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Anachronistic though it may seem in these times of animal rights, there was a day when the well-turned deer leg—or some other attractive but indigestible part of the prey—was looked upon as highly decorative. Indeed, this penchant for furniture and accessories fashioned from odd animal parts has led to some rather bizarre manifestations of the craze.
The most widely known—furniture fashioned from cow horns—epitomized the Victorian fascination with nature once-removed. That, compounded by Americans’ burgeoning interest in the taming of the wild West, helped make such furniture popular; at one point it was even manufactured by Tiffany. But not surprisingly, nowhere has it been produced in greater volume or with more artistry than in Texas. The acknowledged master was San Antonio’s Wenzel Friedrich, many of whose remarkable creations are owned by that city’s Buckhorn Hall of Horns and the San Antonio Museum Association.
The legacy of Friedrich and his compatriots survives in somewhat abridged form. In Meridian, Teddi Marks’s Texas Longhorn Furniture Company peddles primitive benches and tables with cow-horn legs—and, if you’d like, “hide with the hair on”—as part of its Southwesternish furniture line. Houston artisan Kathy Boswell takes off on the primitivism fad with her Beef Master chair, with bone slats rawhide-laced to an iron frame. And the New York firm of Mansfield Manor offers a highly urbanized cocktail table of Lucite and glass on little horn legs for a mere $6,500.
But these enlightened times dictate that aficionados of such bizarre objets spend most of the hunt in antique shops. The specter of species extinction and the growing outcry against brutality to animals have turned one man’s amusement into another man’s revulsion: The Victorian giggle has been replaced by the modern-day frisson.
For some, the pieces remain simply amusing oddities, reminders of another silly fad from another, more naive time. “They’re mad” is the way one Houston collector puts it. It’s a sentiment on which both sides might agree.
Jerry Jeanmard is a designer who lives in Houston.