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  • Jess Harrell

Decorating with Taxidermy: Is it Straight up Creepy or a Tasteful Art Form?



A bedroom with a taxidermied antelope head above the nightstand.
Design: Summer Thornton Photography: Werner Straube & Josh Thornton

I read an article about decorating with taxidermy while eating breakfast the other day and started feeling queasy. It was as if my body was telling me what my mind thought about the taxidermy. Despite how I feel, if I see a taxidermied animal somewhere, I can't not look at it. It's like I turn into a robot, unable to resist getting up close to see the beauty of the animal.


So where did this strange practice of preserving dead animals even get its start? Taxidermy was super popular during the Victorian era-there was no debate over whether it was good or bad. Death was very much a part of daily life; it wasn't a hush-hush topic like it is today. People didn't avoid talking about the fact that all living things will eventually die, so preserving dead animals and displaying them around your home wasn't odd. You weren't one of the cool kids if you weren't doing it.


Today, it's a very polarizing topic. And it's one where I can see both sides. I've never given it a second thought when I've seen dead animals displayed at the Smithsonian Museum, so is it ok if it's about science? Is it when it's about bragging and showing off your kill that it becomes yucky? But people don't seem to get up in arms over a mounted bass, which is about showing off the fish you caught and killed. If anything, hanging a mounted fish on your wall is looked down upon as tacky and kitschy. You know, like the dreaded 'blessed' and 'grateful' word signs.


Some people think owning taxidermied animals does no harm if it's antique or vintage. If you don't rehome, it's just gonna end up in a dumpster. And rescuing it from that fate is seen as a way of honoring the animal. Other people think owning taxidermy is no different than wearing or buying vintage leather handbags, clothing, or furniture. After all, that's literally the skin of a dead animal. But on the other hand, people argue that the harm comes from the demand created by buying taxidermy, even vintage. They see it as glamorizing animal cruelty and openly encouraging trophy hunting.


Now let's complicate things even more, k? You might be surprised that many regulations make buying and selling taxidermy illegal. You could end up in jail or be stuck with a big ol fine. For example, possessing any part of an endangered animal or migratory bird is illegal. Just because you see it on ebay doesn't mean it's legal to buy it. There are people whose sole job is to look for and flag listings like those. The only way around it is if you have provenance to prove that the taxidermy was performed before the laws went into effect.


So what are your thoughts on taxidermy as decor? Is it gross, or is it art?



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Hi there!

I'm Jess Harrell, interior designer and founder of The Styled Domicile. I've got a thing for eating ice-cream straight out of the pint (Netflix and Chill or The Tonight Dough, please), embarrassing my kids (trust me, they love it), and making homes and the people that live in them happier. I'm all about celebrating what makes you different and throwing ordinary out the window.

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