“Today’s the first day I haven’t been to the post office in like two weeks. They hate me there,” says Rest In Pieces owner Justin Torone, holding a jar containing a murky yellow liquid and a severed head.
“Today’s the first day I haven’t been to the post office in like two weeks. They hate me there,” says Rest In Pieces owner Justin Torone, holding a jar containing a murky yellow liquid and a severed head. Justin–a part-time taxidermist/full time cook at a local restaurant–has been showing me the latest specimens he has concocted for Rest In Pieces, an online store selling a variety of preserved curiosities.
Torone and his girlfriend Alaina have been collecting skulls and specimens for a couple years now. Over the summer they decided to make the jump to creating their own specimens while also creating a business for it. After Torone got his taxidermy license–a permit with the Department of Game and inland Fisheries necessary to sell and practice any kind of taxidermy–the couple was in business.
The company is called Rest in Pieces and has been around for six months now, offering taxidermy services and providing products such as wet specimens (animals submerged in jars with formalin or alcohol), skulls, skeletons, jewelry made from bones, and vintage pieces.
Initially, the business existed solely on Etsy and was limited to bone jewelry and a couple of skulls. However, wanting to get past Etsy’s strict regulations about shipping wet specimens and types of skulls vendors were permitted to sell, Rest in Pieces has now evolved into a website with a thriving Instagram.
Photo by Justin Ziebell
For now, the store remains an online shop, with everything run out of the couple’s home. However, they are working towards opening a physical location in Richmond by summer 2015. For now, they allow customers to come by and browse or pick up items they ordered online to save on shipping.
Their most popular products are the chameleon vials, the recently released bats in wooden coffins (which sold out almost immediately), fox skulls, and reptiles–especially snakes.
Aside from being the only oddities shop out of Richmond, Rest In Pieces is set apart by the incredible amount of artistry they bring to taxidermy. From the care with which they treat their specimens to the way in which they compose their animals within the jars, their work has an artistic edge to it that most taxidermy practices do not.
Their Instagram is full of stunning photographs of their newest products, all beautifully composed. “Alaina does the jewelry, the photograph, and she designed the entire website herself. We definitely take pride in the fact that we try to portray everything as well as we can,” says Torone.
Where do they attain animals for their practice? Their specimens come from a variety of places but 90% of them are road kill or animals from local places once their animals pass away. “A lot of those animals if we didn’t come and pick them up would just be thrown in the dumpster,” says Torone. “We’re not killing anything for the purpose of selling it inside a jar. It’s already dead.”
Rest In Pieces is also hosting giveaways of some of their products online on their shop. The first giveaway was for a wet specimen cross-section of a pig. “That one was cool but like not everyone wants that in their house,” says Torone. The slightly tamer ram skull giveaway is still taking place and will end on Christmas with more giveaways to come in the future.
The shop attracts an incredibly wide variety of people. “You get the weird people you would expect to come in here and buy this stuff, like ‘Oh yeah, you would want an animal in a jar.’ But we do sell shutter box butterflies and that kind of stuff as well so you really get everybody coming by,” says Torone.
Other customers include those who want their pets preserved. Torone is currently in the process a skeletal project with the largest animal he has ever worked with: an eight-foot long red tail boa that passed away after being a loyal pet for eight years. “Anyone whose lizard, snake, hamster, or whatever has died, if they want it taxidermied, if they want the skull or the bones, we can do anything like that for them.”
However, there are some species that Torone refuses to taxidermy. “Everybody has to draw the line somewhere I guess. I don’t do anything with dogs. It makes me really uncomfortable,” says Torone.
Torone says he has a preference for taxidermy involving reptiles. Never allowed to own a snake or reptile when he was a kid, he now revels in the opportunity to interact with the animals. “When I’m working with a really big snake or lizard it’s so cool because I still feel like a 12 year old kid playing with a lizard,” says Torone.
The shop has received overwhelming support from the Richmond community and has taken off over the last few months. Rest in Pieces participated in the Richmond Tattoo Convention and sold almost all they brought with them. Red Salon, Parlor, and High Point Barber Shop are among the local shops that play host to the company’s business cards. “A lot of local tattoo shops have been helping us out too; we might start doing some pop up shops,” says Torone.
Upcoming events include the Hampton Roads Tattoo Convention and Weihnachtsmarkt on Sunday, December 21 at Strange Matter. Sunday will be the last day the public can get anything from the shop before Christmas. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Torone says. “You can put it up on your wall and always look at it and it’s a great conversation piece. It’s just the perfect gift.”
Though taxidermy might sound like a walk in the (disturbing) park, there is a certain amount of risk involved. Torone puts his health at stake every time he deals with his specimens. “I talk about everything very lightly but some of the stuff I do is really dangerous,” he says.
For instance, formaldehyde is carcinogenic and Torone must use extreme caution when handling it. Another inherent danger of taxidermy is rabies; animals can carry diseases like rabies even after they are dead. “There are a lot of precautions I must take before doing things,” says Torone. In other words, don’t try this at home.
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