Bringing the skeletons out of the closet

Jun 8, 2005

Chris Schutz, Staff Writer, The Oklahoman

 

Photo by Roger Klock, The Oklahoman

The owner of a business that sells skulls and skeletons is fleshing out a museum devoted to the study of bones.

“It’s been my dream to do this,” said Jay Villemarette, president of Skulls Unlimited, 10313 S Sunnylane Road.

The bones of the museum are next door at 10309 S Sunnylane, a $500,000 building. Inside, some skeletons have already been assembled, but they will be moved as work on the interior of the building progresses.

Villemarette, 39, said he expects his Museum of Osteology to be complete in about a year.

Starting a museum has been his long-term goal, although he’s been in the skull business since he was 22. “The reason for the company existing is to support my addiction to enjoying skulls,” he said.

“I just recently found out that not everybody collects skulls,” he said.

The business sells skulls, skeletons and replicas to educators and collectors. Its catalog lists some items as “museum quality.”

Bones for the business and the museum are cleaned and assembled in a separate building. Much of the cleaning work is handled by colonies of dermestid beetles.

Villemarette and his staff are “kind of winging it” as far as planning the museum is concerned. “We only have so much room.” The museum’s 8,000 square feet will fill up fast, especially when the staff suspends the skeleton of a 40-foot sei whale from the ceiling, Villemarette said.

One of his favorite specimens is a 14 1 / 2-foot giraffe skeleton that awaits installation in an exhibit. “It’s beautifully done,” Villemarette said.

He hopes to add an elephant skeleton. Is there room? “We would make room,” Villemarette said.

One of the celebrities of the collection is the skeleton of a Komodo dragon. The Indonesian lizard died after it had been given to former President Bush.

Plans are to construct a mezzanine on the second level to be used as a classroom, and a gift shop.

Villemarette wants to keep admission prices low so children can come to the museum. It will be geared to school groups, he said.

Joey Williams, the museum’s director of education, hopes the displays will become something of a tourist draw, since the museum will be close to Interstate 35 and Interstate 240.

The museum will show the animals in natural poses, such as a lion attacking an antelope. “We don’t put them so they’re just static, behind glass,” Williams said.

Human bones also will be part of the museum’s collection, Villemarette said. Skulls and skeletons are imported from Asia, where they are removed from old cemeteries so the land can be used for other purposes.

Villemarette, who has been fascinated with bones and skulls since he was a boy, would like to put even more of himself into the museum — if his wife agrees.

His skeleton will be among the exhibits, when the time comes, he said, “if I have my way about it.”