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Faux taxidermy: Grass Valley resident’s online shop takes whimsical approach to wall decor

Eva Devon Soni operates Sweaty Taxidermy out of her home studio in Grass Valley.
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

Eva Devon Soni’s love of taxidermy developed while she was in college. She began pinning bugs and working on other small specimens, poring over taxidermy how-to books to learn about different tools and techniques.

Eventually, “I just wanted to do bigger pieces, with different animals,” said Soni, 36.

Unfortunately, space was limited in the San Francisco in-law unit she was living in at the time. It dawned on her that she could use her taxidermy skills to create “faux animals.”



That’s how Sweaty Taxidermy was founded. Using foam mannequins and vintage sweaters, Soni creates faux taxidermy pieces, from bats to bears to deer and more, and sells them out of her online shop, sweatytaxidermy.com.

Soni recently relocated to Grass Valley from the Bay Area with her husband and young son, and now works on her pieces out of her home studio. Glimpses of her finished work and works-in-progress can be found on Instagram or Facebook by searching “Sweaty Taxidermy.”




Creating the fabric pieces isn’t all that different from traditional taxidermy, Soni said. The pre-made high-density foam mannequins she uses are a staple material for taxidermists. Instead of covering the mannequins with skin or fur, she hunts for vintage sweaters with interesting patterns at antique and garage sales, and then hand-sews the fabric over the mannequins, adding final touches like teeth or antlers if necessary.

The online shop is an outlet for Soni’s artistic sensibilities and her taxidermy skills. But it’s grounded in her passion for animals. Soni spent 15 years as a zookeeper at the San Francisco Zoo. She was the zoo’s main gorilla keeper for eight of those years.

“It seemed like all of my interests over my life all kind of led to this,” Soni said.

The first piece she created was a Christmas present for her brother. The business began to grow simply through word of mouth, she said. Though she has some completed pieces available for purchase online, many of the orders she receives are to create custom pieces, whether it’s a walrus, a turtle, a shark, or the three cows she made for an ice cream shop in Portland, Ore.

Since starting Sweaty Taxidermy, Soni also makes it a point to display her work at various craft shows. She loves meeting people and seeing their reactions to her work.

“Some will walk by, and start laughing,” Soni said. “Even though not everybody’s buying, they enjoy it.”

She said she’s currently gearing up to take holiday orders, and is excited to now be part of the Grass Valley community.

“I’m definitely looking to get out into the community, and check out craft shows around here,” Soni said. “It will be fun.”

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email elavin@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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