The Method To My Madness

Today’s skilled taxidermists have a slightly different mounting process than in days of old.  Modern foam forms with their pre-sculpted details have somewhat negated the need for the average taxidermist to know anatomy in the same way as when paper forms were prevalent.  I made some effort to show this in an earlier post called  “From Old to New” (see the Taxidermy category on this blog).

But let me say this. The process today is just different, it does not take any less skill or ability, only slightly different skill and ability.

Hollow paper forms were a pain. To start with, there were not nearly as many size choices as we have today.  If a form didn’t fit, you couldn’t always just pick another size.  Normally we would check how a skin fit a form and then make notes on what needed to be done and where.  We then cut the form into pieces and re-assembled it with wire mesh and staples and covered all that with fiberglass cloth and resin.  To smooth the edges we stood in front of an exhaust fan with a rotary grinder and ground the daylights out of the whole thing until we were covered from head to toe in fiberglass and paper dust.  Good grief!  Finally, it was necessary to cut and install a backboard, rebuild any basic musculature with paper-mache’, and seal the whole thing with orange shellac to keep the moisture out. Then, and only then, could the clay work begin as I showed in “From Old to New”.  And all this for a basic, standard mount!





These photos are from the “ancient” archive vault of 1973…

Today, thankfully, there are far more sizes than ever before so if a size doesn’t fit you can normally select a larger or smaller form and simply carry on.  Still,  because of the size variations of individual animals, every skin may not fit your selected mannikin to perfection, and, some quick alterations or clay work become necessary.  Need more Roman nose?  Or perhaps a wider nose?  Or a longer face, or whatever…  These are simple alterations that can be completed in minutes as you prepare your form for mounting  (lots more to come on all of this).  One of my aims with this blog is to show how to do these things (and more), and then, simply to encourage those of you who have never altered a form, to give it a try.   I’ve talked with a number of taxidermists over the years who were too fearful to make any change, of any kind, to any form.  If just the thought of cutting into a stock form makes you sweat, this blog is for you.

The first time you try anything new it can be intimidating, I understand that.   But these skills are necessary for the best work and ultimately can take you in a new direction that could be very beneficial to your business.    Mount over the form as it is or make some slight modifications, the choice is yours.  But always keep on learning!

So allow me, then, this observation.  I believe that your greatest value as a taxidermist, and the single thing that will propel you the farthest in our industry (other than just plain quality, of course), is the ability to take a stock form and turn it into anything your customer desires.

Call it custom work and charge accordingly.

Without question, time has shown that the largest, most advanced studios, are the ones who are able to create the most unique mounts!  Does this take more study and more knowledge of anatomy?  Sure.  But being really good at anything always takes more time, effort, and learning.

Hopefully this blog can help with the learning!

That is why I started out with “how to’s” on head alterations.  I believe these are critical in all mounts from the very basic all the way to the very custom.  I always fit a skin to the neck and shoulders of a form, and then do whatever is needed to the head to make it work.  Hopefully “whatever is needed” is nothing, but if you subscribe to this system of selecting a mannikin,  I think you will be able to see more clearly why its important to have these head alterations in your “available” bag ( I will go more in-depth on fitting a skin to the correct size form in a future post).                          .

There are actually six “standard” head alterations that I figure you can’t live without.  So far we’ve only looked at two of these.  Once we get through the other four,  we can move on to the mounting process starting with a standard mount on a standard form.   Then comes the fun stuff.  We’ll look at some in-depth alterations, such as making a head look more upward, or downward, or create more turn, or change out a head, and so on.  And then finally, comes the really fun stuff.  I will take a stock form and completely customize a mount.  Don’t know exactly what it will be just yet, but I’ll figure that out when the time comes.

Custom work puts the pizazz in your business.  For now, learning how to customize a mount is where this blog is headed.

So just in case you were wondering, now you know the method to my madness.


  1. Larry Mathieu

    I am a beginner wanna be taxidermist trying to teach myself through dvd’s and YouTube videos. I have recently used the widening form techniques on my first bear half mount. So far, it is working well. Thank you for the info.

    1. Dennis Behn

      There will always be a lot to learn no matter how long you are in this industry, so keep on learning! Videos are a big help. Good luck!

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