Have you ever wanted a taxidermied peacock? Albino or pigmented? The choice is yours at Isles Studio. The shop, which appears to be a house on 25th Street off Hennepin Avenue, is actually a cross between a natural history museum, an art gallery, a bookstore and a Parisian goods shop. And everything is for sale inside, even the hippo skull on the top shelf.

Jeff Bengtson started what he calls a “cabinet of curiosities” nine years ago after working in retail since 1976. He developed a love for plants and animals from growing up in rural North Dakota, and his frequent trips to Paris ignited a love for Parisian goods. He combined those loves to create Isles Studio.

You can have your choice of a taxidermied albino or pigmented peacock at Isles Studio. Photo by Anna Koenning

The taxidermy commands the most attention in the store, which winds into several tight rooms and a hallway, but the countless shelves and tables in the store are also filled with ceramics, photographs, books and jewelry. Bengtson gave a tour of the place, pointing out where each item comes from. Most are hand-made, and a good number of them are Parisian. He pointed out a collection of candles from the French brand Trudon, which began in 1643 making it one of the oldest candlemakers in the world.

“I think everything in the U.S. has gotten so homogenized in terms of retail,” Bengtson said. “There’s a place for that, because not everybody wants to spend the money on this kind of stuff, so there’s a need for both. But I chose this.”

One of owner Jeff Bengtson’s favorite pieces in the store is this real hippo skull atop the bookshelf. Photo by Anna Koenning

Bengtson became interested in taxidermy after visiting Deyrolle, a shop in Paris that specializes in taxidermy.

Jeff Bengtson ships ceramics, candles and art from Paris to fill his East Isles shop. The bird behind his shoulder is his favorite in the shop, a Marabou stork. Photo by Anna Koenning

“Europeans have a very different attitude on taxidermy. I sort of feel in the U.S. people think of taxidermy and hunting, but in Europe they look at it as decor and education,” Bengtson said.

The taxidermy in his shop is bright, colorful and beautiful. There are familiar birds, like the peacocks and the flamingo, and there are birds like Bengtson’s favorite, the Marabou stork. There are moths and butterflies in shadow boxes.

The birds in Bengtson’s shop were bred in captivity, and many have a metal band on their leg with identifying information. A taxidermist buys the dead birds from a zoo or other legal captor, freezes them, then immortalizes them through the many steps of the taxidermy process.

The taxidermied skin on some birds looks like paper, but it’s all real skin treated with a special process to prevent rotting. Photo by Anna Koenning

“When I opened the store I was terrified that somebody like PETA would come in and give us a hard time. It hasn’t happened,” Bengtson said. “But now I was thinking ‘well maybe that would’ve been really good free publicity.’”

Many of the ceramics in Bentson’s shop are shipped carefully from Paris. Photo courtesy of Isles Studio

The taxidermy, along with all of the European goods Bengtson orders, are shipped on sturdy pallets on airplanes. When the goods reach the U.S., they go through U.S. Customs. The taxidermy also goes through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These stops add to the prices in Bengtson’s shop, which ranges from around $50 for the insects to over $4000 for bigger pieces like the flamingo.

“We try to sell a lot of things handmade, and a lot of stuff from France, which is part of why the prices are what they are, they’re handmade, but I think everything has a soul,” Bengtson said.

The handmade Parisian mugs and other dishes will run you a pretty penny too, but there are also affordable trinkets, flower pots and art in the store.

There’s something for everybody, but simply looking around is entertaining in itself. If you go in, ask Bengtson about the products and he’ll tell you the story behind it.

Not all the animals on the wall are taxidermy– this paper mâché narwhal and the other heads in the background were made by a Nebraskan mom and son. Photo by Anna Koenning

Business took a hit during the pandemic and uprisings following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. While he was able to advertise products through Instagram and sell from his website, shipping products double-boxed of course, Bengtson said that people just aren’t shopping as much as they did pre-pandemic. He said a couple of shoppers from the suburbs told him they hadn’t been in for three years because they were worried it wasn’t safe.

When asked what he wanted people to know about his shop, Bengtson replied “that we’re open. We survived the pandemic. We are here to welcome people.”

Isles Studio is tucked in a house-like building just off Hennepin Avenue in East Isles. Photo by Anna Koenning

Isles Studio (not to be confused with Isles Gallery on Hennepin Avenue) is located at 1311 West 25th Street, and the hours change seasonally, but it’s currently open from 12-5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Get a preview of the store at the Isles Studio Instagram page.