Tacoma's 'rogue taxidermist' gets moment in spotlight

Tacoma's 'rogue taxidermist' gets moment in spotlight
Tacoma artist Acataphasia Grey, left, will appear on "Immortalized" this Thursday, March 7. (Photo by Allan Amato/AMC)

TACOMA, Wash. -- It's not every day you find yourself washing the salted pelt of a house cat out in a hotel sink, even if you happen to be Acataphasia Grey

Then again, the Tacoma artist's day-to-day activities don't exactly fall within the mainstream. Acataphasia, or Cat, Grey is a rogue taxidermist, and she's about to start the clock on her fifteen minutes of fame. 

"I'm terrified to watch myself on Thursday. It's already surreal," Grey said of her upcoming appearance on AMC's "Immortalized."

The unscripted television show pits one of its own "immortalizers" against an up-and-coming challenger to create a piece of taxidermy art. The contestants are then judged on craftsmanship and creativity to see whose piece is best.

Grey will compete as the challenger on Thursday, March 7 at 10 p.m.

Of course, she's probably somewhat used to the surreal by now.

Unlike traditional taxidermists, who create stuffed animals that look more or less as they did in life, rogue artists like Grey build creatures that don't exist in the real world. That could mean anything from a stuffed "unicorn" (or a white horse altered to look like one) to a rat with extra eyes and spikes protruding from all sides.

In fact, one of her greatest challenges was immortalizing the recently deceased pet cat of a coworker, who wanted the creature to look just as she remembered.

"I just can't leave well enough alone," Grey said, adding that she always thinks the animals would look much better with a few fantastical elements thrown in.

In that particular instance she had to bring the cat's treated skin with her on vacation to ensure that it could be properly preserved before it started to decay. She ended up doing some of the work in her hotel room.

Grey's interest in taxidermy grew out of a her desire to prevent animals from going to waste.

Originally from Longview, Grey spent part of her childhood on a small farm near Castle Rock that sold meat rabbits. Even then she hated seeing their skins just thrown away, so she taught herself to tan them.

Eventually she learned to preserve, stuff and mold the creatures in their entirety.

"I find just about any animal to be gorgeous," Grey said. "Just because it's dead doesn't mean I find it any less gorgeous."

The artist has lived in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood on and off for the last 12 years.

"I just fell in love with Tacoma right away," Grey said.

She's had a few taxidermy installations up around town, including "Tea for Short Expectations" in 2011.

Another of her pieces became the subject of a crime report when a man stole a full-sized lion's head and pelt which proceeded to carry it down South 11th Street.

One of the things she loves about Tacoma is how art friendly it is -- but even here not everyone is willing to give stuffed, cosmetically altered dead animals a chance.

That's fine with Grey. She gets that that taxidermy art doesn't appeal to some people, and usually directs them to one of her other, tamer creations.

"I say, 'Okay, you don't have to like this art. How about this art over here?'" she said.

Society's squeamishness isn't going to stop her from creating it, though.

"I find this beautiful also," Grey said.

Grey will be on "Immortalized" this Thursday, March 7 at 10 p.m. on AMC.

To learn more about Acataphasia Grey and her art, visit http://www.morbidtendencies.com/