On May 10, 2013, at the World Taxidermy and Fish Carving Championships® awards banquet held at the Springfield, Illinois Hilton Hotel, Show Chairman Larry Blomquist presented the third ever World Show Lifetime Achievement Award to Bob Berry of El Cajon, California.
Bob’s enormous influence on the modern taxidermy industry, as well as his nearly single-handed creation of an entire wildlife art genre, fish carving, have propelled him to this rarefied air, sharing this unique award with the late Henry Wichers Inchumuk and the late Simon T. Blackshaw.
As part of the tribute, some of Bob’s closest friends took the stage for a hilarious celebrity “roast” of Bob, telling embarrassing stories going back to the seventies, and the earliest days of taxidermy competitions. The roasters included Clark Schreibeis, Jeff Compton, Don Frank, Frank Newmyer, Harry Paulson and Joe Kish.
With the invaluable help of Bob’s wife, Kim Berry, Larry Blomquist and I prepared a biographical video presentation to help explain Bob’s life and some of his accomplishments. This video was shown to the 600 guests present at the awards banquet that night. To help a wider audience appreciate the contributions that Bob has made to our art and livelihoods, I am proud to include this video below for this edition of “Ken’s Corner.”
Below is the entire script written for the video presentation.
2013 World Show Lifetime Achievement Award: Bob Berry
Bob Berry was born in California in 1946 with a natural talent for art. At an early age his fascination with wildlife found him spending much of his free time studying animals or making Indian craft projects. On weekends, he bicycled to the San Diego Natural History Museum, spending all day there looking at exhibits.
When Bob received a ten-dollar bill for his twelfth birthday, he didn’t waste it. He used the gift to purchase a mail-order course from J. W. Elwood’s Northwestern School of Taxidermy. Using the booklets, his first skin mounts were a rabbit, a red-tail hawk, and a snow goose.
Throughout high school, Bob hunted, fished, and he enjoyed surfing in the Pacific Ocean. After graduation in 1964, Bob apprenticed for five years at Lyon’s and O’Haver Taxidermy in La Mesa, California.
Bob served in the U.S. Army; one year in Vietnam during the height of the war in 1969. Sergeant Berry was honorably discharged in 1971 with two Bronze Stars and an Army Commendation medal. After the Army, Bob opened his own commercial taxidermy studio, Animal Arts Taxidermy, in Ocean Beach, California.
Throughout the 1970’s Bob was a prominent figure in the world of taxidermy, and was elected to the board of the National Taxidermists Association where he helped develop the live seminar program. He became a contributing editor to two of our early trade journals, Wide World of Taxidermy and Taxidermy Review, where he wrote many articles as well as fish painting schedules that featured his personal illustrations. From 1983 to the present, Bob has authored over 40 articles and painting schedules for taxidermists and carvers in Breakthrough Magazine.
In the early 70′s a client encouraged him to make a carving of a cinnamon teal duck decoy. Bob won a blue ribbon with his piece and it changed the course of his career. Confident that he could compete with some success, he transitioned from taxidermy to wood carving, primarily with duck decoys.
By the end of the decade, Bob had won more than 250 awards at major wildfowl competitions throughout the U.S. and Canada, over half of them for first place, Best of Category, or Best of Show.
Never afraid to ruffle feathers, Bob devised a protest of the new taxidermy score cards introduced in the late 70′s. At the 1978 Denver NTA show, he surprised the judges by entering a trio of carved urethane bottle-nose dolphins in the Reproduction / Mammals division, and ended up winning with a score of 99 points!
Bob was never known for his shyness. With the formation of the A.S.O.B.s in 1980, his self-proclaimed arrogance was flaunted for all to see. The founding members were Bob Berry, Jeff Compton, and Gary Zehner. The A.S.O.B.s conducted a unique bird taxidermy challenge in front of an audience, and the loosing entries were usually destroyed.
During the 1980′s, Bob and his wife Christine had two sons, Brett and Matt. Christine utilized her business and marketing skills to help Bob establish himself in the wildlife art world. His first of 20 books, Decoy Patterns was published, and Avon Cosmetics commissioned Bob to carve four duck decoys for mass production to launch Avon’s new men’s line.
While snorkeling on vacation in Hawaii, Bob was mesmerized by the beauty of tropical reef fish. He began carving what he had seen and sold his new fish carvings through local galleries. Bob entered his first tropical fish carving of a Moorish idol fish in the reproductions category of the last Taxidermy Review competition. He won the category.
In 1985 the first ever World Fish Carving Championships was held in Lawrence, Kansas. Bob won the first Best in World title with an ornate butterflyfish. It was then that he transitioned to carving fish exclusively. He also put down his airbrush in favor of hand-painting his pieces, which he continues to do today.
Bob’s success with fish carving flourished. He wrote books, articles, and conducted seminars on fish carving. He has been a major part of every Wold Fish Carving Championships since then, as a seminar instructor, judge, or competitor.
In 1990 Bob received a commission to sculpt seven life-size silverback gorillas for the new “Gorilla Tropics” exhibit at the world-famous San Diego Zoo. The gorilla bronzes have become the most photographed spots at the zoo. Bob spent the rest of the 1990’s creating large wildlife bronzes for other zoos including 11 primates for Busch Gardens in Tampa.
In 2001 tragedy struck while Bob was attending the World Fish Carving Championships in Springfield, Illinois. His wife of 20 years, Christine, died suddenly of congestive heart failure at age 50.
Christine’s untimely death left a deep void in Bob’s life which was difficult for him to overcome. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 halted all funding for public art projects which brought Bob’s work to a standstill. These were the most difficult days of his life.
In 2002 Bob met Kimberly Madison, the sister of an Animal Arts employee, who contacted him for a mold of an antique picture frame. Three weeks later she agreed to be his wife. Part of Bob’s recovery was returning to the 2003 WFCC, the site where he learned of Christine’s death two years earlier. He entered a Garibaldi and a miniature Cortez angelfish, winning two Best in World titles and the Best of Show with the Garibaldi, repeating his performance from 1985.
No individual has had a greater impact on the art of carving fish than Bob Berry. Considered the “father of fish carving,” he pioneered the art form, mentoring nearly every notable carver to date. Through his efforts, fish carving was launched from a side-category at taxidermy shows to its current status as a stand-alone art form.
His early contributions to taxidermy are equally noteworthy, inspiring and contributing his talents through articles and live seminars, at a time when information was rarely shared.
The breadth of his artistic talent spans many disciplines and his talent is immense, yet his biggest contribution to taxidermy and fish carving is his leadership in education and teaching. We owe a debt of gratitude to this visionary who has influenced us all. We are proud to pay tribute and award the third ever of the World Shows Lifetime Achievement Awards to Bob Berry of El Cajon, California.