Dawn P. Endean: Creatures Small and Strange

Little Dog's Ride

Little Dog’s Ride

“In Lieu of Flowers”
Dawn P. Endean
At Shift through June 27th

By Cynthia Hibbard

Dawn Endean’s chance encounter with a Victorian’s taxidermist’s odd predilection spawned her current Shift show, In Lieu of Flowers.

Browsing a shop one day, she picked up a book documenting Walter Potter’s now defunct Museum of Curiosity in a rural English village—famed in its time—which contained the treasures of his life’s work: small dead animals costumed and displayed in elaborate, anthropomorphized tableaus.

The scenes were both fascinating and disturbing social commentaries.  There were kittens at high tea, cigar-chomping squirrels playing poker, rabbits pondering their lessons in a village school house—and the like.

Bear with Wings

Bear with Wings

Endean bought the book and started drawings based on Potter’s world.  Although she was at work on other projects, she felt herself returning to Potter’s menagerie, particularly to his collection of oddly deformed “freaks,” which she translated into simultaneously endearing and haunting imagery.  Soon she was turning out shellac plates and collaging Potter-inspired creatures into better worlds to memorialize them, she said, “in a way that’s more meaningful than just bringing flowers.”

They became this cast of characters. I wanted to send them on an adventure and put them in settings that weren’t so dark and sad”

“They became this cast of characters. I wanted to send them on an adventure and put them in settings that weren’t so dark and sad,” she said. “There was something about the contradiction of cute little bunnies dressed in clothes because they were also animals that had been killed and stuffed.”

Endean said her reimagined creatures reminded her of how we as a species  “romanticize nature and anthropomorphize animals but at the same time are willing to sacrifice them for our own needs because although they may be cute we don’t believe that they are as important as we are.”

Perhaps the apogee of Endean’s homage to the exploited animal kingdom is her series four “icons”—Little Dog Icon, Skull Icon, Bird Mask Icon and Bunny Mask Icon—small color portraits set into jeweled medallions.

Goat with Goat Mask; Dog with Lady Mask

Goat with Goat Mask; Dog with Lady Mask

The masks, as in her masked animal series (Dog with Bird Mask, Cat with Bunny Mask, etc.) were Endean’s lighthearted way of imagining how vulnerable animals might disguise themselves for safety.

In working her densely layered animal imagery, Endean created “a sort of library of characters and also things that just appealed to me in my drawings that were expressed well in shellac plates”— her preferred print medium, which she will be teaching this fall at Pratt Fine Arts Center.

Cages III

Cages III

Thus Endean’s narratives gave way to pure forms and compositions, as in her animal-free series of bell jar-shaped Cages 1-7, in which the contraptions in which Potter entombed his victims float free and rise into the air like small space ships.

For Endean, they also embodied a quote that replayed in her mind: “God loved birds and invented trees.  Man loved birds and invented cages.”