By Marissa Jensen
On a farm located in Dallas, Oregon lives a colony of beetles – tens of thousands to be exact – but these are no ordinary insects. Dermestid beetles, known to clean an entire deer skull in less than three days, have become a thriving part of Carla Brauer’s business, aptly named Dermestidarium.
Founded in 2015, Brauer’s journey into taxidermy art began when she worked as an intern on a goat farm in California. “There were older goats that had huge horns and I thought it was silly to throw them in the compost pile after they were slaughtered for meat. The thought of having these skulls cleaned continued to pique my interest,” explains Brauer. “I kept working on farms which provided more opportunities to practice. I worked on sheep and chicken skulls, but it was all very experimental at this point.”
When Brauer finished her training on these farms, she found her own place and started raising domestic quail for meat. Once again, she was presented with an opportunity to use more of the bird outside of the meat harvest. With a plethora of opportunities, she looked for ways to make cleaning skulls even more efficient. “I heard about beetles that clean skulls and did some research online. I found a guy in Alaska who was selling dermestid beetles. I received a little Tupperware in the mail and immediately put them to work on some quail skulls.”
After two to three years, continuing to build her passion, she thought to herself, “I think I could spray paint these skulls silver, put a ribbon around them and call them ornaments.” That was seven years ago and Brauer continues this practice every year.
Her business has since shifted as she works directly with hunters. Although she wanted to move away from retail, her customers remained enthusiastic about her ornaments. “I thought to myself, if I did this to raise money for charity, that would keep me motivated to continue this particular work.”
That was a few years ago and Brauer has since raised money through her ornament sales for organizations such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Conservation Canines, and this year, Quail Forever. “Since I was selling quail skulls, it seemed like the perfect fit to do a fundraiser for Quail Forever.”
Anyone who looks at Brauer’s ornaments can truly admire her work as an artist and feel the passion she holds for the wild. Since the start of her business, she has now extended her network to work with other American small farmers who raise domestic quail humanely for meat. The skulls are coated in real silver metal and hang delicately from a black satin ribbon.
Brauer, with joy emanating through her voice, shared that her quail ornament skulls sold out in two days. “They always sell out, but two days is the fastest. This worked great, as I really wanted to get people their ornaments by Christmas.”
Not only were sales quick, but Brauer raised $584 for the organization and was thrilled with the success of a new way of offering her artwork. “This was the first year that we tried a ‘pay what you want’ model. Everyone donated. Whether that was the minimum of the ornament cost or $50. Even during these unusual times people are really excited to give.”
What’s next for Brauer and her quail skull ornaments? “I think next year I’ll try something different. Maybe instead of silver we will do a different metal.”
Regardless of the color or metal, customers can be assured that Brauer’s ornaments will be back for business in 2021.
To learn more about Carla Brauer’s work, visit Dermestidarium.com
Marissa Jensen is Education and Outreach Program Manager for PF & QF