Dead things by Kate - the Macclesfield taxidermy artist
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 November 2015
Kate Egan, from Macclesfield, aims to be the premier taxidermist of her generation, writes Kate Houghton
Kate Egan enjoyed an idyllic childhood, riding her pony through Macclesfield Forest, learning about the flora and fauna that make our countryside such a diverse and beautiful place. While she puts this right at the top of her list of things that inspired her creativity, she had no inkling of just how close she would become to said fauna in her later life.
Kate is young, pretty and petite but her small stature in no way reflects the size of her passion. She exudes energy and dash and demonstrates with every word an utter devotion to her work. While I’m visiting her, in her studio, she spies a small black beetle – and immediately sends her boyfriend out to buy as many bug bombs and cedar-wood balls as he can find.
‘I can’t risk any insects in here,’ she explains breathlessly, as she hunts for more unfortunate mini-beasts. ‘They could destroy my work.’
Her work is something that divides opinion. Taxidermy, ‘the art of preparing, stuffing and mounting the skins of animals with lifelike effect’, according to my dictionary, fills some people with horror and others with delight. Kate sees the work she does as a tribute to the animal, and indeed takes it a step further by working only on animals that have died naturally, accidentally or been killed by as part of a gamekeeper-managed culling programme. She never works with creatures bred for the purpose.
In fact, her opening words when we meet are: ‘Let me just wash my hands, a man just dropped off a badger he found and they’re always covered in fleas.’
The badger was safely tucked in the freezer when I arrived (freezing kills the fleas) but there was an example of one Kate had previously worked on in her studio. I find her work poignant and beautiful and she clearly has a deep love for the creatures she works with.
Getting to the stage she is at now, with a thriving stall at Macclesfield Treacle Market and increasing numbers of commissions, was something of a roundabout route. Wanting to be an artist, she undertook a Foundation Course at Macclesfield College, but the death of her father made her reconsider her future. Rather than pursue art, she chose her other great love, horses, on which to focus her career plans and moved to Reaseheath College for an equine studies course. This led to a job as a carriage driver of a horse-drawn hearse and groom to the horses.
‘We were very busy and I worked long hours – up to fourteen hours a day, frequently, so after a while I decided I needed to get a “proper” job, and went to work for an insurance broker.’
One look at Kate and you realise that this was never a good idea! She may be wearing a high-necked Victorian blouse and a tweed jacket, but her platinum blonde locks, many tattoos, lace tights and riding boots suggest a slightly more outré personality than is commonly found in a broker’s office.
‘Oh, he was a lovely boss, but I hated it!’ she laughs.
Out riding the lanes around Macclesfield one evening Kate came across an injured bird, a jackdaw.
‘He was so beautiful. I took him home and read all about them. He didn’t survive but I had an urge to do something with him, so I popped him in the freezer and looked into taxidermy courses.
‘My second discovery was a dead crow. It was horribly smelly, but I took it home and put it at the end of the garden for nature to do its work. From this I made my first piece, placing its skull in a glass dome.
‘I posted it on Instagram and got loads of people asking me to make them one! I started making a lot of the domes and the butterfly and skull pieces too, but then I decided that I wanted to be properly trained as a taxidermist and sought out a teacher.’
The chap she found was based some way away, but when he realised how determined (and talented) Kate is, he referred her to the award winning Steve Brown, in St. Helens, who has agreed to be her mentor.
‘He’s amazing,’ she tells me. ‘I go to him three days a week to work with him and I’m learning so much. It’s my ambition to become the premier taxidermist of my generation; I want to be remembered for doing really amazing pieces that last for generations. I am inspired by the work done by Hutchings of Aberystwyth. They worked from the 1860’s to the 1940’s and their work can be found in almost all of England’s great houses.’
Kate has a stall at the monthly Macclesfield Treacle Market, which draws a regular and loyal following.
‘I love Treacle. It’s so traditional. I wear all my tweeds, Victorian vintage blouses, headpieces… I have people come each month to see what’s new on the stall,’ she tells me, delightedly. ‘Last month a couple came all the way from Yorkshire just to see me! I have a lot of followers on Instagram now, over 23,000. I post pictures and people commission work from me.’
Kate’s fame is already spreading. The chap with the badger had come from Stoke. He didn’t want it back, he just wanted to give it to someone who would appreciate it and make it beautiful.
With her energy and her passion – and her firm grip on social media – Kate is definitely a star on the rise. I do hope she achieves her ambition, she certainly deserves to.w