What was it, exactly? The descriptions of the picturesque British countryside during the pre- and post-World War II era? The relatively uncomplicated but quirky characters-real people-whose country charm made them unforgettable? The author's willingness and courage to expose his inner soul and bare his own human foibles to his reader and the pathos I felt? Yes, it was all of these. But most of all, it was the animals.
I relished the stories of pets-canines of all sizes, varieties and temperament (big ones were mellow, resigned to their fate; tiny ones were feisty) and felines that you always could count on to reveal their true feelings. I enjoyed reading about the horses that intimidated Herriott, but were the first love and passion of the boss, Seigfried Farnon. Then there were the stories of saving the cows, the pigs, the sheep-the farm animals that meant a livelihood for the humble farmers. Yes, that's it; I enjoyed the stories most of all because of the passionate dependence and love the people had for their animals. Animals were within the heart of the owners, and assuredly within the heart of Herriott, the world's most famous and beloved vet.
THE ANIMAL CONNECTION
What is it that connects people to animals? Why are personal pets, with all their inconvenience and mess, still so important to us in a very material world? And why-especially now-is this surge of interest in animal design making decorating headlines?
People and animals are universally entwined. We respect animals because they not only are willing to coexist with us, but because our pets give us unconditional love and loyalty and expect little in return. You may have read surveys or human interest stories of pets who brought people out of depression, gave people of all ages a desire to heal, were best friends and savers of human life. They soften and cushion our existence and give us something to indulge without too much fear of spoiling them. They maintain their child-like innocence throughout their lives. They are always willing to listen, and they allow us to feel our emotions without judgment. They are always "there" for us.
Critters that cannot be held on the lap, cuddled or stroked, such as birds and fish and all the zoo and wildlife creatures, seem to be tolerant of the human penchant for watching them and admiring their grace and agility. Their ability to live, breathe, eat and reproduce without the encumbrances and complexities of our own lives often leaves us just a tad envious, as the words of this little ditty express so well:
"Of all of the creatures in all of the
I truly wish I were a fish.
For they can go swimming whenever they wish,
Oh I truly wish I were a fish.
They don't require anybody's permission.
They're always wet and with no inhibition.
Freely they swim in their fishy tradition. I wish I were a fish!"
Or this well-known refrain:
"Somewhere, over the rainbow, bluebirds
Birds fly over the rainbow why, oh then why, can't I?"
These wistful wishes suggest we believe animals do live freer, less shackled lives than humans, and sometimes we long to feel that freedom ourselves.
We want the serenity we observe in nature. And in our imaginations we can swim, soar, climb, leap, jump, stalk or curl up and nap blissfully whenever we like through the assistance of animal art, accessories and images. What a life!
THE MANY MOODS OF ANIMAL DECOR
Animal representations in interior design create a variety of moods. First is a reverence for nature. Although a few still engage in the sport, for the most part, gone are the days of trophy hunting and the heinous display of dead animal heads mounted on walls with their glassy eyes a morbid reminder of innocent life unnecessarily snuffed out. Desecrating nature by wanton harvest, killing bears or zebras in order to walk on their hides, is repulsive to environmentally concerned people today.
Rather, the interior based on natural textures and materials from renewable resources is in keeping with our newfound respect for Mother Earth. Today's art and fabric design, sculpture and decorative images of animals and insects are in sync with the global goal of saving and revering wildlife.
Although the trend toward protecting and preserving wild game and their habitats has gone mainstream, there remains a little thrill of the hunt in our use of animal prints. Safari patterns in textiles may not be precisely a zebra or jungle cat, but enough of the influence is there to set an exotic mood for an interior. And now creative designers and manufacturers are offering resin, metal and glass creatures to replicate in a playful way the spoils of the safari. We can adorn window treatments, walls, furniture and fabric appointments with zebras, monkeys, lions, dogs, cats, frogs, lizards, ducks, bees, butterflies-the list goes on and on.
Yet another mood we can create with the use of animal prints within our personal environments is lighthearted fun! When animal images are used with brightly colored textiles, drapery hardware and trimmings, the surprise of seeing miniature versions of playful creatures is a delight to the eye.
Animals are a reminder that no matter how stressful we think our lives are, we all are on this Earth together for the same ride around the Sun. Like "the great circle of life" all of us animals each take our turn, take our place, work through our lives the best we can and, ideally, leave the world a little bit better for our having been here.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.