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Finding beauty in death, bones, ink and guitars

Maya Taylor-Barnett is not your typical artist. She is proving a talent in tattooing, woodwork, taxidermy and bone art, and is looking to build a future creating functional artistic furniture. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)

Sunday at AJ’s Bar in St. Henri, Kahnawa’kehró:non multi-disciplinary artist Maya Taylor-Barnett was set up next to an eclectic, colourful and brilliant collection of her work during the bar’s art exposition and live graffiti event. 

Need a tattoo with a unique style by a unique designer? Check out Maya Taylor-Barnett’s work, which will impress and perhaps puzzle, but always intrigue. (Courtesy Maya Taylor-Barnett)

When speaking of the 23-year-old, “multi-disciplinary” hardly explains the full breadth of Taylor-Barnett’s talents. She paints, designs tattoos, woodworks, taxidermies animals and does bone art among other unique art projects.

“I like to preserve their beauty, and remember the beauty in what they once were,” she said of her interest in taxidermy. “When you see road kill, you see the worst. I like to take that and bring it a new life and give it a home where somebody will appreciate it.”

Maya’s mother, Christine Taylor, always encouraged her daughter to follow her own path.

“I tried always to allow her unique spirit to grow,” said Christine. “Music, dress, art, she always had her own style and I encouraged that.”

Christine admitted that it wasn’t always easy to accept her daughter’s multiple tattoos and piercings, but learned that embracing Maya’s style was the best way to help her flourish.

“I often said to her that if she wasn’t my daughter, I would want to be her friend because she was just so cool,” said Christine. 

Maya has always been close to nature, and took notice of the cycle of life and death in the natural world.

“Living with my dad (Chuck Barnett), growing up, we lived on a farm, and with living on a farm there’s a lot of life in crops and gardens, but there’s also a lot of death in the forest,” she said. “You kind of get to know that smell. It was always a part of natural life.”

Chuck and Maya share nautical themed tattoos, and it took little prompting for her father to speak glowingly about his girl.

“I stand in awe at not only her creativity, but the speed with which she transforms her ideas and inspirations into actual physical works,” said Chuck. “As her father, I am humbled and recognize how fortunate I really am to have had this front row seat to watch her development over the course of her life.”

When Maya was around 15, she went to Maine with her father when a car in front of them hit a wild turkey. The tragic fowl death prompted Chuck to teach his daughter how to pluck the turkey and use all pieces of the bird.

“He has a video of me plucking it and learning how to dry out the talons over a fire,” said Maya. “He taught me how to use everything.”

The experience and following walks in the forest and parks collecting bones inspired Maya to begin her interest in bone art, where she lays the bones out in a shadow box to bring artistic life back to the deceased creature.

“I always had this urge to take them and give them a place to rest,” said Maya.

A clandestine trip to Animalerie Felix Pet Shop then led Maya to her first forays into taxidermy.

“I saw that they had a bunch of frozen rats,” she said. “I didn’t know that you could buy feeder rats frozen, so I got one, took it home, and decided that it’s what I was going to do.”

She does both wet and dry taxidermy. Wet preserving is storing the animal in a solution in a jar for display similar to what one might see in a lab. Maya often receives requests from friends to create something with their former pets or animals they find on the road.

“You’d be surprised by the amount of requests I get throughout the day,” she said.

Maya’s been a vegetarian since she was nine years old, and doesn’t kill any animals. She doesn’t hunt or fish either.

From tattooing to taxidermy to carpentry, Maya hopes to create with wood as a profession restoring furniture and guitars and constructing woodwork.

She finished a cabinetmaking course at the Rosemount Technology Centre this spring, and signed up for the furniture finishing course, which will begin in the fall.

Maya is currently interning under custom guitar maker James Klym at the Atelier Helios Markerspace near Atwater Market.

Her goal, through all things, remains the same.

“I want to take the dead and add the beauty of the wood and the craftsmanship of the wood and intertwine the two,” she said.

Maya is doing a stage in St. Henri and will return to woodworking school in the fall to continue mastering a craft she is already starting to show an aptitude for mastering. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)

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