“I harvested this**** 1,000-pound bull elk two years ago in the back country of Idaho after tracking it for three days with my brother,” says Tudor. “Coming from a design background and being a visual person, I wanted to do something with the animal that would go beyond traditional taxidermy and represent how special that experience was for me.”
“The way the bronze catches the light makes me think back to witnessing each sunrise and sunset of that two-week hunt, to drinking coffee in the morning with my brother, and to the joy of being outdoors in a truly beautiful part of the world. “There is nothing wrong with traditional taxidermy, but I tasked myself with creating a fresh, innovative presentation,” she says.
Tudor used the lost-wax casting process–a sculpture technique used since ancient times–to create the solid bronze piece of the mount. She created a mold of the original skull, and then filled the mold with molten wax, which hardens to form an exact replica.
To keep the antlers in their original orientation to the skull, she created the brace system you see here.
“Each skull has a unique character, and part of the artistry is abstracting the shape a bit. In its natural form, a skull can be a little grotesque. On the wax skull, I smooth out where the bone plates come together and contour the ridges.”
The sculpted wax is dipped in plaster to create another mold from which the wax will eventually be melted, or “lost,” leaving the shape of the skull in relief. She pours molten bronze into this mold at a foundry. This photo shows the natural patina before the bronze is polished.
“I buff the surface with a series of polishing compounds, from large-grain to small-grain, to bring out the high shine. I have special tools to get into all the grooves, and it is a long, messy, gritty process–it is similar to the hunt, in that way!” The horns are attached last.
After people saw her elk, Tudor was commissioned to make fine-art mounts from an impala and an antelope. Each finished piece takes at least three months to complete, from cast to mold to pouring the bronze, welding the parts together, and polishing to a high shine. She has completed six mounts to date, and hopes to begin working with hunters and art collectors on custom mounts as a full-time business.
“Trophy horns don’t necessarily need to be displayed up on the wall. I did the antelope on a stand so it could brighten a tabletop or bookshelf.”
Tudor grew up as a city girl who loved being in the mountains, and began deer and bird hunting about five years ago as an extension of her interest in field-to-table cooking. “I think it is so important to know where our food comes from and connect with nutrition in a meaningful way,” says Tudor, shown here at northern California’s Birds Landing Hunting Preserve. Tudor actually plans to make her own custom upland gun using a salvaged piece of wood and 3-D laser scanning to craft the stock. “I’m fascinated with using new technology in traditional craft,” she says. “I’m lucky to have a bunch of friends who are avid bird hunters. For me, hunting is quality time I spend with people I trust, in a world that doesn’t necessarily reward taking your time and exercising the patience that hunting requires.”
Formally trained at Dartmouth College, Tudor spent the early years of her career consulting in healthcare and nutrition. She is also an author in that field. So, for Tudor, cooking is another important part of the outdoor experience. “After a day of pheasant and chukar hunting, it’s a blast to have a communal meal together. “When you see the creature that provides your food, and actually harvest it yourself, you appreciate it so much more,” says Tudor. “Many people are missing out on that experience, but I’m seeing a new convergence of interests in our culture right now: Cooking, spending family time together at the table and in nature, and understanding our role in conserving natural resources. Hunters are on the forefront of all that.”
“Each art piece has a life of its own–a new life for the animal–and it nourishes the eye the same way the animal’s meat nourishes us as food. If you let the bronze be, it will develop a unique patina as it ages–don’t clean it and nature will take its course.”
“I wanted my work to seem at home in a city home or a rustic cabin, and I think the end product resonates deeply with hunters and nonhunters alike. Light dances off the contours of the skull and plays off the nooks and crannies. It honors the total experience of hunting.”
Photographs by Bryan Alberstat
Ashley Tudor is a San Francisco-based artist and hunter who creates striking bronze skull replicas to achieve a more sculptural take on taxidermy. Equally interested in nutrition and field-to-table cooking, Tudor began hunting upland birds and deer with her brother five years ago in order to feel a greater connection to her food–she wound up discovering the potential for creating lasting bonds with family and friends in the outdoors.
Tudor’s artwork has an appeal that extends beyond the hunting community, and although she is just starting out, she hopes to collaborate with hunters and art collectors on these contemporary euro-style mounts as a full-time career. She is also exploring how to bring her creativity to another part of her hunting experience: By using contemporary technology to craft a custom gun stock and build her own upland gun for future hunts.
Read on to see how Tudor molds, sculpts, casts, welds, and finishes–a process that takes at least three months–her pieces.