Thousands of years ago when man first hunted for his food, he found that the skins of his prey, when treated with certain substances, could be preserved and used for clothing and shelter. The first taxidermists were primitive hunter-gatherers who crudely formed animal skins over mud and rock for use in their hunting rituals. Over the eons, as methods to preserve these skins improved and the need for tanned skins increased, the tanner became one of the most important members of the tribe.
As the demand for quality leather and skins grew, the methods became more and more sophisticated. By the 1700s almost every small town had a prosperous tannery business. In the 1800s, hunters began bringing their trophies to upholstery shops where the upholsterers would actually sew up the animal skins and stuff them with rags and cotton. The term "stuffing" or a "stuffed animal" evolved from this crude form of taxidermy. This practice produced some terrible looking mounts and gave taxidermy a bad reputation which still haunts the industry to this day. Professional taxidermists still shudder and take offense at the term stuffing. (The preferred word is mounting.)
In the early 20th century, taxidermy began to evolve into its modern form under the leadership of great artists such as Carl E. Akeley, William T. Horneday, Coloman Jonas and Leon Pray. These and other talented pioneers developed anatomically accurate mannikins which incorporated every detail--right down to each muscle and tendon of the animal--in artistically pleasing poses. They invented new techniques for mounting that allowed them to portray animals with uncanny lifelike accuracy. They created mounts in realistic settings and poses that were more appropriate for the species. This was quite a change from the crude, snarling caricatures that were popularly offered as hunting trophies.
Taxidermy in the latter part of the twentieth century has developed into a full-fledged form of wildlife art, and the successful taxidermists of today must also be considered as fine artists in their own right. There are many different methods used today for producing mounts (or re-creations) of different species. For an overview of the methods commonly used in the taxidermy of a particular specimen, choose from the following links:
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