“In Louisiana, there’s an appreciation for wildlife,” reflects Leslie Roger of Leslie Dalton Taxidermy. Born and raised in New Orleans, Roger is an “oddities” taxidermist, focused on only ethical sourcing, using animals, largely birds, that have died of natural causes. “You have the swamps, teeming with birds—herons and blue gallinule and white ibis—and the city of New Orleans, where people are so creative. Everyone loves costumes and floats and making headdresses. Perhaps taxidermy is bit unconventional, and in other cities they might not understand it, but my work has really been embraced here. It’s where these two elements come together.”
Ethical sourcing is a key element of Dalton’s art, and work. “There are really two camps,” she says. “There is the trophy, hunter type of taxidermy, and then there are the oddities artists, like me,” says Roger. “I’m not against hunting but I don’t want anything to die for art. I network with farmers and breeders, wildlife sanctuaries and pet shops. When they have an animal that has passed on naturally, they contact me.”
Based in the Mid City neighborhood, Roger pursues her craft out of a warehouse that she lovingly describes as dilapidated, with great natural light and a doorway she leaves open. “People peek in. I’ve handed out more business cards and gotten more work from that open doorway than I could count,” says the artist, who was named to Adore magazine’s A-list for New Orleans artists this year.
Many design clients find Roger on Instagram.
“My client Elizabeth came to me wanting a white peacock,” says Sherry Shirah of Sherry Shirah Designs. “We were adamant about sourcing ethically. To find out that there is not only a female taxidermist sourcing ethically, but that she’s also local to New Orleans? Well, that was a rare and exciting moment. Her work is just exquisite. She has such attention to detail, and her pieces add such a specific mood to a space. For our project, the house walls were Chantilly Lace, and the white feathers almost blend in—but also create a moment of texture.”
Roger helped Shirah and her client set the peacock at the base of a curving stairwell, on a gilded Baroque sconce that Shirah sourced on Chairish. The peacock’s head is turned to look back over its shoulder. The bird and its dramatic tail plume greet anyone coming through the front door.
You’ll also find plenty of the work in Roger’s own home. “I have a zebra rug, two tundra swans, a pheasant, and a birdcage with a bunch of parrots that look like they are flying around it,” she says. “Oh, and I have a nine-foot grizzly. That bear was a really big and challenging project. No one else has a bear in their house, and I would never sell it.”
The bear was no doubt possible after Roger’s intensive studies in Montana, where she spent three months working under a master taxidermist, sharpening her technique and putting her art skills, developed during her undergraduate courses in figure drawing and anatomical sculpture, to use.
“I’ve always been interested in what was beneath the figure; the way bones and muscles and anatomy come together,” she says. “I’m fascinated by the engineering of a physical body.”
Most recently, she’s been intrigued by what can be done with the mount that an animal is placed upon. She’s reaching for salvaged and interesting materials, unexpected and whimsical bases. The effect is a full, sculptural art piece, furthering what can be done not only with taxidermy, but with the drama of the piece and a home’s overall artistic aesthetic. The grizzly bear isn’t likely to be repeated anytime soon, but Roger expects plenty more peacock orders. She has two shipping out to Italy this week.
“I think taxidermy can bring that vintage vibe to a home,” she says. “It’s a new form of art that’s also really old, and antique in appearance. It’s the beauty of nature, with added composition, and I think it’s great to see people embracing taxidermy now more than ever.”