Photos by Max Cooper
Dead things on the wall: A conquistadeer, oryxes and an Appalachian Wild … donkey
A half-dozen taxidermied beasts are the celebrated subjects of DeSoto Lounge’s current exhibition, which is up through the end of January. This a collector’s exhibition, pieced together by years of travel, study and selection.
The bar’s very own Conquistadeer put the show in motion. The capped, multipoint buck has long graced the wall of the West Asheville haunt. Perched between its antlers is not a plastic construction hat, but a Don Quixote-style conquistador helmet.
Now the deer has some similarly preserved company, starting with two Oryxes greeting patrons at the front door. They’ve been arranged together, on a single base, staring wide-eyed off to the left and right. Both are bright and assertive, possibly on the lookout for the very source that put them in their current state of being. But the look is also aided by the starkness of the black and white mask that’s spread over their faces. Their horns, straight yet imperfect, form tight spirals that rise roughly 3 feet toward the ceiling.
Beside them is a warthog — sullen, warthoggish.
An entire zebra pelt spans 6 feet of wall space across from the bar. The black and white patterning reads like abstract op-art. It’s flanked by two deer skulls, horns intact, that rest on top of appliances mounted to the wall.
Closer to the water cooler, but still to the left of the native Conquistadeer, is a brown-haired sub-Saharan member of the antelope family known as a Hartebeest. Its horns, while smaller than the Oryx’s, bow out slightly before curving backward over the neck. They too have a slight ridge protruding in slow spirals toward the tip of the horns.
The works, almost entirely African in origin (and all legally documented, mind you), belong to a local collector identified only by his last name: Edwards. The staff had dabbled with the idea of bringing in Edwards’ collection for some time. “We were joking about it for close to a year,” Tim McMurrin, a co-owner of the bar, told Xpress.
Backlash from animal rights organizations or activists was among the reasons to forgo the show. On the flip side, taxidermy and bars tend to make a great match. Though they braced for complaints and a possible tirade or two, nothing has happened so far. “Most of the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” McMurrin said.
Heading a few blocks down Haywood to Hot Stuff Tattoo will put you in view of owner Danny Reed’s personal collection. Each piece adds to the saloon style exuded from the wooden service bar, low-walled partitions and the variety of framed paintings and tattoo examples. The works range from ducks and a mounted shark, to a squirrel and the backside of a deer. Stuffing the deer’s behind has been a staple piece in many a hunting lodge — the head and the butt would appear on opposing sides of a single wall.
Across town at the Battery Park Book Exchange, a moose has joined the likes of mid 18th- and 19th-century oil paintings, Empire furniture and Arts and Crafts accents. Thomas Wright, the shop’s owner and, for clarity’s sake, an employer of mine, calls the species a Western North Carolina Donkey — also known as an Appalachian Wild Ass. It protrudes from a pillar about 12 feet off the floor and boasts a 44-inch rack. But despite its size, the piece is hung rather inconspicuously.
Taxidermy’s presence in the urban hubs of Asheville is still sparse, and probably will remain that way. But as we see here, it is celebrated by a few. Mounted animals are hard to come by, as a state law forbids the sale of any taxidermied native species. Unless you are the one taking an animal to the taxidermists, there will be very little to choose from. As for the Conquistadeer, it, like many of those pieces stationed for viewing in Asheville, is a family heirloom.