Photo: Ken Little, detail of Turquoise Buck, mixed media, 2018, collection of Betsy Wackernagel Bach, copyright the artist.

Ken Little: Trophy Room

September 13 2019 - December 27 2019

The Bizarre Brilliance of Ken Little’s Taxidermy

“I was just a very serious child and young man. I’ve met some wonderful people, like my old friend Rudy Autio, who have shown me that life can be a lot more fun.”  —Ken Little

Trophy Room is a fun exhibit featuring works by Texas artist and longtime friend of MAM, Ken Little. The intimate Shott Gallery on MAM’s second floor is transformed into a curio collection of taxidermy animals. Little makes sculptures by piecing used leather products, dollar bills, and other found objects onto taxidermy forms to give new life to the traditionally stiff and lifeless animal trophy mount. His menagerie comprises coyotes, wild boars, a black bear, and multiple buck deer mounts, among others. Included in the show is Little’s very first taxidermy piece: a deer mount he found in a Missoula thrift store in 1979. He has continued to work with the series today, 40 years later! On the genesis of the ongoing works, Little explains:

“One day in the studio I was working on a rather weathered, old deer head mount that had been abused. The nose was rotted off, the eyes were missing, and the antlers were broken. I began to try to return it to some sort of grace or dignity, by rebuilding the eyes. I then ‘armored’ the whole thing in Lucky beer cans (for the hunters!). I repaired the antlers. And then, I started to use parts of an old leather shoe to replace the nose. AAH HA!! I was returning the skin back to the animal, I was Dr. Frankenstein to this beast!”

Ken Little, Turquoise Buck, 2006, mixed media, 33 x 18 x 18 inches, courtesy of Betsy Wackernagel Bach.

To mount this exhibit, MAM borrowed most of the works from private collectors in Missoula. It is telling that there are so many artworks by a contemporary artist from San Antonio, Texas in local homes. Little came to Missoula in 1974 to teach ceramics at the University of Montana and stayed until 1980. The friendships created then have lasted a lifetime and made Missoula like a second home to Little.

Missoula is lucky to have such a fine collection of works by Little in the community, and the museum is grateful for the generosity and enthusiasm of all the lenders to the exhibit. Little is a steadfast supporter of MAM’s annual benefit art auction. Year after year, Little’s taxidermy animal heads are an ever-popular addition to the benefit, and many of the works in the exhibition were purchased from MAM’s art auctions. In fact, one of the works in this exhibit will be included in this year’s benefit art auction.