ANDERSONVILLE — Two artists are pleading for the return of their shop’s signature articulated fetus skeleton after it was stolen last week.
Husband-and-wife duo Adam and Skye Rust returned from a vacation to discover that “Little Skeleton” wasn’t in its latched medical display case at Woolly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities, 1513 W. Foster Ave. The Andersonville shop sells vintage items, antique taxidermy, anatomy objects, medical stuffs, books, toys and skulls.
The couple featured the small skeleton prominently in their shop for years and consider it like their “only child.” The theft devastated them and their loyal customers, and the Rusts are offering a reward and promise not to take legal action as long as it’s returned safely.
“I would have never guessed we would have been as distraught about this as we are,” Adam Rust said. “We’ve had things stolen, for sure, but there’s something different about this. This wasn’t for sale. This was part of the collection for everyone to appreciate.”
Though it may look a bit otherworldly, the skeleton is quite real, the couple said.
They don’t know its exact age, but they believe it once belonged to an infant, and it was prepared and articulated around the 1960s in Chicago, according to its preparator’s mark. The Rusts received the skeleton from the founder at The Drawing Workshop, a local art studio and figure drawing school that used it for classes for more than 40 years until around 2016, when the school was purchased by Lillstreet Art Center.
Skye Rust said most people can’t recognize it as a human skeleton, often mistaking it for an alien or something similar. To her, the realization the skeleton is human is a big part of Woolly Mammoth’s mission: celebrating life through death and confronting tougher realities about mortality.
“Our whole shop is about confronting your fears, coping with life, looking at death and deciding to live,” Skye Rust said. “It’s our personal ethos of life that we’ve instilled into Woolly Mammoth, and the fetus skeleton couldn’t be a better indicator of that.”
Death and how people deal with it has always fascinated the Rusts.
The two met in graduate school at Columbia College Chicago in 2004, as Skye Rust worked on a thesis about the death industry in the United States. She wanted people to think about the kind of casket they wanted to be buried in instead of the choice being made for them in a moment of grief. Adam Rust made art from ethically sourced roadkill and taxidermy and used fetuses as a theme in his works. Both collected false teeth.
They started Woolly Mammoth about 12 years ago.
The Rusts source a lot of their inventory through treasure hunting, trading with other antiques dealers, going to auctions and estate sales and visiting private collections. Like the skeleton, many of Woolly Mammoth’s items are unique and not easily replaced.
Even if they could have a new skeleton — real, fully articulated fetus skeletons are extremely rare — they wouldn’t want it, they said.
“There’s just something special about multiple people, about a community that’s cherishing and having a group celebration of the skeleton,” Skye Rust said. “There’s something not tangible about it.”
Anyone with any information on the theft can message the Rusts on their Instagram page or call the shop at 773-989-3294.
“We all make mistakes, but please return it,” Adam Rust said. “We just want it back.”
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: