Gord Downie, as squirrel: Yukon woman makes art from animals

Cindy Klippenstein was using squirrels to practise her taxidermy skills. Then she got the idea to dress them up.

People 'either love it or are terrified by it,' says artist (and taxidermist) Cindy Klippenstein

One squirrel sports a feathered hat and 'Jaws' t-shirt like the ones Gord Downie wore at the Tragically Hip's last concert. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

It started a few years ago, when Cindy Klippenstein was practising her taxidermy skills on a squirrel.

"I accidentally cut his foot off," the Whitehorse artist said. "And I was like, oh, I guess I'll give him a peg leg, and then a hook arm, and eye patch."

'They have different little features that kind of lend themselves to their different personalities,' said Whitehorse artist Cindy Klippenstein, who makes art from stuffed squirrels. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

And there it was — a pirate rodent, and Klippenstein's first piece in what would become an ongoing obsession.

Dressing up dead squirrels.

This weekend, she opened an exhibit in Whitehorse of her latest creations, called "Squirrels Just Wanna Have Fun."

They're clearly the work of a music-lover. There's a squirrel Gord Downie (in hat and Jaws t-shirt), a squirrel Slash, and "the Material Squirrel" — "a tribute to early-80s Madonna," she says.

"When I'm stuffing them, they kind of have little different personalities that I see as, oh, this is a grumpy one, or this is a pretty one, she'll be a can-can girl. They have different little features that kind of lend themselves to their different personalities." 

Klippenstein says she started working with squirrels to learn taxidermy. (CBC)

She's also used some critters to re-create famous movie scenes, such as "the lift, from Dirty Dancing."

Klippenstein gets her raw material from friends who are trappers and have no use for little rodents. When she was just starting out as a taxidermist, a friend gave her "a bag of squirrels, and was like, 'here, practise on these,'" she said.

She's used Barbie clothes and shoes to dress some of her creations, but she also sews a lot of the clothes herself.

Sweet squirrel o' mine. A rodent Slash, complete with cigarette. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

The new exhibit is actually her second — she had a similar show a couple of years ago, and the work all sold.

People, she says, "either love it or are terrified by it.

"I get a lot of people actually buying them for their partners. It's a really popular love gift."

Klippenstein called her new exhibit 'Squirrels Just Wanna Have Fun.' (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

With files from Dave White


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