By Ellyn Ruddick-Sunstein
Stretched and bound over wooden frames, the animal pelts of Australian artist Ruth Marshall are so utterly realistic looking that it is difficult to believe that they are not in fact fur and hide. Constructed out of knitted yarn, they compel us to consider the endangered species killed and skinned by poachers and collectors. Though illegal, the devastating skin trade has taken the lives of thousands of tigers in the past thirteen years, leaving only an estimated 3,200 tigers in the wild. Before poaching practices, deforestation, and other damaging factors contributed by humans, there were approximately 100,000 of this magnificent creatures around the globe.
Marshall learned of the plight of wild cat species while working at the Bronx Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society, an experience that moved her deeply. With her Big Cat Series, she hopes to provide a sustainable and humane alternative to tiger, leopard, and jaguar pelts. The nuances of each life-sized work is touchingly based on a real animal, whom the artist became acquainted in captive conditions. A few are modeled after skins owned by collectors. The project effortlessly illustrates the value of artisan work, which ultimately could hold higher commercial value than black market pelts.
Here, Marshall transforms a cruel practice into a labor of love. Where animal pelts have come to represent a cruel and grotesque opulence and greed, she introduces knitting, a craft associated with nurturing and care. As a result, her pieces are both disarming and lovely,a refreshing jolt of sustainability and activism. To learn how you can help save the tigers and other animals, please visit World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Photos.