Imagine walking into a taxidermy shop and being surrounded by a large collection of stuffed animals. There are lions, deer, and rabbits, and while you’re struck by the craftsmanship, you can’t help but feel sad (and maybe a little creeped out) for one reason: the idea of killing an animal just for decoration.
Anya Boz had a better idea. What if animals didn’t have to die to be taxidermied? What if, instead, you could recreate an animal’s beauty using artificial materials? Better yet, what if you made strikingly realistic animals that never existed in the first place?
This Brooklyn-based artist makes one-of-a-kind poseable art dolls that often sell for over $1,800 on her online store. Sometimes, she’ll use these materials to recreate an actual animal, like this cute Grumpy Cat. Other times, her creations are otherworldly, like a mink with wings. Generally, they’re small enough to fit on a shelf (the tallest is 14 inches).
She calls these strange and beautiful creations Room Guardians because of the protection she hopes they provide to their owners from negative energies and other spirits.
Boz traces the origins of her Room Guardians back to middle school when she sculpted a realistic poodle out of house-hold items: “I'd use like, milk jugs, cardboard, foam and put it all together...it would be covered in fur so you couldn't tell what the jumble was underneath.”
But it wasn’t until after high school that she made her first Room Guardian. She got the idea from a pair of “cute, little stuffed-animal foxes” in an antique store: “They sat with their butts on the shelf and their legs hanging over,” Boz recalls. Her first impulse was to buy them, but her second was the one that she followed — “I could probably make a better one.” Despite making her version of these toy foxes out of cardboard, and swaths of a thrift store fur coat, the result was surprisingly adorable, and is still sitting on her shelf to this day: “It kind of felt like she was watching over things — my little guardian.”
Initially, she was only making Room Guardians for her friends — but when she decided to sell them on Etsy, Boz was surprised by the number of orders that came in. To keep up, she had to transition from taking commissions to making and selling them one at a time: “I had to cut them off because I was getting so many.” With a growing list of clients hoping to purchase a Room Guardian of their own, in 2014, Boz quit her job at a bakery to focus on her art full time.
These days, Boz lets intuition guide her creative process instead of commissions. Sometimes, that leads her to create dolls like this Gilded Moose Room Guardian that look so real they could probably be mistaken for an animal in the wild. Others, however, look like something out of a fairy tale, like her Forbidden Fruit Diki Spirit, a mischievous-looking fox-like creature with rainbow-colored fur, a third-eye on its forehead, and a tail that’s as bright as a coral reef.
Since her Room Guardians can take anywhere from a week to a month to produce, Boz doesn’t have the time to make one for everyone. But she’s using Patreon to give her closest fans the next best thing: the ability to watch her produce them. Through behind-the-scenes photos and videos, patrons watch as Boz transforms seemingly disparate parts into the creature’s base-form — a “chicken-wire base covered in foil,” its feet and hands cast in resin for durability. Then, they watch it come to life as Boz layers “small strips of fur,” sequin, and feathers onto its skeleton.
But even after watching her build one from scratch, when they see the final product appear on social media with the rest of us, it doesn’t feel like they’re looking at a toy, an action figure, or a piece of faux-taxidermy. It feels like a creature from another world, which is exactly the reaction that Boz intends to provoke: “The feeling of what is happening is that I'm channeling this energy, this being, that’s from another realm into our world.”