Stephen, George, mo Icon thoughts

Submitted by cur on 1/1/05 at 6:02 PM. ( )

Figured I would add this as a new post, to make sure you two saw it.
That was an excellent post, Steve, and you were correct assuming the thought had been on my mind for some time.

Each time I see a "new" or "miracle" addition to this field, this old man usually yawns and goes back to work. I can remember nothing in this field over the past fifty years that has not been the result of other industry effort. Many of the "new" materials and products have been around for twenty or more years before trickling down to the taxidermy field.

Sure, some folks have sculpted the new isometrically challenged deer and duck forms and added a flair to old shapes while others have devised new ways to do old chores, but most of the "miracle" products are just relabeled consumer or industrial goods. Perhaps the best thing that has happened in the past four or five decades is introduction of many new adhesives and chemicals, and the almost magical copolymer and polyurea resins and RTV Silicones.

Well, anyway, Stephen's reply post is exactly what I had in mind. It is funny you should mention the concrete pump attributed to Ackley. There are, among the piles of stuff that I like to call my archives, a number of old concrete journals and several copies of "Cement World" an old publication about that industry. The earliest dates to 1906, and the latest I have is Volume III, No 2, May, 1909. The publication is full of early concrete machinery and mold making techniques and the then new, "Reincrete", processes (Reinforced concrete). I do not recall Ackley having been mentioned, but I will doubly check them for his name. (I hate to handle the old magazines because they are a bit brittle.)

We do animatronics here, and have done models for the industry since the mid 1970's through Hollywood clients. Taxidermists have long been involved either directly, or partially in that process. And, if Rummans and I are examples, we still are.

The ancient Egyptians, as Bradlee suggested, did work to preserve animals and birds, but it was from a ceremonial or ritual perspective, and should not be considered taxidermy. Taxidermy processes may well date back to that time though in Africa and mainland China, and other areas around the Pacific Rim Nations. Many parts of animals, and, at times, entire specimens were processed and preserved by a wide variety of methods.

Tanning methods employed centuries ago did not lend well to taxidermy as we know it. The Romans took up to two years to turn a steer hide into finished leather goods. Even more modern tanning processes were slow when compared to the techniques currently employed by taxidermists.

A lot of primative methods relied on dehydration, rather than preservation. Some of those procedures, while largely ritual were time consuming and discilpined. (Making shrunken heads, for instance.) Thomas Mails outlines some of the American Indians' procedures in his works. Outside of processing skins for leather, most parts were preserved by drying or by applying raw skins over moss, reed or grass inserts that were a far cry from mannikins.

A lot of our procedures originate in Medical Laboratories. Anatomists and Medical Instructors have always strived to preserve valuable specimens, and to reproduce gross wounds and build anatomical reference models for archival purposes. Many of those methods must have trickled down to layman taxidermists.

A lot of the men mentioned were far more than just taxidermists. Those folks were highly qualified artists and scientists. And most were very capable anatomists. It is probable that a lot of concepts and procedures were brought to this field simply by observing other production processes and methods or by adapting new materials as result of a continuous search for taxidermy perfection.

The utmost respect should be given to those early pioneers. Recently I built a nine foot alligator replica using Walters' procedure albeit with modern resins. Nothing can make one admire the works of another more than by actually replicating the effort. Unlike Walters, this madman may never do another---whew! Whatta job!

Over the years, I have molded some fair sized mammal carcasses by methods similar to those of Inckmuck, and the largest problem is finding sufficient hands to lift the segments...LOL. We use a front end loader now to turn the large alligator mold halves, jacket, mold, gator and all......Without that toy, it would take a lot of coolies to do the job - especially since the entire assembly, complete with gator, may weigh up to nearly 1/2 ton.

Perhaps the greatest two experiences of my lifetime - those which provided many processes adaptable to taxidermy - were the period when my art was reproduced in ceramic and porcelain, and the time spent making jewelry and logo models for the industry. Many of the methods employed here are based on jewelry and metal casting concepts and done by using tools and equipment originally designed for that purpose. Ceramics taught me to build molds as never before, and to think in the reverse and to plan segments much better than previous efforts.

When polyester resins became available, it was natural that the product be adapted for this field's use. It is probable that introduction in this field was by way of Heterogenic experiment, since I can remember no one, outside of Al Pfleuger, doing anything on a wide scale with the material. The first time I ever saw Silicone RTV rubber was around 1970, I suppose. At that time, I don't think anyone other than General Electric made the stuff. It was originally developed by GE as a potting compound for electrical connections in US Army Tanks as a safeguard agains EMP.

At the time, I was fortunate enough to live next door to a plastics chemist who was always bringing compounds by and asking, "what can you make out of this?" Well, lots of stuff, it turned out. We purchased our first Urethane Foam Machinery in 1972. It was made by Cincinnati Milicron, and cost around $12.5K, which was a lot of bucks then. We used it to manufacture picture frames at first to replicate the then popular "barn wood" and some ornately carved models. I used to free rise some of the stuff and carve fish mannikins and bird bodies out of the blobs, and should have immediately realized the potential for this industry, but just had too busy a life at the time to think along those lines.

We did manufacture a lot of duck decoy bodies, though, and around 500-1000 picture frames each week for our market. We used 5-10 pound density freon-blown foam back then. I made molds out of the old GE Silicone RTV of anything that would hold still. We did a lot of fossils and embeds and even made a few fish molds, but not mannikin molds.

When WEP came on the scene, we set up a production line for that material, but fell out of love with it due to shrink and warp. My porcelain sculpture experience began with the production of whiskey decanters. Soon, we were making EPSB clam shells to protect the bottles during shipment. We had a machine that operated on live steam and cool water to turn the bead foam cardage out of aluminum molds.

The molds were expensive, but when amortized over large production runs, they amounted to pennies of cost per item packaged. It didn't take long for me to make a duck decoy mold out of wax and have it cast in aluminum in order to make decoys from that material. The problem was a soft skin and at that time only two companies in the US made a coating material to skin the soft foam.

Today, there are many such coatings available and many of them applicable to this field. Over the years, I don't think a visit to a factory anywhere on earth didn't provide an opportunity to observe at least one procedure that was later applied in one way or another to my taxidermy efforts. Unfortunately, like many artists and designers, mine has been a fairly selfish quest. The answers sought and gained were not largely given to others......and still, for the most part aren't. I should imagine that it has always been that way in most fields.

The reason that challenge was posted was because I have long thought about how and when procedures and materials became routine taxidermy tools. Most, one supposes, were adapted from another industry. Where concrete pumps are concerned, I once dated a young lady who claimed that her grandfather "invented" gunnite.....his name escapes me, and whether he actually did invent the process or not, I have no clue. My interest in the young lady had nothing to do with concrete.

For years, museum taxidermists and preparators were a community of men and women who shared much information, but their papers and abstracts were seldom available to the general lay taxidermist. I would imagine that most new procedures were evolved as group efforts, and seldom a flash of brilliance on the part of a single individual. e.g. When we think of molds and molding, we think an elephant is big, and, with respect to land mammals, it is. Now, consider that the Statue of Liberty was first sculpted and then the wax parts cast from plaster molds.......that is BIG. It was probably a simple process to transfer the procedure from bronze casting to carcass casting.

We use a lot of moulage and alginate here. Around 200-250 pounds of alginate alone each year. Both materials are probably ancient. In fact, Moulage receives its moniker from the French word for mold, which would lend to think that the two terms were mutually inclusive.

Sand and cuttlebone casting of noble metals and bronze goes back 5000 years, and one would suppose that more than one fish was done by the sand cavity or lost wax technique. Some ceramic molds were made directly from fish and other life forms, a couple of thousands years ago. I made ceramic molds of some snakes and lizards in 1978-89 and the fired porcelain bodies were exact in every detail.

We use the burn-out and cast method here from time to time. Many insects and small crustaceans and other exeoskeletal life forms may be invested, burned out in a kiln, and then cast perfectly by vacuum or centrifugal procedures used by jewelers. It should be imagined that someone figured that out long before the dawn of our past century. I have watched primative peoples bury life specimens in boxes of silica sand dissicatives or niters for sale in pharmacies in Taiwan, Japan and other SE Asian Nations. One would imagine that practice to be several thousands of years old. Today, housewives around the world dry flowers by that method. Just as do we taxidermists use a multitude of procedures that have been born of necessity in other industries.

Perhaps a number of innovations have been patented or registered. I don't know, and my "archives" are pitifully insufficient to research the data here in the swamp. If anyone on this earth may know, it would probably be you, Stephen, and this old man is sure that you will shed much more light on the subject.

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A good post Cur!

This response submitted by A Taxidermist on 1/1/05 at 10:33 PM. ( )


Darn, that was a tad long but worth the read. You are correct!
By the way, You got a web address?

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