People Who Inspire Me: Medusa Sevas Tra of Momento Mori, Inc.

One experience with Medusa Sevas Tra’s art, and you’ll always be able to find it in a crowd.

Rich, dark, raw, gothic, too beautiful to be terrifying but still dancing at the edge of macabre: everything that emerges from Medusa’s studio Memento Mori, Inc., is as daring and distinctive as Medusa herself. While her style may defy description (hence, the pictures), Medusa herself likes to characterize it as “rogue taxidermy, wet specimens and macabre artwork dealing with bones and dead things.”

Yes, my friends. Real dead things.

Medusa Art

Whether bones or taxidermied animals, much if not all of Medusa’s creations incorporate the remains of a once-living creature. It’s a testament to her skill as an artist. Not to mention a poignant reminder that art can emerge even from life that has already passed.

The impetus for such creations comes largely from their scarcity in the marketplace. “If I see something is needed [in the art world], I want to make it,” Medusa explains. “If it’s never been made before, I want make it. Take my octopuses in jars, for example. People were selling ‘specimens’ like that that were just in jars. I took the octopus in a jar to a whole new level.”

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real octopus-in-a-jar

If you could have seen Medusa’s table at RAW Natural Born Artists, you’d agree that it really is a whole new level. Her wares evince a distinctive mashup of gothic and steampunk (which I personally love) along with some medieval and Lovecraftian influences for good measure. The crowd at her table was three-deep every time I walked past. Probably because much of her work resembles the eclectic debris of a mad scientist’s abandoned lair—and who doesn’t love that? Especially when it’s crafted from real bones and found animal carcasses?

“I use all the health precautions,” Medusa assures. “Plastic gloves, masks, respirators, goggles. I work with found specimens that expired in nature because I like everything to be as natural as possible. The octopuses are the only item I buy as prepared food. I defrost them and keep them in a special little jar.”

Medusa’s day job as a cake decorator plays well into her work. For one thing, it leverages the incredible hand skill she’s developed in her work, which is often small or miniature in nature. On an average day she puts in her time crafting celebrations of life, then runs home to quite literally craft celebrations of the opposite.

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“vampire” heart

It’s an extreme Medusa takes with easy stride. 

Luckily her roommates are able to do the same. They’ve even acquiesced to her using the small backyard for preparing the bodies of her future mammalian subjects. Medusa places each in a cat litter canister with holes drilled in the top and bottom. These she buries for months at a time, until the flesh “turns to mush” and drips into the earth. She can then remove the bones and take them through a mastication process to remove all the remaining debris.

Mouse skull earrings

real mouse skull and feature earrings

Medusa’s fan base has grown steadily over the last five years, but she’s not sure all of them truly understand how much effort goes into each piece. Or that the specimens they buy are all real. Among her various offerings, her Vampire Heart installations are a perennial favorite. And while she did not start out doing jewelry, her first batch sold so well that she’s continued to expand her line.

Sometimes the pieces are intensely personal, too. Customers send Medusa a baby tooth, for example, which she sets in resin and turns into a one-of-a-kind locket. Other times the piece may not involve so personal of a material, but the vision is just as original. For these Medusa will share sketches back and forth with the buyer until the right look is achieved. Then she must figure out how to execute it—often researching materials and techniques online to help her pioneer the production process.

So where did she get this amazing eye for art, using a set of materials most might overlook?

“It started about ten years ago, when I was doing haunts and horror makeup,” she explains. “I began to realize that there wasn’t a lot out there for the subcultures like the steampunk, horror and gothic communities. In steampunk, for example, everything is handmade. When it’s churned out by a company, the fans leave. I wanted to answer the need for unique art.”

But fandoms aren’t the only markets that patronize her evolving line of limited-edition offerings. Medusa has also found an audience among roller derby players and fans, starting first with her own roller derby community at the BrewCity Bruisers, where she’s been playing for several years.

Though Medusa’s fan base and offerings have grown organically over the years,  she’s still a woman on a very serious mission. When asked about her creative influences, she referenced two women who may never have been mentioned in the same sentence before: Otep—multi-hyphenate metal musician, slam poet, artist and painter—and the better-known magnate of lifestyle and decor, Martha Stewart.

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Why these two specifically? “They’re masterminds of their worlds,” Medusa asserts. “Both of them have created a whole universe around themselves. Whenever you see their artistic output, you know it’s them. It’s unmistakable. That’s my goal: to create my own unforgettable world.”

From an outsider’s perspective, Medusa is already well on her way to achieving her goal. Her courage and confidence exude in the form of easy grace. She knows her style. She knows that it matters, and though she already makes a tidy monthly income from her handmade creations, she forges ahead bravely with big plans for the future.

One of those plans in formal taxidermy school. Another is revamping her already-refined marketing strategies to afford her more visibility at high-profile fandom events for steampunks, goths and the horror community.

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She smiles as she speaks of these plans, unfazed even by the constant uncertainties of being a working artist in today’s world. When asked if she ever worries about what’s to come, she reminded me of the many amazing performers and artists down through history whose vision carried them forward.

People like PT Barnum, for example.

“When you start reading up on people like Barnum,” Medusa says, “you discover that many of them went broke multiple times and then raised another empire almost overnight. They were forces of nature. Unstoppable.”

It’s this nimble maneuvering within singularity of purpose that makes Medusa herself as special as the art she creates. To all of us, her fellow artists and world-builders, she offers one piece of advice:

“Live in your bubble, and your bubble will come alive. Throw everything at it. Go all out . . . If you fail, tweak and go back at it. Never, ever give up.”

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With that, she hugged me and was off again. Maybe to frost some birthday cakes or break out her skates. Or more possibly, to clean some dead animals.

In the end, I don’t suppose it really matters which.

For Medusa Sevas Tra, it’s all art anyway.

Discover Medusa’s art for yourself, at [insert website here].

Connect with Medusa on [insert social links here].

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