From Old… to New

In my first post on this Blog (see Observations/Taxidermy-An Ideal and a Pledge) I mentioned how much taxidermy manikins have improved since the world of paper forms in the pre-midseventies era. Because those forms had no pre-set anything, the taxidermist was required to model the face pretty much from scratch, on every singe mount. It was a time-consumer and certainly made symmetry much more difficult. But my encouragement was that even though forms are much better today, it does not preclude the necessity of a taxidermist’s study of anatomy, in order to produce the best mount he can on every occasion. Every deer is different and on each mount you have to be able to deal with what you have to work with. And knowing what to do about each one of the scenarios that come up, will produce a better mount, every time.

But before we get into dealing with a modern foam manikin, it occurred to me that many of the taxidermists who will read this blog may have never had the opportunity to work with a paper form.  Many of you perhaps have never even seen a paper form!  Soooo… I set out to see if I could find one. I had two goals in mind. First, I wanted anyone who has never mounted on an old paper manikin to understand  how far modern taxidermy forms have come and to show just how much work has been eliminated from the days of old! And second, I wanted to sculpture the face to see how much time it actually did take to get an old form ready to mount. And thanks to Olaus Lyons of Van Dykes, I received the form that you see here:


The first problem I had was to find a deer skull that did not have the eye sockets cut off. I finally located an old pick-up and was able to saw straight through the eye sockets. Someone had messed with the eye sockets on the form before I received it, but it didn’t really matter as the eyes would have to be modeled from scratch anyway. The next photo shows the lack of shape throughout:


With the skull set it was now time to begin. I started the timer and got to work. The first step is to find and mark a centerline. As you will see, it is from this line that all points are measured to create symmetry.untitled-1718Once the centerline has been determined, the eye sockets can then be set. You can see I have filled the right eye socket with clay (I am using oil clay for this demonstration but for actual mounting always use water base clay). Since the eyes were not pre-set, we will need to set the correct angle of the socket (depending on the species, most are in the 45 to 50 degree range). Tilt needs to be decided as well (again depended on the species, but averaging around 8 to 10 degrees). Once the first socket was set to the determined specifications it is necessary to set the opposite eye symmetrical to the one just created. To do this, I marked a centerline on the eye (level to the floor) and inserted two finish nails, one in the front of the socket and one in the back:


These points (nails) will now have to be located in exactly the same position in the opposite eye socket. As I mentioned all symmetry is measured from the centerline down the bridge of the nose.  So mark the centerline at two points: one in front of the eye and one above and behind the eye. With a caliper measure from the centerline point to an existing nail (I started with the rear nail), and place a nail in the back of the opposite socket, the same distance from this point.



Now do the same thing measuring from the front centerline point. Move the nail until it is the same distance from both centerline marks.  Locate the front eye point in the same way.


It is always necessary to locate any individual point from at least two points on the centerline. You can now set the eyes in the socket and model the eye features:


untitled-1734 untitled-1740 untitled-1747

With the eye shaped, the nose and the lips come next.



Final shape on the face would be the bottom jaw and side muscles all the way back to the jaw.


One side finished! Now the big question. Exactly how long did all that take? Here are the numbers:

It took me approximately 10 minutes to set the eye sockets. I spent 17 minutes sculpting the rest as you see in the photo above. The opposite side, then, should take another 17 minutes as well. So far that is 10+17+17= 44 minutes. If you wanted to add veins that would take an estimated 10 minutes more. And finally, should you desire to completely “modernize” your sculpting to look like a foam manikin of today, expect another 15-30 minutes, or more. That is a crazy long total time frame of 1 hour 9 minutes at a minimum (inexperience could increase this time dramatically). Especially when you consider you could get to the same place (only with better symmetry and design) on a current form in only about 10 minutes!



Back in the 70’s some old timers told me that my new forms with preset eyes and completely sculpted anatomy would turn the industry into a bunch of “paste-on” taxidermists. There would be no need to learn anatomy, they said, if all you had to do was to glue on a skin. I personally believe, that a well sculptured manikin actually helps a taxidermist to learn and improves the basic mounting process. But having said that, there is always more that can be done on each individual mount to create a custom fit. Taxidermy forms are limited in available sizes, yet there are millions (well a lot anyway) of sizes of deer, just like people. It can be very helpful to get to a place where you can do whatever needs to be done on each individual mount in order to obtain an even better result. Widening or narrowing a nose, or the whole head for that matter, should become second nature. Add a Roman nose, take some foam off here, add some clay there, raise or lower the head, and the list goes on. You may not understand anatomy in the same way the original Jonas brothers did, but there is a lot you can do, and hopefully this Blog will help.

No skin fits the same form in exactly the same way. Over the next few posts I will try to cover the reasons why this is the case and we will explore the entire mounting process and how to manage any problem that you may encounter. I can’t wait!





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  1. Dennis Harris

    What a blast form the past. Thanks Den reliving my childhood and teens right here and now….I’ve mounted on your foam mannequins since the first ones you dod for him that were molded right after you left Jonas and went to work for Larry.
    I guess I’m one of those old timers you talk about. None of ever said it would be bad for taxidermy itself. In all our remarks about the making of snap on taxidermist it was not meant as people think. it was meant as the industry will not economically GROW in compensation made by taxidermist that can produce high end work as an artist with skills in their hands and years of study and experience. Making it so anyone can put together a respectable mount lowered the economic value of the skills you have just shown. If there were none of these new mannequins 90% of the taxidermist in business today could not , nor would not dal with what it takes to do what you show above. They have no idea or appreciation of the skill involved to create good work before the 1960’s. Your pictures give me HOPE that someday sometime, and I’ve put a bug in Kathy Blomquist ear to talk to Larry about making a world taxidermy category and competiton just like this during the show. Each of US old timers and any new timers..LOL start with one of these old rosin paper forms and create a taxidermy piece at the show for the spectators. Winner bases on 50% public vote and 50% judged on difficulty and 25% on species and 25 % on technical merit. Well keep it up, never met you but feel I know you and you HAVE made the quality of taxidermy grow as I watched and used your forms. Thousands upon thousands of them over the years,

  2. Kenny Wheeler

    I just want to say that I really appreciate what you have contributed to the taxidermy industry, even more so after viewing and reading the flashback. I remember ordering , back in the 70’s, a deer form that was made of some sort of pinkish, orange resin with wood chips in it. Sanding would probably have been impossible. After that nightmare, why did I continue? As an old TC-9 user, I could not have remained in taxidermy without the continuing efforts of artists like yourself. I admit to being totally dependent on the suppliers. Thanks for what you have done.

  3. Jerry Huffaker

    I’m really enjoying your blog Dennis , I look forward to the new installments. Thank you for everything you’ve done for our industry.

  4. Gilbert

    Hello I’m complete agree with you Dennis. But I’m living in France and the last time Ive order a form from US compagnie
    (Mc Kenzie) the form cost to me tree times the original price and for me finicialy it’s better to sculpted the old one .But I’m still interest in your picture and the way that you do the taxidermie

  5. Buzzi Cook

    I grew up making Red Rosin Paper forms, it was the first job I had after school, I think my production started around the fourth grade, and that was many years ago. I remember when my dad read an article about a museum on the east coast somewhere and they were making items out of foam, the next thing I knew I had foam all over the backs of my legs from the expanding foam while sitting atop the crude backboards. Sometimes the Plaster of Paris molds would break from the internal foam expansion, and removing the forms in one piece was heartbreaking at times. We used motor oil as a release agent plus other materials that never quite worked the way we hoped they would. Jumping forward to your forms has been an incredible ride and one that I am glad to have witnessed this change for the better. Thank You for helping us all out with the use of these modern materials and your fantastic sculpting ability. I don’t want to go back to the old days.

    1. Dennis Behn

      Hey Buzzi, great to hear from you! Yeah, lots of changes in our industry, and fun to hear how far back you go. I don’t think I would like to go back either, but I guess I have to say it was fun to be a part of those “old” days as well! Keep up the good work and thanks for the encouragement.

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