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Business Wed Aug 29 2012

Doing It For the Dead Animals: Andersonville's Woolly Mammoth

By Alicia Eler

WoollyMammoth_Adam_Skye.jpgAdam Rust and Skye Enyeart-Rust live for adventure. Whereas a more practical business owner will tell you they opened their shop because they saw a market need, this couple did it for the thrill. For the kill, you might even say.

"We were on a belated honeymoon and had been traveling all over Turkey and Romania," explains Skye. "In Romania, we were hot on the trail of Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula, and kept thinking to ourselves: How can we ever go back to Chicago Mundania?"

An adventure was in order. But how was that even possible in Chicago?

"To have something that is sedentary but also an adventure everyday — that's what Woolly Mammoth is to us," says Adam.

Two weeks after the couple returned from traveling Europe, they signed a lease on what is now the Woolly Mammoth storefront at 1513 W. Foster Ave. One-and-a-half months later, the shop opened to the public.

"It was a huge risk," says Skye, acknowledging the economic downturn and the cost of running a small business. "But we were willing to take it because we wanted some excitement."

Perhaps needed is a better word. But practically speaking, how could such a quirky store survive within the context of a gentrified, family-friendly, somewhat vanilla-flavored land such as Andersonville?

"Woolly Mammoth has a lot of crossover with some of the other home furnishing stores in the neighborhood," says Jim Jostes, co-owner of Room Service, an Andersonville home décor store specializing in mid-century furniture. "At our store, Paul and I sell the things we love and would have in our own home personally. Our motto is live with what you love, so these things we pick up and see in our travels, it's our perspective."

In that sense, Woolly is actually quite similar to Room Service — it's just that the owners' have a more specialized interest in taxidermy and oddities. This is no surprise considering that both Adam and Skye come from families of antiquers.

When the store originally opened, the couple decided to include more items that they thought would help them "fit in" with the home décor stores of the neighborhood. Couches, mid-century furniture and kitchen tables were among some of those "standard" type items. Eventually those pieces got phased out.

"At first we just peppered practical, stereotypical antiques with our little taste of macabre and taxidermy," says Skye. "But now you walk into the store and you're really hit with it."

Taxidermy is a part of both Adam and Skye's upbringing, too. Growing up, Skye hated taxidermy because her brother and father both hunted. Once she left high school and started thinking about how to make art, however, those stuffed, dead animals popped into her head again. Likewise with Adam, who studied art in both undergrad and graduate school, taxidermy quickly became a part of his creative practice.

Sir-Neckolas-WoollyMammoth.jpg"I got my first mount as a kid; my mom gave me a vintage stuffed alligator and later, in college, my uncle — who is also an antique dealer — gave me a stuffed antelope named Louis," Adam explains. His artwork incorporates road kill, dead rats, pigeons and other animals that he's found. His interest in taxidermy did not stop there, however. In a sense, Woolly Mammoth is like one big art project, and taxidermy happens to be the main subject matter.

"That animal is a piece of nature's work, but then it dies and there's the hand of the artist that stuffs it, making it look real or fake," Adam says. "So it's this multi-layered level of nature's art, then man's art and then the way man takes it and puts it on the wall, whatever that means."

At Woolly Mammoth, the couple sees their vast taxidermy collection as a way of rescuing and honoring the animals rather than displaying any sort of "trophy."

"We collect dilapidated stuff; these are all vintage mounts and, really, we feel bad for them," Adam says. "With taxidermy, it's the equivalent of hanging a leather boot on a wall...but it has a face, and that makes us remember what it really is."

A dog named Melvin, Skye and Adam's latest, very much alive "acquisition," looks up from his short nap at their feet. He's only eight months old, and chances are that if the couple hadn't rescued him, he would have ended up in the garbage with the other strays.

"That's what we love," says Skye. "Saving the animals. We love doing that and we love doing it together, so it makes sense that we'd want to do it for the store."

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Kim Z / August 29, 2012 10:18 AM

Walking by Woolly Mammoth always makes me smile.

Pat C / August 30, 2012 2:40 AM

I love this store! It's like a candy store for lovers of curiosities.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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