I didn’t set out to collect little animals, but in truth I love collecting little things from different cultures, and animals are universally loved. I have collected small animal figures from Mexico, Brazil, Tanzania and others that I have either acquired or inherited.
I tried to fit most of them on one shelf for this photo.
Behind this animal panoply are portraits of my parents (in the middle – the woman with the pink hat and scarf is my mother, and next to her is my father), Dale’s parents (black & white photo on the right) and my great-grandparents in back on the left.
The animals include alebrijes (whimsical,colorful animal carvings from copal wood in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico); several ceramic birds as well as a small snail, mostly from Mexico; and black clay animals (including an armadillo, two birds, and a turtle) all of which are whistles, also made in Mexico by an elderly potter in the late 1960s who claimed to be the daughter of a Mexican mestiza woman and a French soldier – she had blue eyes.
On the left, in front of the portraits of my great-grandparents, is a fish made out of a gourd. I bought this in northeastern Brazil. It was made by an indigenous artist from the Amazon region.
The birds mounted on wood in the front at left (a loon and two other birds) are ceramic and were inherited from my mother. At right, a rather fearsome beaded animal is a lion, made by Maasai women in Tanzania. Next to the lion are two small turtles, part of a turtle collection that belonged to a woman from my church who died and asked that at her memorial service, the attendees should select one or two from her collection as a remembrance of her.
Next to the lion, a strange sort of dragon-looking green ceramic creature with horns, long fangs and white spikes along its back is a hodag. This legendary animal originated among the lumberjacks of northern Wisconsin, and it became the official symbol of the town of Rhinelander. The story goes that some of the seasoned lumberjacks built a hodag out of some realistic-looking material which resembled a reptile, and somehow rigged it to move its tail and eyes. They placed it in the woods to be “discovered” by the newbie lumberjacks, and according to the story, it worked! The rookies were scared of this animal they had never heard of before, at least at first.
As they looked more closely at it, they realized it was fake, but the legend stuck and the hodag became famous in those parts. My family home had several hodags – either ceramic or stuffed. My mother had spent part of her girlhood in Rhinelander!
This hodag greets visitors to Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
My most recent acquisition is a green, white and red striped snake, coiled in front of my mother’s portrait. I bought it yesterday at a Craft Fair hosted annually at my church. The sculptor, a young, rather shy man named David, had a display of lots of his fanciful clay animals, many with two heads! I asked if he let them harden naturally or fire them in a kiln. He said he bakes them in his oven!
These are the stories of my panoply of animals. I probably will continue to add to it as I find others that strike my fancy!