As owner of and creative force behind Faux Doe Creations, Leanne Owen doesn’t take herself too seriously. Her ‘fake taxidermy’ animal heads, including deer, hares, foxes and even pheasants, are lovingly crafted from a range of materials to produce an individual, quirky result that’s very appealing.
Although she’s never had any formal training, Leanne cut her sewing teeth on making her own curtains and soft furnishings and discovered a knack for being able to see how things were made. A few years ago, though, she’d never have thought that her hobby would develop into a career.
In 2009, her life couldn’t have been more different. Working as an operational firefighter, a physically demanding job she’d done for ten years and loved, she was training for a charity bike ride to Paris when she noticed she was having problems moving the gear levers.
“At the time, I thought the problems were down to the training I was doing,” she says. “I was in pain, but I just thought I had a trapped nerve in my neck. Then I noticed I couldn’t use my computer mouse properly. I went to see an acupuncturist privately, and told her that on a recent holiday I’d noticed a problem with my flip flops dragging when I walked. She said that as the problem was affecting both my feet and hands, it sounded neurological.
“I went to my doctor, who sent me off to a neurologist, who referred me for a DaTscan. I looked up what this brain scan was used to diagnose, which is Parkinson’s disease, and immediately realised how many of the symptoms I had.
I was experiencing some odd things, such as phantom burning smells which I thought were a hangover from my firefighting days, but they were all there on the list of symptoms. By the time I had the scan as confirmation I was already sure, so although I was devastated it had already had time to sink in a bit. The other problem was that I obviously couldn’t stay on as a firefighter, so I lost my job and my health at one go, and retired on a pension.
“Finding myself with plenty of time on my hands, I started fundraising for Parkinson’s UK, the charity who offer information and support to anyone feeling the effects of Parkinsons, taking part in the Great North Run and many other events.
One day, I was running a carboot stall for the charity when I got chatting to a girl who was buying some fabrics I had for sale, as she wanted to make a stag’s head. I loved the idea, as my friend Holly, who I trained with, had a real stag’s head on her wall and although I’d always admired its majesty I did find it a little creepy.
“My first stag was more of a soft toy really – I stuffed him with soft filling, and he was a bit floppy. Then, I started investigating taxidermy moulds which are made from rigid polyurethane which I thought would give a better result. I now buy these from a specialist supplier, customise them a bit if necessary and build up the heads with layers of fabric.
“I mostly now work on commission, but when I was starting out I did a lot of craft fairs and Malins Fabrics Ltd, a fabric shop in Pontefract, kindly put some pieces in their window for me.
At craft fairs, it’s interesting to see people’s reactions – they either get it, or they don’t. The majority of customers are women, but I did have one couple where the husband had always hankered after a real stag’s head and his wife wasn’t keen. They bought a big stag’s head in Harris tweed and greens, and it was a great compromise.
“When I’m making new pieces, the fabric itself is a great influence as are colours and textures.
I mostly work with greens and browns, autumn and country colours, but I’ve made some colourful commissioned pieces, including a turquoise deer and a bright pink unicorn!
The noses are made from leather, as I love the tactile process of moulding it – I particularly like doing nostrils. The eyes are soft toy teddy bear eyes – I did experiment with taxidermy eyes, but they looked too realistic and wrong for the overall quirky feel that I aim at.
“Although these pieces aren’t toys, they are made to be touched and stroked. I like to add a bit of cashmere under the chin, and of course those leather noses are just made to be stroked. The ears are wired, so you can have them up or down according to your mood!
“Each one of my little creatures is completely unique, I think as a result of all the determination that goes into creating it.
That’s why they come out looking like such characters, and it’s lovely when customers appreciate that, it makes it all worthwhile.”
For more information about Faux Doe Creations and to browse the photo gallery, please visit www.fauxdoecreations.com.