration of medieval martial arts.
Click here to purchase tickets online.

ADULT CLASS
Introduction to the Sword
Thurs., Feb. 27, 6 p.m.
Tickets $75, Members $65

The sword is an important symbol of power—from the gladius of gladiators to the light saber of the Jedi. It has been used to change history. Whether leading a conquest of the Normans or to helping to secure the seed of democracy, the sword is an important symbol of martial skill. Thought of as a “lost art,” swordsmanship is still taught using the writing and illustrations passed down from Renaissance sword masters. Learn the basics of this martial art in this class lead by John Clements, director Association of Renaissance Martial Arts.
Click here to purchase tickets online.

THE SWORDSMAN: John Clements
John Clements is a leading authority on historical fencing and the world’s foremost instructor of Medieval and Renaissance fighting methods. As a long-time Western martial artist who has been studying historical fencing since 1980, John is the most prolific writer on the subject of historical fencing. He has practiced European cut-and-thrust swordplay and for more than thirty years, taught on it in 16 countries, and researched arms and armor on four continents. He instructs both nationwide as well as internationally.

STEM & GEMS, Part III: Air Liquide’s Megan Morrison has always wanted to defy the laws of physics

Editor’s Note: In anticipation of our upcoming GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event on Feb. 8, we interviewed several women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. So far, we’ve interviewed Air Liquide’s Victoria Rockwell and HMNS’ Celeste Poorte.This week, we’re featuring Megan Morrison, a Biological Engineer at Air Liquide.

HMNS: How old were you when you first became interested in science, technology, engineering, and/or math?
Morrison: A child doesn’t have to ask questions about calculus or chemical equations to show interest in STEM topics. It may seem like a silly question to ask, “How hard would I have to jump in the air to never come back down?” but kids are really asking what their escape velocity is –— which is something some engineers and rocket scientists have to think about every day.

I believe I first demonstrated interest when I said my first word. As a child, I was very interested in things that seemed to defy the laws of physics. My first word was “balloon.”

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Morrison: My middle school math teacher Mr. Fischer coached our MATHCOUNTS team. He inspired our team so much that we practiced before school every day, during lunch, during free period, and after school on Wednesdays. He showed us that hard work paid off, how to understand the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on your team, and how to utilize that understanding to achieve great things.

HMNS:  What was your favorite science project when you were in school?
Morrison: My favorite project is a bit biased, because it also got me a pet on the weekends. In 7th grade, we raised two rats — which, being 7th graders at the end of the 90s, we named Jay and Silent Bob. We fed one water and oatmeal, and gave the other not only water and oatmeal, but whole milk, fruits, and vegetables. We watched as one grew much more quickly than the other for a few weeks while learning about nutrition and cellular respiration, or how the body uses food to grow and make energy. Don’t worry, after a few weeks, we fed both of them equally and they led full rat lives.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, or math?
Morrison: I work as a biological engineer in Air Liquide’s ALLEX program. This two-year program sends recent college graduates all over the country (and sends some around the world) to experience different jobs in different work environments so that they can be better workers when they graduate from the program.

My company separates the air into basic components and sells purified oxygen, nitrogen, and other gases. Some of these gases are so cold that they are even sold in liquid form. My company has to understand the scientific properties of the substances they sell to be able to manufacture them safely. We use engineering and technology to design the most efficient equipment, and we use math in everything.

HMNS:  What’s the best part of your job?
Morrison: I am currently working in the cosmetics manufacturing section of business development. So, the best part about my job is that I get to apply scientific concepts to things like the chemical and physical properties of beauty products.

HMNS:  What do you like to do in your spare time?
Morrison: In my spare time, I like to see plays and musicals, golf, and volunteer in my community.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Morrison: My advice is to get started early. Join math and science teams at school. Do experiments at home. Watch documentaries, ask questions, and use all of the resources you have to get the answers. The most successful people in STEM careers enjoy STEM concepts at home too.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science)?
Morrison: For society and technology to progress, we must have the best workers in the work force, regardless of their gender. I think it is important to show underrepresented demographics what STEM fields have to offer so that they can lead fulfilling lives and make the world a better place.

Know a girl who’s interested in math and science? Come to GEMS (Girls Exploring Math & Science) on Sat., Feb. 8 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Museum will be filled with hands-on science and math for everyone to experience. Local professionals will be at the Museum to answer questions about their careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The event is free with paid admission to the Museum. Click here for $7 admission to all permanent exhibit halls on Sat., Feb. 8.

STEM & GEMS, Part II: The science of raising butterflies is Celeste Poorte’s specialty

Celeste PoorteEditor’s Note: In anticipation of our upcoming GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event on Feb. 8, we interviewed several women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. Last week, we interviewed Air Liquide’s Victoria Rockwell. This week we’re featuring Celeste Poorte, Butterfly Rearing Coordinator at the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

HMNS: How old were you when you first became interested in science, technology, engineering, or math?
Poorte: As far back as I remember, I was always interested in the natural world. Once I got to high school, my interest in science really became solidified.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Poorte: 
Spending a lot time outside as a young child exposed me to interesting plant and animal life. In 9th grade I had a wonderful biology teacher that really inspired me to pursue biology.

HMNS: What was your favorite science project when you were in school?
Poorte: 
In 9th grade we did a project where we observed the micro-organisms found in a collection of pond of water and recorded our results and identified the species. That was my favorite because it was incredible to see how many living creatures there were in a tiny speck of water.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, or math?
Poorte: 
I am the Butterfly Rearing Coordinator at the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This relates to science because I use my knowledge of butterflies and their life cycles in order to raise them.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Poorte: 
The best part of my job is that I don’t have to spend my time at a computer all day. I get to spend a lot of time outside in the greenhouses working directly with the butterflies and caterpillars.

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Poorte: 
In my spare time I like to spend time with friends, read books, and take my dog to the dog park.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Poorte: 
Go to college. Aim high. Pick a subject that you are passionate about for your major and stick with it. Get as much extra experience outside the classroom as you can, like internships. Meet and talk to as many people in your field of interest as you can while you are still in school. This will definitely help you find a job once you get your degree.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Poorte:
An event like GEMS is a great way to expose girls to jobs that they might not otherwise even know existed. It’s a great way to get the information out and for them to meet real-life women who actually have STEM careers. When I was in middle school, I attended a GEMS-like event and it was a great experience for me.