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Sharing favourite things with the woman who reinvented the wheel of taxidermy: Emma Hawkins.
9 February 2018

I had heard about her before I ever met her – the extraordinarily glamorous Australian, Emma Hawkins. I was working as a fork lift truck driver at The Gallerie’s Antique Market in Bermondsey, when an Australian financier used to come by in his white convertible Rolls Royce Corniche and fervently talk about: “This girl, Emma – had I met her? She’s amazing…You must meet her!…We should all go down to the South of France on a buying trip!”

I knew of her father of course, the legendary antique dealer, ‘The Great’ John Hawkins. Emma had also grown up with Warner Dailey in her life, who was my childhood mentor. When the financier discovered the connection with Warner, he became even more adamant we should meet.

I eventually did. She was twenty one when she bought a building in Notting hill and opened an exceptionally stylish and opulent shop ‘Hawkins & Hawkins’, selling taxidermy and curiosities. It was like she had dropped down from outer space, doing something then that no one else was doing, as taxidermy was certainly not fashionable in the late nineties/early noughties. She was before her time. I used to go to her shop with an Italian client I was working for, Alessandro Steffanini. I was the man with a van, ten years older than her and she was this vibrant sensation, Notting hill shop owner who had found – and was following her passion. She broke boundaries and created new fashions. She is truly a remarkable and a true individual.

Emma doesn’t have the shop anymore in Notting Hill but creates collections for clients and sells at Dover Street Market. I am so pleased that the financier pushed for us to meet as we have become firm friends over the last two decades.

As you can imagine from a renowned collector and hugely talented antique dealer, her house in Edinburgh is full to bursting with endless treasures, curiosities, taxidermy and antiques. Out of it all, Emma has selected some of her favourite things.

Barry. Emma’s three year old Jack Russell. ” A gift from the gods.”

“It’s easy. I would have to start with Barry. …Basically he is a gift from the Gods. He comes from a strong Irish linear that ended up in Scotland. He is our first family dog and he completes the pack.”

Mammoth Bone with Grayson Perry. “There is no better art than nature.”

“I’ve always be drawn to treasures and curiosities from the natural world such as this prehistoric mammoth leg bone. I like to contemplate the size of animals that have bones such as these that do not roam with us anymore.The mammoth became extinct from 4,500 to 5 million years ago and I feel incredible lucky to be able to have a tactile object still in existence.These bones surface like that of the Irish elk horns – it truly is like an offering from the earth. I also own mammoth tusks but they are so heavy I can hardly lift them. I find the history, age and patina of this bone extraordinary. Really these sculptural bones in their natural form are God’s own art world – even Brancusi may struggle to equal! ”

19th century Witches ball “They are enchanting.”

“I have always been intrigued and my curiosity pricked by ‘Witches balls’ also known as ‘Watch balls’ with all their variant stories and beliefs of protection attached. Historically they were hung in the window from the 17th through to the 19th century to ward away evil spirits. There is one very similar to this in the V&A museum. They are also named watch balls as they are guardians to warn you of anyone approaching in the reflection of the glass. I just think they are enchanting and what is unusual about this one is it’s size. Usually they are around eighteen cm but this is double that. I like to think that the scratches on the outside, reflect the scratch marks of a witch upon seeing her reflection and then became entrapped! I would only ever pass this witches ball on as a gift as it is believed to be bad luck to sell one.”

Ripped Francis Bacon canvas. Possibly from the Pope series or Self Portrait 1972-1974 “I couldn’t let this go.”

“Weirdly I fell for the corner of this painting first. (top right) It’s colour, it’s texture, its general mood. It was also desirable to me that I could not afford a ‘perfect’ Bacon but that this happened to cross my path! It’s origin was a skip. And from the skip came it’s original paperwork and you can see this unfolding on the first episode of Four Rooms in 2011. I wasn’t as calm as I looked but I couldn’t let this go, as I love so many things about this. The colours – that deep indigo, I can feel that it’s a Bacon through the canvas – the torturedness is there, the brush strokes, you can see how violently it’s been ripped apart. Even down to the wooden stretcher which to me was as important as the whole work. ( metal stretches are so often used now a days.)

A series of self portrait’s by Francis Bacon.

Polar Bear with Caribou horns. “I like to think of myself as a keeper of the existence of the natural world”

“The natural world is my passion but to be honest there has always been a slight push/ pull within the confines of taxidermy for me. I don’t like zoos or big game hunting. Nothing that resembles a ‘trophy’. But I like to think of myself as a keeper of the existence of the natural world from a time when the world wasn’t in tune with animals and the planet we live on – especially of rare and endangered species. I love the ‘soft nature’ in the pose of this polar bear. Usually they stand on two feet to illustrate their magnitude, strength and fight. This captures another side and it is how I would like animals to be perceived in the natural world as beautiful and precious.”

“When I opened my shop ‘Hawkins & Hawkins’ in Notting Hill it was so different to how it is today. I loved its edginess. It was full of antique dealers then. ( Now it’s full of Joseph and clothes shops which is a bit of a bore!) All the runners were dropping taxidermy at my door at a time when it wasn’t even thought about. I thought I’ll do it for a year or two and now twenty four years later I’m still doing it! I became a dealer as well as a friend to so many, including the infamous William Fisher! This in turn opened up, luckily for me, so many interesting and often firmly locked doors. When I started out the Olympia fine art fair wouldn’t allow me to sell taxidermy but my father told them unless you let her, I won’t do it. Now numerous stands at even the most opulent fairs are selling items from the natural world. Being a woman antique dealer came easier for me than most due to the kindness and accessibility of the firms I did my apprenticeship with along with the fact I was JBH’s daughter. (John Hawkins) I have enjoyed hanging off his coat tails and I’ve been very happy to. We compliment each other with both a dealers eye and intellect ( ok, I”m still working on catching him up on the intellect but hey ho a team is a team!) I suppose I couldn’t and still to this day wouldn’t really enjoy being a dealer if I didn’t join him on many projects.

17th Century Silver Bezoar. ” The bezoar holds mystic healing powers which I find intriguing.”

“The word bezoar is believed to derive from the Persian term pa (d)-zahar meaning poison antidote. The stone like mass is found in the intestine of animals and from the 16th century it was believed that a bezoar held mystic healing powers which I find intriguing. This would be worn on a chain around your neck to be used as an antidote for various ailments including poisoning! I truly believe in the mystical world of amulets. Even though I don’t wear this one, I wear amulets because I have belief in their power. Is it not essential to have faith in something? ”

Walrus baculum.” The story is written into the bone.”

“This Innuit object (Eskimo often preferred) made from the penile bone of the Walrus tells it’s own story through it’s markings given to it over time and dedication by it’s owner. It is a 18th century tool that the Innuit used as a part of their culture. Baculum’s were used as tent poles, sled frames and legs for stools whilst fishing. Even the membrane from the baculum was used as window sealant in Igloos. It has a wonderful patina and an amazing weight. As in this case I am always taken by objects used by people who live as one with the land.”

Early Mahogany folio turner.”Holds a story that only the inscriber knows.“

“This enchanting mahogany folio page turner once again holds a story that only the inscriber knows. The love hearts quietly marked at its centre one hopes was done whilst it’s owner was enjoying what they found within the folio’s pages.”

“An early Walrus skull on a shield is joined quietly by a dried pod branch from a trip to the local florist. The lovely French weight, which should be used as a door stop, finds itself more happily on eye level on a plinth from Jamb.”