Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Any catalog of the things that have inspired my work over the course of a lifetime would be incomplete without the inclusion of Deyrolle. I can't entirely explain its magic, or why it is so intricately woven into the fabric of my imagination, but one of my earliest clear memories is of my parents taking me to Deyrolle for the first time when I was a toddler. It instantly set a spark to my imagination.

You might think that a taxidermy shop would be a bit much for a toddler. But if you have never set foot in Deyrolle, I can only tell you that this is no ordinary taxidermy shop. Deyrolle is a taxidermy shop in the same way that Mary Poppins is a nanny. Within moments of my first setting foot inside its doors, vast fertile vistas of fragrant soil opened like a magic trick inside the corridors of my mind. I saw possibility there. I heard the sound of a billion fluttering, translucent, onionskin pages of stories waiting to be told. I saw mysterious continents, forking rivers, great shimmering oceans of wonder just waiting to be explored.

On that day, my parents bought me a blue Brazilian butterfly with iridescent wings which still occupies a room in the chateau in France (since it would not pass through customs), as well as a dusty corner of my eternal dreams.
Not long ago, someone told me that Deyrolle had been destroyed by a fire. I felt the bottom drop out of my heart. Of course, all of France rallied at its side, and before long it had been restored to much of its former glory (the New York Times did a wonderful article on its phoenix-like fall and resurrection, whence all of these photos). Upon seeing the photos from after the fire, I have to say that in their own way they are very nearly as magical and inspiring as was Deyrolle intact.
There is no way for me to accurately describe the alchemy of Deyrolle's effect on my life, from the paint colors to the cabinetry, from the orderly glass cases of insects to the marvelous expressions on the faces of the shop's erstwhile denizens. So let this, in brief, serve as my little love letter to 19th-century entomologist Jean-Baptiste Deyrolle and his legacy.
Thank you, Jeanne-Baptiste. Who would I be without you?


  1. I'm in short of words ... your words just resonate. Wherever I go, I will try to get to the local Natural History Museum. It's a magical and mysterious place. As your words: I heard the sound of a billion fluttering, translucent, onionskin pages of stories waiting to be told.
    Thanks for your sharing!!

  2. Wow, what a brilliant space. Some day-- if I ever settle down-- I'd love to have a study inspired by that first shot (well, maybe the pale blue-green walls, cabinets, and stag's heads-- I doubt I will have room for a polar bear). -X