Allison Badell finds a new life with Gypsy Mountain Skulls
December 20, 2018
Three years ago, Allison Badell escaped from an abusive relationship in the middle of the night.
She was living in Montana and made a run for it, but she didn't escape unscathed. A fractured vertebra sustained in the incident haunts her, causing the artist to have seizures, experience temporary blindness and lose feeling in half of her face.
"I wasn't able to do what I used to do, and that left me, basically, a shell of a human being, because I had lost my purpose," said Badell, a former interior designer, event planner and business psychologist. "I don't do well being stagnant, but I wasn't able to work, so I took couple of months to try to find something I could do."
One night, Badell, who had started a jewelry company to help pay for tuition while she was an undergraduate student, drew inspiration from a cow skull that hung on her wall.
"It looked sad to me because it was a plain, dead skull, and I wanted to bring a little life back to it" she said. "That was symbolic because I also felt dead."
Badell took some jewelry, put it on the skull and posted a photo of it on social media.
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"I got a lot of reactions from people who wanted to buy it," she said.
That inspired Badell to start her company, Gypsy Mountain Skulls, which repurposes animal skulls into works of art.
Her work can be found locally at Root'd, a local boutique at 596 Main St., or online at gypsymountainskulls.com.
"The idea is to bring a little life back to something that is dead, just as I did for myself," she said. "The domestic violence incident was a pinnacle moment of my life, because I was able to choose either to sink (or) swim. And I began to swim towards this."
Badell either finds the sometimes-exotic skulls herself or buys them from hunters. She places an emphasis on acquiring the bones responsibly, she said.
Badell studies the skull once she acquires them, and then begins to work. Sometimes the process is more akin to taxidermy than creating visual art.
"One day I found a moose rack, and the antlers and bones had moss and fur on it," she said. "So I sanded it and bleached it, and put in a bucket of beetles that removed the residual skin."
Badell wanted to adorn the antlers with mirrors, and she happened to find a thick one on the side of the road.
"One man's trash is another man's treasure," she said.
She took the mirror to her studio and, after smashing it into workable pieces, she began to apply the glass manually to the rack with a resin sealant. After that, she applied the color – a step in the process where she has to work around her injury.
"I can't use paint brushes because my hands shake as a result of the neck injury, so I apply everything directly with my fingers," she said. "I create my own colors through electroforming with titanium. I also use acrylics and resins."
She also uses crystals and other semi-precious stones to adorn the skulls, which include those of species like ram, wildebeest and antelope.
Badell is also working with a narwhal skull, which she acquired from the Inuit people who hunt the animals.
"It's not about using the animals as much it is about appreciating them on a deep level," Badells said. "There is also the idea of resiliency, too. These things are now timeless, and with the way I finish them, they can be thrown in the mud and hosed off – if you are so inclined to throw them in the mud. But they can last forever, and that gives them meaning and purpose. It's like what happened to me. This is a way to connect with nature and give myself life and purpose and, in a big way, continue to save myself."
Badell's interest in art reaches back to her childhood.
"I've always been an artist, although I wasn't allowed to be one," she said. "My parents wanted me to be a doctor. My father was (a doctor) and my mother was a developer, but also worked in interior design."
Badell's experience in the interior design world helps her decide when one of her creations is complete.
"I have an eye for things, and I just know it's done," she said. "Since I do new things all the time, it has always been a challenge. But that has also kept my interest in this as well."
That gift, however, doesn't temper her struggle with her skeletal muses as she creates a piece of art.
"It has always been a test to figure out what works and what doesn't work," she said. "I work on 10 things at the same time. They are all in different stages of completion, and I get mad at them. I yell at them, and then I apologize and continue working on them. I keep saying to myself 'What would you do if you knew you could not fail?'"
Which is something that I knew I couldn't do when I found myself three years ago."
For information, visit gypsymountainskulls.com or Instagram @gypsymountainskulls
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