- Kelly Brong is the taxidermist who runs the TikTok channel OurDeerlyDeparted.
- She shows us how she restores Cutty, a taxidermy dog from the ’90s.
- This includes repairing the eyes and ears and airbrushing the fur.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Kelly Brong: My name’s Kelly. I am from OurDeerlyDeparted, and I am a taxidermist. And today, I’m going to show you guys how I restore a taxidermy dog. Apparently, Cutty was a very famous dog in West Virginia. She was a dog that lived in a gas station, so everyone knew her. She sat in a window for a very long time. She was sun bleached, so she lost all of her color. Her ears were broken, and she was missing an eye.
So, the first step is to basically go over the animal, see what’s wrong with it, and I always check and see if there’s any remnants of bugs or a possible infestation. So, I’m blowing it with a vacuum. If I don’t blow off that dust, the dirt is going to be pushed down into the fur after I wipe it. Cutty was very fragile. Fur was coming out. Her ears were basically falling off. So certain parts like that, you have to be super careful when cleaning it. I just use rubbing alcohol. I don’t want to use too much of it, because it can dry out the animal, but it’s a really good cleaner for taxidermy. The black stuff coming off of her head is paint. And I just had to work at it, be super delicate with it, because that wire brush can tear out the hair if you’re not careful. So I was going in circular motions and kind of just working the paint off and taking a paper towel, wiping it off, and just being super slow with it and really taking my time.
Her ears were both cracked. This is a really common thing that can happen with ears. Her ears had to be restrengthened. So, what I first did was I actually rehydrated them with water. I stuffed the ears with some cotton balls, paper towels, just something that would hold the moisture, and wrapped them in Saran wrap. It’s just to kind of keep everything nice and moist so I could work on it. I let them sit for about a day. Sometimes with old taxidermy, if you rehydrate it too much, it could actually fall apart, so you really have to watch that. After the ears were rehydrated, I filled it first with clay, and I also filled the ears with Bondo. That really strengthened her ears up a lot. And then after her ears were strengthened, I went over top of the Bondo with some Apoxie Sculpt, just to kind of even it out and fill in those cracks. Her one eye was really great, looked awesome, but her other eye was missing. When I did start to clean out what was left of it, there was actually some glass. So what I had to do was actually remove the other eye that looked OK, because I wasn’t able to match the eyes exactly. I couldn’t find anything to replicate it. So I didn’t want to go in and put in a different eye that was a shade lighter. Again, I rehydrated it, removed the other eye, and replaced them with brand-new glass eyes. I actually added some more clay into the eye to give it that extra detail and to make the eye sit in there really nicely. They were actually bear eyes, I believe, because they don’t make dog eyes. It was about the same size and color as a dog. When replacing eyes, it definitely is tricky, because it’s backwards of how you would typically do taxidermy. So, when you’re mounting something fresh, those eyes go on before the skin goes on. So I’m doing it completely backwards and adding the clay in after the eyes are in there. She was missing, I want to say, two or three of her original nails. Coyote nails were about the closest thing I could find to dog nails. And I just happened to have a few of them laying around, and they worked perfectly.
After all of her parts are repaired, it’s time to airbrush Cutty back to her original color. I choose to airbrush taxidermy just because it creates a really nice, natural look to them. You can really control how much paint is applied, and you’re able to paint really big areas with a lot of paint very quickly. The paints I used are actually lacquer paints. They’re called LifeTone paints, and they are made for taxidermy animals. They’re special colors that are made for painting skin and replicating those color tones that are found in animals. With Cutty, I was layering those colors a lot on there. I started out with a really light yellow and some of the darker colors on her face, and I’d go over with a more orangey color to make that yellow pop out from underneath her fur. What I did for Cutty’s muzzle, she was missing fur. One way to replace fur is to add flocking. I went in with a black and brown flocking, and I mixed it together. I applied it with Mod Podge. So just typical craft glue. Flocking is basically a crushed velvet material, and you’re able to spray that onto the skin and recreate a really short fur texture. And then I painted over top of that for, again, to really tie it all together and make the colors look seamless, make these pieces last a life. The tongue was yellow from it being in the sun. I just painted it with acrylic paints to restore that color.
Taxidermy pieces usually never need to really be maintained or restored if they’re kept in the right conditions. I’ve seen pieces that are hundreds of years old and are in almost perfect condition. Generally, just dusting pieces, keeping them out of the sunlight, maintaining, and making sure that there’s no infestations make these pieces last a lifetime.