Alison Brynn Ross can make you a mounted taxidermied anything: dog, cat, moose, reindeer, unicorn, jackalope. That's because, as you've probably guessed, Ross's taxidermied animals are not once-living creatures doomed to balefully survey their surroundings from the walls of man-caves or hunting lodges. Instead, these animal heads are made of steel and copper wire, and as such can represent the entire animal kingdom — whether real or imaginary.
"I get a lot of requests for unicorns," Ross says. "I have a dragon. That was one of those things where I was trying to make something and nothing was coming out right, so I was like 'Fuck it, I'm going to do a dragon.'"
She's also done a hippo, a giraffe, and a Georgia bulldog, all custom requests from people wanting their own death-free mounted head. Not surprisingly, her work is a hit with vegans. "I've worked with a couple of vegan groups and a conservation group," she says. "I can't say I'm vegetarian or vegan, but I'm glad people like them and it's a good alternative to the actual taxidermied thing."
Ross is Charleston-born and raised, and worked in the food and beverage industry for 15 years before starting her career as an artist and graphic designer. After graduating from Academic Magnet High School, she worked as a server, bartender, and occasional manager at places like Pane e Vino and Coast. She then attended the Art Institute of Charleston to study graphic design.
While in school, Ross started freelancing, doing brand design for small businesses and hand lettering for things like wedding invitations and menu cards. She also put in four years at Americas Cuisine, a Charleston-based company that publishes dining guides, before deciding to branch out on her own this past January. "I realized I was terrible at a cubicle and had to get out of there," she says. "I went back to restaurants for about a year, and at the end of last year I just decided enough was enough," she says. "It's been an amazing change. I'm happier than I've been in many years."
The wire taxidermy grew out of Ross's love of nature and animals. She's an avowed devotee of nature documentaries, and loves working with natural, organic forms. "It's like a line drawing in three dimensions — that's how I process it," she says of her wire sculptures. "The first animal I did was a moose, and they've gotten simpler as they've gone on." She makes them all by hand, twisting the wire pieces together into the shape she wants. Then the heads are mounted onto pieces of reclaimed wood that her husband, a contractor, brings home from job sites instead of throwing in the trash.
The animals made their first public appearance at the Orange Spot coffee shop in Park Circle last year. Originally, Ross was just going to show some of her illustrations, but she decided to add in a couple of her animals at the last minute. From there, she says, the project took on a life of its own. Now she's looking toward making some larger works. "I'd like to start doing more installation-type pieces, and start welding," she says. "They'll probably still be animal-based things. The moose is the largest piece I've done and he's pushing the limits of the wire."
Ross has another project in the works as well, though it's not a strictly artistic one. Together with Thea Anderson Manchester, an active Park Circle community member and realtor who works at the Flats at Mixson, Ross is creating a series of events called Park Circle Pop Ups. The first one was held this past Valentine's Day at Perkins Eyecare and Eyewear, and featured several local artists who sold their wares, as well as food, drinks, and a DJ. "The way that Thea and I look at it is, if you're not invited to the party, create your own," Ross says. The event was successful enough that the duo decided to throw a second one as a fundraiser for Girls Rock Charleston. Held in May, the Rock the Circle event featured an aerialist and live music in addition to 14 local vendors. The event drew around 1,400 people throughout the day. Another pop up is tentatively planned for July, but Ross says it may be moved back to the fall.
As for her own artistic endeavors, Ross will be displaying her work at City Lights coffee shop downtown in October, and she's got another show at the Orange Spot slated for November. In the meantime, she'll be making more custom wire taxidermy animals — you might even see a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, if she can find a way to make the red nose. "I'm looking at ways of painting them that will last a little better, because spray paint doesn't seem to take," she says. "I might try some dipping."