Sunday, October 16, 2011

Head & Shoulders Above the Rest.....

The shear thought of hanging a dead animal above the fireplace mantel has sent shivers through the spine of many a decorator, let alone tested the battle of wills between couples. It was deemed the tacky accoutrement of a man’s den and at some point banished to the garage and attic. Perhaps it was the constant stare of an inanimate object or the subtle reminder that the animal was plucked from its habitat in the wild. Whatever side of the fence you are on there is more to it than meets the proverbial eye.

Historically the hunt for animals was by necessity in order to generate food for the table. No part of the animal was left to waste as fat was used for heating oil and furs and hides were turned into garments and rugs. Over time, hunting became a sport and was controlled in the selective hunt of game animals. This should not be confused with poaching which is the illegal practice of trapping and harming animals. This story would end here it that were even the case.

In fact, works of taxidermy are actually quite useful as they are displayed in museums and educational institutions for purposes of teaching and instruction. However, they are showing up again with pride in beautiful homes, luxury hotels and highly rated restaurants as focal points to been seen and admired.

The practice of taxidermy is a skilled craft that requires the artistic talent of carpenters, woodworkers and tanners. While animals are preserved in their most natural state, some parts are fabricated. Eyes are often made from glass and some of the soft tissue from wax and epoxy. One of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited to study this art was the celebrated Deyrolle in Paris which housed a vast collection of animals, insects and natural curiosities. Cabinets held birds and butterflies and salons were lined with full body mounts of peacocks, zebras and even giraffe. A very sad thing happened in 2008 when a fire ripped through the establishment eliminating more than ninety percent of the collection.

Back stateside, if you ever find yourself in Washington DC you should make plans to visit the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institute. It houses the third largest collection of birds In North America. Here in the US, it is common place to find the likes of mounted pheasants , red fox and deer. However, more exotic mounts are highly treasured like African game animals including impala, gazelle, water buffalo and kudu.n Zebra rugs are especially hard to come by and usually demand a high price tag.

Taking beauty to function, I recently had a female client who bought a half dozen small German roe buck antlers that she has mounted in her bathroom to hold her collection of jewelry – very creative.

For those looking for an alternative to real game animals, they are showing up in “herds.” I am pretty smitten with a recent discovery for my son’s room. I found a set of paper mache trophies of a zebra, tiger and gazelle that are made by artists in Haiti. They are hand constructed and made of all recycled parts which supports global sustainability efforts. Also, a recent search on listed over 200 trophy mounts with material options that ranged from carved basswood to felt and wool.

Even the Queen of England boasts a collection of mounted trophies in her countryside estates. Yes, a little something for everyone.

Note from the writer: No animals were harmed in the production of this article.