Grizzly Bear Chair, 1865

Seth Kinman: The Grizzly Bear Chair, 1865

‘It is very strange, and very melancholic, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them’, said the Good Doctor, the late Samuel Johnson – and, really, why should we find pleasure in killing animals? However, the continuous and widespread use of trophies indicates that hunting still is a popular way to kill… time. Among the common hunting trophies within European cultures – usually horns and antlers, which are mounted with the head or a section of the skull on a board, the teeth and fangs of various animals, the hair from their backs and bristles, the plumage and feathers of birds, the skins of beasts of prey and big game, as well as heads, feet, legs or even complete carcases – we also find objects that have a symbolic or representational value and are meant to be actually used as well.

If hunting, as according to the philosopher Ortega y Gasset, is entirely and particularly motivated by the intention to ‘have’ the animal – the animal’s death being the most natural means of obtaining and subsequently owning it – what, then, could be a clearer expression of a successful hunt than sitting on the slain animal, making it a hunting trophy while also including it among the owner’s chattels? Indeed, different forms of trophy furniture, mostly to sit on, are more common than one dares to believe: for example, there is antler furniture, usually incorporating the antlers of male red deer as the most ‘noble’ game, developed in the 19th century to become a veritable fashion item. Better known are animal hides that have been in frequent use as covers for upholstery furniture besides being used as throws, bedspreads, and carpets throughout the 20th century until today. But the strangest ‘animal furniture’ is certainly the chair which was presented to US President Andrew Johnson in 1865 by the famous Wild West hunter Seth Kinman; it was kept by the President in his White House library, the Yellow Oval Room. As Marshall R. Auspach reported in 1947 in his book The Lost History of Seth Kinman: ‘This […] was made from two grizzly bears captured by Seth. The four legs and claws were those of a huge grizzly and the back and sides ornamented with immense claws. The seat was soft and exceedingly comfortable, but the great feature of the chair was that, by touching a cord, the head of the monster grizzly bear with jaws extended, would dart out in front from under the seat, snapping and gnashing its teeth as natural as life’.

Further reading:

William G. Fitzgerald, ‚Animal Furniture’, in Strand Magazine, vol. 12 (1896), 273-280.

Sebastian Hackenschmidt, ‘Furniture as Trophy – Design Using Animals’, in Furniture as Trophy, exhibition catalogue MAK–Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art, Vienna, 2009, 31-99.

Renaud Siegman and Jean-Luc Cormier, Michel Haillard. Tribale Poursuite, Paris, 2000.

Renaud Siegman and Jean-Luc Cormier, Michel Haillard, Paris, 2007.

Sabine Spindler, Geweihmöbel 1825–1925, Munich, 2006.

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Why should we find pleasure in killing animals?