By Haley Cullingham
Photos courtesy of Christopher Bennell
It’s a sunny Friday afternoon, and I’m having tea under the watchful eye of a five foot four inch brown bear from Peterborough. A rooster is perched on the arm of the sofa beside me, and a bottle opener attached to a deer hoof rests on the coffee table. I’m in the well-appointed West End living room of artist Morgan Mavis, a space more professionally known as The Contemporary Zoological Conservatory. When Morgan invited me over, the note read “I’ve made cupcakes and we just recently acquired a peacock.” That is the definition of an offer you can’t refuse.
The Conservatory, a menagerie of animals from the small to the large and the gentle to the savage, is surrounded by an apartment’s worth of beautiful and intriguing objects collected by Mavis and her partner, Christopher Bennell, on various travels and adventures. The front room is populated by globes, framed needlepoint, and old paint-by-numbers, little pieces of nostalgia that Morgan likes to give a second life. This is also how she feels about her taxidermy, an impressive collection which runs the gamut from Victorian birds in glass cases to a sculpture of a coyote leaping at three tree’d raccoons.
The aforementioned bear used to stand outside a store in Peterborough. A friend recently stopped by the Conservatory and was delighted to find this icon from her childhood-she remembers dropping pennies into the torn fur at the bear’s leg. The peacock was a serendipitous discovery. Morgan was walking her dog, The Colonel, in Dufferin Grove, and came upon a friend who’d been hoping to run into her and gift her with the majestic bird.
The living room, which plays host to fashion spreads, music video shoots, elegant dinner parties, and occasionally tourists from as far away as Florence, gives the impression of walking into a Victorian parlour. It’s easy to concoct a vivid story for each piece, as the setting inspires the imagination. But more often than not, Mavis herself provides them, like the tale of the Bald Eagle who plummeted into her father’s windshield on Vancouver Island, and hung out in a freezer until some RCMP buddies could wrangle him a permit.
Sporting trademark bright pink hair since the age of thirteen, and with a fetish for seafoam green nailpolish, Mavis is an artist whose vision seems to infuse her entire being. Whether it’s turning the summer into an art project by escaping the city to go on adventures every weekend (a most recent expedition found them spelunking through abandoned buildings in Detroit), or taking to the Trans-Canada with The Colonel in a baby sling to hitchhike out to the Yukon and shack up in a log cabin with a white picket fence, Mavis is constantly inventing ways to make life interesting, and collecting quite a treasure trove along the way. A plaster anatomical heart, stuffed with newspaper from Germany, came out of the Detroit adventure, where they explored empty elementary schools with forests growing in them and deserted police stations littered with old fingerprints and rape kits.
Mavis is about to go back to school for a Masters of Museum Studies, and is hoping to spend next summer in Berlin, or at a natural history museum in New York. So get ye to the conservatory while it’s still adding a little colour to the 416. http://thetaxidermyconservatory.com/