Meet VICE, the “News Agency” That Lives Up to its Name

VICE1

/vīs/
noun
immoral or wicked behavior.
synonyms: immorality, wrongdoing, wickedness, badness, evil, iniquity, villainy, corruption, misconduct, misdeeds;

A journalist from VICE named Beckett recently contacted me, saying he was interested in my work and would like to interview me. Below is the copied and pasted interview transcript, with the parts actually used in the published article being colored orange.

B for Beckett, the journalist from VICE; 

D for Dalton, me, the one being interviewed.

Actual Transcript

B:

Hi, I’m Beckett, a journalist for VICE. I’m really interested in your collection and would love to learn more about you and your curatorial talents. Would you be interested in answering a few questions over email or Skype? Hit me up at beckett.mufson@vice.com

D:

Hey there, Beckett,

 
Thank you for having interest in my work! I’d be more than glad to answer any questions you may have.
 
Hope to hear from you soon,
 
Dalton
 

B:

Thanks again for your speedy response, Dalton. Here are my questions below. Let me know if you have any other questions about the piece!

 
First, can you tell me a bit about yourself? How old are you, and how long have you been collecting and articulating skeletons? Is this your full-time gig or do you also have a day job? Pretend I’m a five-year-old: what do you do all day?
 
What got you interested in the craft of skeleton articulation?
 
What sorts of emotions do you feel when you complete a skeleton? 
 
What types of buyers do you get for your skeletons, and how do they find you? How much money do different types of skeletons go for?
 
What do your friends and family think about what you do? Is there anyone you feel the need to keep it private from?
 
Your Instagram account is quite popular for such a niche interest. What is your audience like? How did you become so successful on social media? Was it intentional, or did it just kind of happen?
 
What are some unexpected side effects of being Instagram famous for dead things?
 
Who are some other people in the community who you admire or feel are on your same wavelength?
 
What are you working on next?
 
Thanks Dalton! I’m working on deadline. Do you think you could get me back some answers by tomorrow?
 
Best,
Beckett
 

D:

My name is Dalton Stealth. Originally from Reading, PA, but have been in Dothan, Alabama, for the last 11 years. I’ve been articulating skeletons for a little over three years now (first one completed June 18, 2015) and I do it full time now.
 
My work schedule is usually quite busy, but being in this line of work allows me to work whatever hours I please. Once a week (usually on a weekend) I dump buckets. These buckets contain skeletons that are cleaning- either macerating or degreasing.
 
Maceration is the process of letting natural anaerobic bacteria eat away all the muscle tissue and “flesh” from the bones. It’s as simple as putting a skinned and gutted animal in a bucket of water and keeping it somewhere warm. After the animals are done macerating, I begin degreasing.
 
Degreasing is necessary to remove oils and grease in the bones that would make them appear yellow, sticky, or sometimes have a foul odor. You can read more in depth on both processes on my blog at (www.oddarticulations.com/maceration101 and www.oddarticulations.com/degreasing101)
 
On the other days of the week, I spend a lot of my time running my social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr all at OddArticulations), and replying to emails, messages, and pet memorial inquires.
 
Actual articulating only accounts for on average 5 hours or less of my day. I can usually articulate a clean skeleton in about three days.
 
My interest in articulating began sometime in the winter of 2014. I was walking in the woods and stumbled across a beaver skull. It was already nature cleaned, but I wanted to get the dirt stains off so I began googling how to clean skulls. Fast forward to April 1st of 2015 and I found a mummified raccoon in the field by my house. When I began looking up how to clean the full skeleton is when I stumbled across articulating. I found a few accounts on Instagram that did it, and began watching, asking questions, and learning.
 
One of the accounts I was following (@inthecornfields) was interested in insects at the time to make his diarammas with. I began collecting insects (alive and dead) for him, and would mail him some. He would raise them until they passed, and then incorporate them into his displays. In one trade he sent me a clean (not put together) groundhog skeleton, and I began working. I was nearly clueless when it came to the names of the bones and where they went, but I was determined to learn. Using google images, Elmer’s glue, and a blow dryer (to make the glue dry faster), I began slowing putting the skeleton together. It took a couple months, but I finally finished it on my birthday, June 18th, 2015.
 
Looking back on it, I made many many mistakes, but it was a great learning experience. I articulated a few more skeletons, and on September 27, 2015 I began my Instagram account (@OddArticulations). I chose the name OddArticulations because I liked doing more difficult, less seen poses. Some of my first works included a “ninja squirrel” holding a staff made from a raccoon fibula, a mouse with a cane, a large striking rattlesnake, and two baby raccoons in a Valentine’s Day themed pose including their real preserved hearts.
 
People started noticing my work, and a few larger accounts (Jana Miller from @bone.lust being the main one- along with being my first customer) shared a few posts, and I was gaining about 100 followers per day for awhile. My standing rattlesnake skeleton from January 2016 (I believe) went “viral”, gaining over 3000 likes on Instagram, and helped me gain over 1000 followers in only a couple days. I then slowly began accepting commissions and selling my articulations on Etsy. I eventually created my website (www.oddarticulations.com) and now mainly work on pets for grieving owners.
 
I lost my cat, Lucky, of 10 years very unexpectedly on April 25, 2017 from panleukopenia (feline “Parvo”). I knew I wanted to memorialize him, but wasn’t sure I would be able to work on him myself. He sat in my freezer for 4 months until I was ready. I’m still cleaning his skeleton, and I had his paw taxidermy mounted by my good friend Lauren from Precious Creature Taxidermy.
 
After that, I began focusing on helping other grieving pet owners memorialize their furbabes in any way possible. The number one comment I hate to read is “I love your work! I wish I had known about it when my pet passed away!” My goal is to make people aware that there are other memorial options available for pets than just burial or cremation. I know bones aren’t for everyone, and I completely understand if you wouldn’t want to see your pet as some bones on a shelf, but for the pet parents that are interested, I make sure to help them during their time of need in any way I can. It brings me unexplainable joy to send finished pictures of pets to their owners and see their reactions. I know how relieving it was for me to have my cat’s paw after he passed, and if I can help provide that comfort to other people, I absolutely will. You can read more in depth on the pet memorial services I provide at (www.oddarticulations.com/inquires)
 
I almost exclusively work on pet commissions now, with the occasional work I do for a local zoo, or animals for my personal collection. The cost to get a pet cat cleaned and articulated is $450 for a basic pose (all 4 feet on the ground), and it varies from $450-650+ for dogs depending on size. I require a $100 deposit to begin working, and the remaining balance is due when the pet is ready to return home. I understand all too well the financial stress a sick pet can put on a family due to vet bills, possible euthanizing, and shipping costs to me. I gladly paid over $800 to try to save my cat, Lucky, but he still passed away comfortably at home. Because of this financial stress, I only require $100 to begin working so that I can give all families, regardless of their financial situation, a chance to afford my services. The average turnaround time for a pet is 2-7 months depending on how long it takes to clean and my list of articulating at the time.
 
61% of my follower base is female, with most of my followers being 18-34 years old. I feel like woman sometimes are just more accepting when it comes to “gross” things such as dissection. Woman are strong in general, and I’m humbled to have over 15,000 amazing people that enjoy seeing my work. I definitely try to please my followers. I have giveaways very often in different forms, from a “comment one thing you DON’T like about my page”, to simple “tag a friend and like this picture” giveaways. I almost always let the winner pick their own small prize from my website, and I always throw in a few extra goodies.
 
I know many of my followers are young and eager to learn- whether it be a high school student who realized they really like anatomy, vet students, artists looking for inspiration, or grieving pet owners that just want to see the process their pet goes through, I strive to provide valuable content for my viewers. I am constantly answering messages and emails with questions on how to get started, questions about articulating, or just complimenting my work. Because of this, I have created a few guides on my website to aid newcomers with cleaning their first skeleton or skull, as I remember struggling 3+ years ago to find good sources online to help me. I am overwhelmed at how kind a community of people fascinated with “dead things” can be. Some call us morbid, some call us weird, but I personally view articulating as a part of science that lets you see into the body. Dead is not “wrong” or “bad”, and I’m saddened that so many people view death in that way. By articulating skeletons, I am able to make the animals live on forever, and be appreciated for generations.
 
My family and friends are very accepting, but they haven’t always been. At first my friends thought it was incredibly weird. They thought I might turn into a serial killer or something, but now that I work with a local zoo, private museums, a freak show of deformed animals, and have such a large audience on social media, they definitely understand that it isn’t quite as weird as it sounds at first. I’m never ashamed of what I do- I take pride in my work, but when people ask what my job is I often start off with “you know the dinosaur skeletons in museums? I do that, but not with dinosaurs”. By explaining the educational side of it- such as me helping restore the biofacts for the educational department at the zoo so they can display them to their audience and promote conservation for the endangered species I work on, such as elephant skulls or rhino feet, people don’t view it quite as weird or morbid as they would if I said I was cutting up dead animals in my backyard. My business has expanded enough to justify having a 300sqft building constructed to be used as my studio. All cleaning, articulating, and photography take place there.
 
A few amazing perks of having my Instagram and showing my work to the world have included being able to view the archives of a natural history museum here in Alabama (think thousands of Victorian Taxidermy, Egyptian artifacts, giant display cases of pinned insects, etc- I was like a kid in a candy shop), being able to work with the zoo, and just being able to meet so many wonderful people from around the world. My “colleagues” are some of the most down to earth people I have met, and I am so very proud of the community I’m a part of in being so kind and accepting to everyone involved.
 
There are so many amazing articulators around the world, and a few that I’m very close to and talk to on a daily basis include Tom Keller (@Tomsimagination), Rickey Wheeler (@modified_remains), Sam Piassek (@spiassek and @shinerskulls), and my Aussie mate Gerard Geer (@articulated_imagination). They’re my go-to’s when I’m booked with commissions or need any help. We all refer clients to each other to find the best person for the job.
 
I have a lot of projects in the works, most of which I keep on the down low until they arrive or are finished, but I’ll say that guides for articulating, a monthly subscription box, a liger, and some sloths are on the horizon.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Alrighty Beckett, I hope that’s enough for you. Lol! If you have any other questions or areas you’d like me to delve deeper into, please don’t hesitate to ask! Feel free to use anything from my website (www.oddarticulations.com) as I go into detail on my About page with how I got started, and have almost all of my past work on my Gallery page. If you’re needing any specific images in better quality, please let me know and I’ll get those emailed over.
I’m not sure what angle you’re going to take the article, but all that I ask is that you don’t try to turn it into a freak show or shed negative light on the community. We face enough misunderstanding as is, and animal rights advocates already make our life hectic enough as they think working with dead animals (or any animals in general) is wrong. I would love it if you’d focus on the pet memorial aspect- as I strive to make my services more known for people in need, but of course you’re able to make it about whatever you please.
 
Thank you for your time, and thank you for contacting me! Please send me a link when the article is posted.
 
Dalton
 

B:

Thanks for your super detailed response Dalton! I appreciate the beauty of your craft, which thousands of people obviously appreciate as well. A quick follow up. I noticed you sell human skulls on your gram sometimes. What is it that people enjoy about collecting human skulls? Where do you get them? Do you every buy and sell other human body parts? If I wanted to buy or sell a skull, how does the law around buying and selling human remains online work?

 
Thanks!
 

D:

I do dabble in human skulls and bones. I have bought 26 human skulls so far, along with one fully articulated skeleton and one disarticulated skeleton. I personally only own 2 human skulls and the one disarticulated skeleton that I one day plan on articulating.
 
 
Many many people are against owning human remains, which I understand. The majority of mine come from retired dentists. Back in the day (70s and before) it was mandatory to have a real human skull in dental school. You could buy one just as you buy textbooks today. These dentists are now retiring, and looking to get rid of the skulls, so I buy and resell them.
 
 
I think people enjoy being able to see the features in a real human skull that aren’t visible in the plastic models. Sutures, nasal turbinates, inner ear bones, sinus cavities, real teeth, pathology, natural imperfections, etc. that “perfect” plastic skulls don’t accurately show.
 
 
I’ve only bought and sold human bones. Vertebrae, ribs, hands, feet, skulls, leg bones, etc. many have medical writing on them from college students.
 
 
Legalities are pretty simple. Ownership is illegal in Louisiana. Import/export is illegal in Georgia and Tennessee. I go more in depth on the laws and do’s and Don’ts in my blog post which you can view at Is Owning a Human Skull Legal?

D:

Will it be possible for me to proof it before it’s published? I’ve had a couple colleagues have VICE articles written on them that did NOT turn out like they had planned.

B:

It’s against our policy to run full copy by the subjects in advance, but I may be able to let you know which quotes from you I intend to use

D:

That’ll work. Thank you!

Summary

After all that, Beckett never told me the quotes he intended to use, and used only used the little part about the human skulls I sell to make a clickbaity “Meet the People Selling Dead Human Body Parts Online” article (later edited to say “Human Remains” instead of “Dead Human Body Parts”, which was the original title)

I feared this would happen, but being the first interview “about my work”, I was trying to stay optimistic. Not surprised in the slightest, just thought you all would like to see the behind the scenes of the article.

4 Responses to “Meet VICE, the “News Agency” That Lives Up to its Name

  • I’m so incredibly disappointed to read all that you put into it turn into a crappy clickbait. That ends up taking away from the whole beauty and science of the process and work in general.
    To be fair, Beckett probably wasn’t responsible for what the article became, but his editors butchered it for sensation. I’m sorry you got caught in that bullshit, but I hope you get many more interviews at much nicer institutions.

  • Xitlalli Lopez
    11 months ago

    This really hurt, I wish VICE would’ve been more appreciative of your work and at least should’ve let people know about your pet services since you made it clear that it’s important for more people to know about them. They definitely cut out your links and all that was favorable to you and others just for the sake of their own publicity and bait.

  • I am so sorry. This is disrespectful to not only your field of work and talents, but also to those who you helped through their grieving. Your response was very well written and I admire your acknowledgement to your social media followers. It really shows your appreciation for those who want to learn more about articulation. As someone who collects taxidermy, travels for oddities, and cleans bones herself I feel deeply offended with how this VICE reporter used you. Also as a Thanatology student, it does not help with my personal goal to educate people on the many ways to grieve for a loved one, pet or partner. Trying to explain alternative methods such as alkaline hydrolysis, natural burial, and home funeral to those who end up twisting information into such gruesome perspectives on human remains in death care is worrisome for the future. VICE does not properly support this community or provide the education needed. Again, I am so sorry for what happened to you.

  • Just wow. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the entire dialogue and am glad you went into such detail about things. I feel I can appreciate your line of work even more so now. A seriously awesome read and I wish the article was purely your dialogue. BUT MAN DOES VICE SUCK. I’m SO sorry they did that to you!

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