Olive Murphy was always a weird kid, collecting birds nests and animal bones, turning them into some kind of art or jewellery.
Now, the recent University of Guelph graduate is putting her peculiar hobbies to work.
She never intended on monetizing her hobby, but her family encouraged her to start a business, believing it would be a hit with the right crowd.
“It turns out they were right,” she said.
She launched her Etsy store, FUNGYOTE, in January, where she turns coyote teeth into earrings and gives used stuffed animals a second life with her unique take on taxidermy, among other things.
She got the idea for the earrings while walking by the river: her boyfriend noticed a pile of small animal bones off to the side of the trail, and the sight reawakened her interest in taxidermy.
“So I started collecting antlers and bone shards, going to antique shows and garage sales, rescuing these silly little taxidermied animals or bone pieces and making them into art.”
Eventually, she went online and found a store in Toronto that sells coyote teeth. She bought a pair and made them into earrings for her boyfriend, who told her she should make more.
“So I made a couple and posted them online, and they sold out almost immediately.”
After that, she kept making more, and by April was selling them at art markets.
But the multi-eyed, sometimes multi-limbed teddy bears are by far her best seller. In the short time she’s been operating, she’s sold at least 100 of them.
“People really like the sheep and the bunnies, but I’m more of a classic teddy bear person,” she said.
Some of her clients are actually repeat buyers, who specifically seek her out at markets to add to their collection of spooky stuffed animals.
“People will get about three quarters of the way past (my stall) before stopping and turning around to look closer,” she laughed. That kind of response to her art is what she expects. In fact, it’s what she wants.
Murphy has always been interested in this kind of peripheral horror, which is what her undergraduate thesis was on.
Peripheral horror, she says, is when you don’t notice something is off, or scary in any way, until you look closer.
“I love watching people almost walk by my booth and then turn around to come back and ask what is going on with these teddy bears,” she laughed.
The inspiration for them came from seeing teddy bears online that were creepy, but too creepy even for her liking.
“And I always got kind of sad seeing the stuffed animals sitting around at thrift stores for weeks and months and then just getting thrown away,” she said. “So I thought I could do something with them.”
The process involves the stuffed animals being “lovingly beheaded” before she “stabs them in the face a bunch of times” to sew the extra eyes on.
“I really ended up liking the effect because you have this cute, classic little teddy bear, and then when you look closer it’s like, ‘Oh, that's really creepy.’”
Some of them get extra legs or two heads. She recently sold a four-foot-tall teddy bear with four arms and giant eyes.
Each one also gets a tag assigning them with a weird little persona.
“It ranges from ‘I’m good at math’ ... to ‘I’ve been to federal prison six times,’” she said. “I think the type of people who are already attracted to the creepiness of the teddy bears are really enthralled with the funny facts on them.”
Her favourite part about them, though, is that rather than wasting away in a landfill, they’ll get new homes – while also making “some weirdo like me really amused and happy."
Murphy just graduated with a BA from the University of Guelph. Since launching the business, people are often surprised to learn what she has planned next: law school.
“They’ll look at me funny, (because I’m) going from this weird artsy thing to something really studious,” she said.
But to Murphy, it makes sense. Besides the fact that she’s had offbeat interests her whole life, she says that before you head into your first semester of law school, it’s advised that you take the summer before to relax and do what makes you happy.
“I like to use waste products, things that people throw away. Even the coyote teeth were a waste product from the taxidermy industry. The teddy bears are literally about to be trash,” she said. “My high school teacher always told me, if you can figure out a way to use someone else’s trash in a productive manner, you’re never going to be poor.”
Murphy’s business is one of eight participating in BC Guelph-Wellington’s 2022 Summer Company cohort, a program that helps young adults run their summer businesses through funding and mentorship. You can find her Etsy store here.
Her next show in Guelph is Aug. 6 in Royal City Park with the Guelph Handmade Market.