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IN YOUR FACE: Kids and Cockroaches at Paxton Gate

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We’ve got a plethora of unique local stores in this town and Paxton Gate tops the list, stocked with taxidermy animals, carnivorous plants and other treasures of “the garden and the natural sciences” variety. When parents pick up their kids from writing sessions at Dave Egger’s 826 Valencia Pirate Store, Paxton Gate awaits next door with lions frozen in time, costumed mice, and bugs of all kinds. But the space is mostly for grown-ups, so Paxton opened a children’s store down the block last year, and has recently added an art gallery in the foyer.

The taxidermy is still present but it’s safe for toddlers, and the collection of toys and books will transport you to a simpler time when you picked blueberries, wore hand-knit mittens, and played with wooden toys. Emmanuel and I checked out Jennifer Muskopf’s new exhibit of talking cockroaches telling creation tales, and asked Paxton Gate fans to give us their thoughts on the store and the wise insect artwork.

Artist Jennifer Muskopf with her daughter, Dinah

Zenaida Sengo
“I would like to listen to the cockroaches in isolation when there’s not a lot of noise around. I really like them visually and I love insects. I raise cockroaches at home to feed reptiles; they’re a really nutritious insect so I have a kind of connection to them. There are a wide variety of cockroaches and I think Jennifer did a good job of representing different species.”


John Chiara
“I love the show. I especially enjoyed the cockroach that recited the Cherokee story of how the earth came to be, and I was fascinated by it. I think the cockroaches are all really beautiful and the fact that they tell stories is just amazing.”

Paxton Forgue, whose name is just a coincidence
“First of all, I really like the idea. You have the cockroaches that tell stories of creation, and they already have an archaic look to them and have been around for ages. They might be the only things left after the possible destruction that could happen — especially man-made destruction — they’re the only thing that could survive a nuclear winter. I also like the different cultural aspects, like the first one tells the Big Bang theory. I thought it was nice that was included, and it’s not just old stories. Some of them are even poems if you listen to them.”

Priscilla Botsford with her daughter, Evyn
“I like the exhibit’s timeless theme and its location. Cockroaches have been around forever, witnessing everything and they’re in this store where there’s a certain timelessness to the toys. This store has so much more of a history and timelessness to it than other stores you might go to. I was able to tell my daughter when we were coming here that it was an exhibit, like a museum, but the difference here is the art is with toys; it’s really great and they’re able to pull that off in this store.”

James Morrill of Paxton Gate’s plush trophies
“In the beginning we had four stuffed animal heads just for display, in homage to the main Paxton Gate. We ended up getting so much positive feedback, and people wanted them so we decided we had to keep making them. We started mounting these heads, and it’s a process that all the employees know how to do, so you will sometimes find us decapitating these stuffed animals and mounting them, it’s a procedure. I absolutely love the frog, he’s very endearing. He’s the rattiest. Our co-worker Em made the beaver and the appendage hanging off the plaque is a new addition — it’s so perfect.”

Animal heads, archeological digs, and cockroaches — a child’s wildest holiday dreams come true at Paxton Gate Curiosities for Kids! Jennifer Muskopf’s “You Had to Be There” runs through January 20, 2010.

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