Nevada artist finds beauty restoring animal skeletons

Nevada artist finds beauty restoring animal skeletons

FERNLEY, Nev. (AP) — Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for Kendel Worley, there is beauty – and art waiting to be created – in death.

Through an elaborate process that can take up to a few months, Worley articulates skeletons of animals, leaving wonderfully preserved remains that are almost sculpture-like.

“People think it looks creepy, gross and disturbing, but I don’t think it is,” the 19-year-old Fernley resident told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “It’s beautiful. It’s giving it life after death.”

Worley has always been interested in art. Drawings and paintings line the walls of the house he shares with his parents, Annette and Albert Worley.


Kendel Worley holds the skeleton of a deceased dove he found at a local park in his Fernley home.

He’s also always had an interest in animals, keeping pets like leaf bugs and hairy beetles.

Around eighth grade, he started collecting bones in the desert. That interest grew into cleaning skulls, which morphed into researching the process of articulating skeletons.

“I think it’s better that they’re not wasted. It’s better they not be thrown away,” he said.

Last year, he found a recently deceased dove at a local park. He skinned and gutted the bird, then alternated soaking it in ammonia and hydrogen peroxide. The ligaments stayed soft while they soaked, and after the bones were cleaned, he was able to pose the skeleton using skewers to hold it in place as the ligaments hardened.

Since the pigeon, Worley has tried his hand at various animals, some found, some donated: A lizard his cat killed, chukar and ducks that were hunted by family friends, a friend’s chicken who died, a gopher that was trapped at a nearby school where his mom works.

The skeletons are adorned with preserved butterflies, flowers dried with borax, or sometimes paintings by Worley.

“I feel like he makes art out of it. He does more than just pose it,” Annette Worley said.

It’s a far cry from when he was a kid and found taxidermy disturbing.

“I hit a deer (with a car), and he didn’t talk to me for a couple weeks,” Albert Worley said with a chuckle.

Worley is careful to check on what animals he can and can’t possess – laws like the Migratory Bird Act protect most birds, and it’s illegal to gather roadkill in Nevada.

But there is no animal Worley isn’t prepared to tackle. Some are harder to work with because of their size and amount of required chemicals, but “I want to see all of it,” he said. “There’s no discrimination from me.”

His workshop, which started in his parent’s kitchen then moved into the garage as its scale increased, includes a litany of tools that bring back memories of high school anatomy classes. Floating nearby are skeletons, eyeballs and organs in various stages of preservation and cleaning. Rabbit feet are waiting to be worked on.

And there are more animals waiting.

He has a chest freezer to store animals in while he finishes ones already underway – smaller animals take about a month to clean and larger animals, like the gopher, take about three months.

His interest extends beyond articulating skeletons. He’s tried tanning pelts from some of the animals, and he pins insects.

There are no taxidermy shops in Fernley, but he wants to find somewhere to apprentice. Ultimately, he hopes to make his hobby into a business.

Worley’s work can be seen on his Facebook page, “Aspiring Oddities.” People can also message him through Facebook if they have animals to donate.

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