“Bringing things back to life.” That phoenix-like vision coupled with a love of nature inspires Allison Badell to transform skulls—steer, bison, ram, longhorn, elk, deer, moose, and horse—into extraordinary works of art.
Her business, Gypsy Mountain Skulls, is itself a story of rebirth. A few years ago, the then-interior designer/psychologist/project manager/event planner found herself in a near-death situation, an abusive relationship that left her traumatized and severely injured. She fled the abuse but remained shaken. When she turned to art, her healing began. A steer skull she’d taken from her Montana home became her canvas. She decorated it with jewels—dipping into supplies from the jewelry business that had helped finance her dual psychology degrees—and posted her skull art online. Immediately, people wanted to buy it. “I put all of my pain—really everything—into this on a leap of faith,” she says. “And it saved my life.” Her now-thriving business is a testament to resiliency. “It’s about happiness and bringing me back from a hopeless place.”
Her artistic process involves an intimate connection with the skulls, which she purchases from slaughterhouses or collects from trophy hunters who don’t want them. As she puts it, “taking one man’s trash and turning it into another’s treasure.” She oils some skulls, boils others, and puts others in a bucket of beetles to remove any residual skin. Some are polished; others are left plain or painted. It is personal for her as she relates to the animal from the beginning. Nature, in all its stages, serves as inspiration. And each finished piece, she explains, speaks from her soul.
“I was drawn to how she was able to take something as earthy and rustic as steer skulls and cast a refined finish on them, giving them a new life and energy,” says Tara Fitzpatrick of JMT Fine Living, who incorporated seven skulls into a client’s home. “I loved them, in all their variations.” And the variations continue as Badell ventures into mosaics and beyond, breathing new life and hope into her world, one creation at a time.