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As a new high school art teacher, I began searching for all types of
still life objects including bones and skulls. Since I was not having
much luck locating a cow skull, I contacted a meat market/butcher (
which was located in a very smelly part of the city).
The butcher said that I could purchase a cow and a hog skull for the
bargain price of $5.00 each. I hurried in expecting to pick up "clean"
skulls but----- was quick to discover that both skulls still had an
enormous amount of carthlage, blood and very gross attached eyeballs.
The butcher noticed the shocked look on my face and stated that if I
would just BOIL the skulls that everything would fall off and I would
have the skulls that I wanted.
At first I wanted to leave empy handed at the thought of this process but
---- I REALLY wanted the skulls . Visions of award winning still-life
drawings based on these skulls were dancing in my head. So......
After the butcher placed placing thegory-bloody skulls in plastic and
then in brown paper ( I could not bear the eyeballs to stare at me ) I
drove home knowing that my husband was going to have a COW himself when
he saw what I was bringing home. Fortunately he was not home when I
arrived so I did not have to explain my insanity to him. Since I
collect antique graniteware I just happen to possess several very large
canning pots - perfect for boiling skulls?!
I was able to fill the pots with water and move them to the stove but
dreaded what was next. I had to unwrap the paper and slowly viewed my
gory-bloody skulls. I decided to pick up the plastic and dump in the
skull one in each pot so that I would not have to touch them. Of course
this could not be done gracefully and each skull entered with a great
splash. I am guessing that each skull weighed about 15 lbs. with junk
attached and the cow is about 30" long and of course too tall to entirely
fit in the pot. I had to stand on a chair because I could not lift the
skulls high enough to enter the high pot,
fortunately I had large lids so that I could hid them from view. I knew
that I would have to turn the skulls over soon which really gave me the
I kept trying to tell myself that the students would really appreciate
the effort I was making for them to have such interesting items to draw.
After a couple of hours my husband called with an emergency which I had
to leave the house. I turned the stove off (I thought) and left. We
returned about 2 hours later only to discover a very smoke filled house.
I had only turned off 1 burner. The other burner was still on and had
successfully "Cooked" the porcelain coating from the graniteware pan onto
the stove - the next step would have been a fire!!! Great news though
the skull was still in tact. After the general cleanup was done- attic
fan on to clear out the smoke-doors and windows open (forgot to mention
it was about 30* outside) my husband decided to ask me " what in the
world was I doing - and why". Of course he thought I had completely gone
over the edge and wondered why I didn't just ask a farmer to scout out
his field for a skull. After all was totaled up the smoke damage was
just under $5,000 in damages.Quite the mess! You know how insurance
companies tell you they have heard it all - well my agent entered this
story into his company as truly original! To make matters worse, I had
taken my custom drapes to the cleaners they had some kind of ink spill
which destroyed them.
Anyway back to the skulls - even after the 'all day boil' they still had
tons of junk inside and outside - both still had a complete nose--- but
at least the eyeballs were gone and I could bear to touch them. My mom
suggested that I toss them outside to allow the 'junk' to rot off. Good
idea, I thought, until an animal bit a chunk out of the cow skull and
maggets infested them. Next, we (my mom was the only one who would help
me - everyone else deemed me insane and part of a cult) decided to
bleach them followed by a power wash. This worked pretty well save for
the noses and a few other gross things! So- we proceded to hang them
with ropes suspended from a tree in HER back yard. ( the only tree I had
was in the center of my front yard which I knew would be a real hit in
our middle-class neighborhood) This was so animals could get to them and
they could dry out gracefully. This process of alternating bleach with
suspension took almost 6 months. They have aged well and the bite gave it
So- for the following school year when I brought in my skulls and
presently them to the students I really had a story to tell them! I was
still looking forward to an award winning art project based on these
skulls - which did happen. Now each year when I bring out the skulls I
remember my "Now" funny story of how I will do just about anything for
the sake of art!
Cherie in KC