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Central Standard

Taxidermy Makes Its Way Into Upscale Kansas City Decor

A new shop in the Crossroads District in downtown Kansas City, Mo., looks like a naturalist’s cabinet filled with bones, feathers, insects and skins.

“We had a guy come in and said it looked like if a witch doctor and an interior designer kind of got together and started a shop,” says Jane Almirall, co-owner of Oracle, which opened about a year ago.

Among the animals on display are a white stag, a tiny black-and-white piglet, and above the doorway, a 100-year-old Canadian lynx, originally stuffed with newspaper and sawdust. 

In the past couple of years, taxidermied animals have broken out of man-caves and natural history museums to find a place in upscale home décor. The trend is bringing a new clientele to a craft that’s traditionally been the domain of hunters.

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Jane Almirall is one of the owners of Oracle, a new shop in the Crossroads.

As for Almirall, she’s been interested in animal remains since she was a kid, growing up on a horse farm near Springfield, Mo.

“I always thought they were beautiful and I would draw them,” Almirall says.

She went to art school, and continued to collect bones and animals as references for her work. When she came up with the idea for this shop, her family second-guessed it.

“They thought, 'Who on earth is gonna want to buy this stuff?'” she says. “But I told them, ‘I like to buy this stuff.’ And there’s more people out there like me, and we kind of find each other.”

Almirall says Oracle has a diverse clientele: pagans, children, art fans who wander in on First Fridays and people decorating their homes.

Taxidermy as an interior design trend

According to Maxwell Ryan, CEO and founder of the home décor website Apartment Therapy, the trend started hitting around three years ago, but really took hold last year.

“There were a lot of naysayers, a lot of people who don’t like the idea of a dead animals’ heads on the wall,” Ryan says. “But that aside, it has continued to become a very classic home décor look.”

Ryan says it’s so classic that he wouldn’t call it a trend — it’s here to stay. And the taxidermy aesthetic has even branched out into subgenres: pet taxidermy, where people get their own pets preserved after they die; rogue taxidermy, when different types of animals are merged in fantastical ways; anthropomorphic taxidermy, when animals are dressed in clothes and set up in people-like poses and tableaus; and faux taxidermy, where no animals are harmed.

According to Ryan, the whole taxidermy thing is part of a love of all things 19th century – like mustaches, and mixology. And, there's some irony involved.

“Taxidermy is a trophy, right?" Ryan says.  "It’s like having a bowling trophy that you found in a junk yard in your living room. It’s someone else’s trophy, not yours.”

Hunters' relationship to taxidermy 

For hunters, displaying a trophy at home means something very different.

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Cindy Cunningham, owner of Second Creation taxidermy studio and school, has been in the business for 28 years.

“It’s a real prideful thing to the hunter,” says Cindy Cunningham, who’s been in the taxidermy business for almost 30 years. She says hunters might admire a mounted animals they see in a shop.

“To them, it’s like, ‘Man, I wish I would have shot that.’ But they wouldn’t dare go out and buy it.”

Cunningham has a taxidermy studio and school in western Wyandotte County called Second Creation. She says it's only been the last 15 years or so that taxidermy has become more of a profession, with associations in every state. People still think of it as a hobby or sideline activity, but, according Cunningham, business is always booming.

“It doesn’t matter really how bad our economy gets, that guys always still going to go out there and hunt,” Cunningham says. “And if he get a trophy, he’s going to find a way to get it mounted.”

Customers at Oracle in the Crossroads might have a different motivation when they buy a mounted deer head for their living rooms, but owner Jane Almirall says, they share something in common with the hunters.

“I know there’s kind of a trophy-collecting mentality,” she says, “But I also think there’s an appreciation of the beauty of the animal that gets extended through taxidermy.”

Almirall says it’s a way of bringing natural science” into the home.

And whether you’re a hunter or an interior decorator, a taxidermied animal is also a kind of a memento mori, a reminder that death is all around us.

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Sylvia Maria Gross is storytelling editor at KCUR 89.3. Reach her on Twitter @pubradiosly.