By Western Hands: Maria D’Souza

From her studio in Nashville, beaded skull artist Maria D’Souza draws inspiration from a variety of animals.

As a child, Maria D’Souza carried her love of animals with her as her family traveled the world for her father’s work. Her artwork expanded to utilizing animal skulls as canvases after her initial visit to the American West. D’Souza spent a childhood watching wildlife on South African safaris, but bison in Yellowstone National Park and Texas Longhorns mesmerized her. Her first beaded skull was a bison. Since then, from her studio in Nashville, she has worked with a variety of animals, from springbok antelope to bear, from caribou to lion.

What Inspires
“It’s the wonder of creation and the seemingly random perfection of nature. I imagine the life, the spirit of the animal through motion, color, and depth. With my beadwork, I bring the animal to life again. To create, I must become present with the spirit of the animal. Once I trust, the moment is so beautiful and soulful as I’m led through the design. The flow is in allowing myself to connect with the animal and artistic process.

“When I begin to work with a skull, it’s a daily ritual to sit with an image of the animal. Once the skull arrives in my studio, the true connection begins when I touch it and feel its contours. I never sketch the entire design. It comes step by step.”

Artistic Process
“Often I dream of design colors, which I capture in my little diary that I have on my nightstand. I call it my mini-bible, because it goes everywhere with me. A manufacturer creates two- and three-dimensional beads for me in various colors. I also explore metal, silver, copper, and leather in my designs. A gentleman mixes a proprietary glue solution that’s durable indoors and out, in various temperatures. All of the skulls are sourced ethically, both the American iconic animals and the exotics from overseas. I also work on commission pieces that are hunters’ trophies.”

Furthering The Craft
“I want to teach children the intuitive process of being present with whatever art form they choose. Be it skulls and beads or canvas and wood, kids can learn from letting go and trusting their innate artistic sense. I feel people often see artwork and then just re-create it in a similar pattern or style. Art is so unique to a person, but you have to look within yourself to see it.”

For more on Maria D’Souza, visit her website and follow her on Instagram. 

Photography: (All images) courtesy Maria D’Souza

From our July 2021 issue