Fernley artist creates animal art by articulating skeletons

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 animal skeletons, leaving wonderfully preserved remains that look almost like sculptures.

“People think it sounds scary and rude and disturbing, but I don’t think it is,” said the 19-year-old Fernley resident. “It’s beautiful. It’s giving him 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.

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

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

Around the eighth year, he started collecting bones in the desert. This interest developed into the cleaning of skulls, which evolved into research into the process of articulation of skeletons.

“I think it’s best that they are not wasted. It is better that they are not thrown away,” he said.

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

Kendel Worley worked with various animals that he found or that were given to him.  Here is a gopher who has been trapped in a nearby school where his mother works.

Since the pigeon, Worley has dabbled in various animals, some found, some donated. A lizard that his cat killed, chukars and ducks that were hunted by family friends, a friend’s chicken that died, a gopher that was trapped in a nearby school where his mother works.

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

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

Kendel mounted and adorned the mouse skeleton with a preserved butterfly and dried flowers.

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 of weeks,” Albert Worley said with a laugh.

Worley is careful to check what animals he can and cannot own — laws like the Migratory Birds Act protect most birds, and it’s illegal to pick up roadkill in Nevada.

But there’s no animal Worley isn’t ready to tackle. Some are harder to work with due to their size and the amount of chemicals needed, but “I want to see it all,” he said. “There is no discrimination on my part.”

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

And there are more animals waiting.

Kendel Worley holds one of his poseable skeletons as he sits at his workstation in his parents' garage on June 8, 2022. Worley has always had an interest in animals, keeping various types of insects and spiders as pets.

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

His interest goes beyond articulated skeletons. He tried to tan the skins of certain animals and he pins insects.

There is no taxidermy shop in Fernley, but he wants to find a place to learn. Eventually, he hopes to turn his hobby into a business.

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

Kendel Worley exhibited his collection of animals he has worked on.  The biggest one is a chicken and during the process he discovered that the chicken had an egg inside.  He was able to keep the skeleton with the egg.

Amy Alonzo covers the outdoors, recreation and environment for Nevada and Lake Tahoe. Contact her at [email protected] Here’s how you can support ongoing coverage and local journalism.

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