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'I Am CGCC' Lettie Young

June 3, 2014

Most people can’t bear to look at road kill and will go to great lengths to avert their eyes if they happen to catch a glimpse of anything resembling animal guts on pavement. But not Lettie Young. A second year student at Columbia Gorge Community College (CGCC) who plans to graduate this spring with her Associate’s of General Studies, Young has earned somewhat of a reputation for fearlessly peeling road kill off the interstate, examining dead animals she may find along the coast, and digging into such corpses whenever an opportunity arises.

It’s not that she’s some kind of morbid “sick-o” or “psycho,” but she’s a self-taught taxidermist and skilled artist. Her art? Curiously (to most), it’s painting animal skulls and bones, as well as tanning animal pelts, for the purpose of portraying the beauty and life that once was and yet remains despite death.

“When I think about my artwork, the English language is almost too limited to describe the feeling I get when I take up a pencil, a paintbrush, and a bucket of sun-bleached bones,” says Lettie, whose work in taxidermy was recently featured in the March issue of Ruralite magazine by Lori Russell. “I love getting my hands dirty and don’t care if I’m elbows-deep in the chest cavity of a raccoon. It sounds revolting — I know. But don’t love it ‘til you try it! Taxidermy has expanded my appreciation of life, as well as my respect and appreciation of death. Through taxidermy, I feel it’s my job to give a voice to the voiceless, touch the untouchable and transform what I’m working on into something that makes people stop and think. I hope to inspire critical thinking and conversation.”

Whenever people meet Lettie, a native of The Dalles and 2012 graduate of The Dalles High School, they’re always a bit shocked to learn she’s a taxidermist, she says. But they’re also surprised to discover she’s an aspiring writer who is editing a science fiction novel, writing a sequel, and planning for a third novel in her near future. Perhaps her work with words is a lesser-known talent in the community because she’s also been busy coaching softball over the years in addition to clearly making a name for herself as a gifted visual arts artist. For example, she’s most known for painting the 2012 senior mural at her high school, her numerous art displays at CGCC and The Dalles Art Center, spray-painting live for The Cherry Festival out front The Dalles Art Center, and her incessant doodling — a habit she’s had for as long as she can remember.

“I’ve been a doodler all my life,” she says. “Especially since high school, art has just always been in my blood, so much so that I don’t see myself ever putting my pencil down.”

This summer, upon graduation, Lettie will participate in a June show at The Dalles Art Center featuring local artists where she’ll debut a taxidermy collection entitled “Farm Animals.” She’ll also take on another big role at The Dalles Art Center as the youth art camp director before moving to Vancouver, Wash. Here, Lettie hopes to spend a year apprenticing in a tattoo shop before becoming a certified tattoo artist and adding “ink” to her portfolio of creative endeavors. Although she’s pretty certain about this immediate professional path, Lettie says that as this point, she’s keeping her options open for the more “distant future,” considering everything from pursuing a writing degree to attending a trade school for taxidermy.

“Whatever I do, there’s no doubt that I’ll stay busy and keep learning because I love to learn,” Lettie says. “As long as those two things are happening, I’ll be content with life.”

More about 'I Am CGCC'

To nominate a student, faculty member, or someone who is on the CGCC staff for the "I Am CCGG" profile, please contact Michelle Bose, the college's marketing coordinator at (541) 506-6104 or Media interested in receiving or linking to the student profiles should also contact Michelle Bose for more details.