Maria D’Souza: Beauty from Death 

“Snake, Rattle & Roll”
Maria D’Souza

Written by Meghan E. Gattignolo 

Wander through artist Maria D’Souza’s exhibit From Dreams and be transported into the wonderland of her vision. Maria is an internationally renowned artist whose unique pieces transcend traditional representations of art. So, where did Maria get the inspiration to turn death into art, and what does it take for her to create each piece? 

Inspiring Travels 

As a child, Maria traveled all over the world with her parents. She has always fostered a deep love for animals, but living in Africa brought her close to wildlife in a special way. Maria spent a lot of time with all kinds of animals and was able to admire them up close. She marveled at all the little things an animal does – how each creature has its own individual traits and personality – which sparked inspiration. 

Later, she visited Yellowstone National Park, a place she emphatically describes as “heaven on earth,” where animals and nature are closely intertwined and untouched by human development. Maria photographed bison closely and admired their majestic nature. For the first time she wondered, what if the bison’s skull could be a canvas?  

Closer to home, Maria found a deer skull in the woods and her world opened up. She quickly began researching the animal remains she found and how she could create art from her discovery.  

“Rise of the American Spirit”
Maria D’Souza

A Distinctly Different Artform 

Maria’s work is completely one-of-a-kind. From the beads, to the metalwork, to the leather details, every element is created for her work and exists solely to create a stunning piece of art.  Each piece starts with an individual animal skull, either ethically sourced from family farms and ranches or from deadhead searchers and shed hunters who look for remains left behind by nature. No animal is killed for Maria’s art. Then, she focuses on one piece at a time and designs around the animal. The knowledge she has gained from years of observing wildlife is put to work with each piece, and no two are identical. They each have their own flair, personal history and soul.  

When Maria first began selling her art, she was unsure where to turn to find a market. Her first three clients were international, from Scotland. They raved about how uniquely beautiful each piece was, how they’d never seen anything like it before.  

“Stag Spirit”
Maria D’Souza

The Wonder of New Life 

When a visitor walks into the exhibit, Maria D’Souza wants them to know how much love and attention goes into each piece. While she does want everyone to enjoy the color and aesthetically-pleasing elements of her work, Maria’s goal is to capture the essence of each animal and she hopes to make that evident to the casual observer. 

“I want people to understand how I honor the animals and give them new life. Every detail is thought about. Each one is different.”   

When a rancher from whom Maria sources a bison skull has lived with and knows the animal, he shares stories with her of that bison’s life, its quirks and personality. In turn, she feels more connected with the animal and brings those stories with her to inform the art process. For Maria, “art is beyond the application of materials,” it is the wondrous process of giving each animal a brand new, beautiful life. 

Maria D’Souza: From Dreams is on view in the Orgain Gallery of the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center through March 19. 

Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters. 

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