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A Taxidermist Looks At Sixty

Today I turned sixty years old. This milestone has caused me to indulge in a little personal reflection about my taxidermy journey, and how our industry has changed in the thirty years I have been involved in it.

The 1983 World Taxidermy Championships in Atlanta, Georgia.

My first taxidermy convention was the World Taxidermy Championships in 1983. I was the wide-eyed young kid in awe of the big names in the industry and amazed by the fantastic entries showcasing the artistic aspect of our craft. I remember first walking into the World Congress Center in Atlanta and being overwhelmed by the scope of the exhibition.

Through my involvement with Breakthrough Magazine, I was fortunate to become friends and work with many of the taxidermy greats of the time; Jim Hall, Onno Van Veen, Charlie Fleming, Joe Bruchac, Henry Wichers Inchumuk, and many of the “old masters” in the generation that proceeded me whom I looked up to.

There were also the up-and-coming superstars of my generation; Tom Sexton, Larry Blomquist, Mike Kirkhart, Joe Meder, Jeff Compton, Jan Van Hoesen, Rick Carter, Jeff Lumsden, Bill Yox and Sallie Dahmes. These artists would go on to make important contributions on our industry, shaping the direction it would take.

Now there is a new generation of dazzlingly talented taxidermy artists coming along behind us. Their new offerings to our profession are just beginning to be seen, and their legacy is still before them. The baton will continue to be passed on to the next batch of artisans. When they see me at a convention, I am now the “old guy”.

In the 1980s there was a huge renaissance in taxidermy information as well as a leap forward in technology as anatomically accurate mannikins appeared on the market along with artificial parts for birds and fish. Live seminars took off as new books and articles were published allowing a new generation of taxidermy enthusiasts the means to enter the profession.

In the late 1980s video instruction came into its own as VHS cassettes showed the step-by-step process on your home television screen. This allowed anyone with a desire to learn to see exactly how taxidermy was done by the top artists in the field. Taxidermy supply companies sprang up in every state as would-be entrepreneurs tried to establish themselves in the expanding market.

In the mid 1990s the internet changed everything once again. The democratization of the world-wide web gave everyone equal footing, and the voice of a beginner novice could be heard alongside that of a seasoned veteran. As more and more “free” taxidermy instruction information became available from dubious sources, it was harder to discern the quality of the information, especially for newcomers.

In the 2000s, economic reality caught up with many of the pioneering entrepreneurs whose companies gave us new and innovative products. As businesses grew, so did overheads. Companies merged, product lines were bought and sold, and many economically weaker businesses were assimilated into stronger ones. In the late nineties there were over a hundred supply companies advertising in trade publications; today there are less than fifty.

With these new stronger companies, taxidermists are now on the receiving end of the best service, largest inventories, and quickest shipping of any time in our history. Customer service is at an all-time high. Taxidermists love to complain about suppliers, but I have seen the evolution of these businesses and I can assure you that the expansion of larger supply companies ultimately benefits the individual taxidermist with savings in time, money and headaches.

Now we are well in the midst of the 2010s, so we can look forward and ask where are we going. What is ahead for our industry? Information is plentiful and instantaneous. Communication is everywhere. In the old days, you would go to a convention as ask, where’s so-and-so? “Oh, he died last year,” might be the answer, as industry news travelled painfully slow. With social media, the Taxidermy.Net Forum, and Google, you can literally answer any question on your smartphone in seconds! You can stay informed on conventions, competitions, politics, and all issues affecting our livelihood. You can also stay in touch on a daily basis with a circle of friends and colleagues that would have been unimaginable a few short years ago.

Today I have received more birthday greetings on my 60th birthday than I have ever gotten in my life. Because of the Taxidermy.Net Forum and social media sites, we are more closely connected to more people than ever before in history. We are beginning to see the ramifications of so many connections as the world changes rapidly around us. But we as a group are ultimately responsible for the direction of any change on the horizon.

“A Pirate Looks At Forty”

by Jimmy Buffet

Mother, mother ocean, I have heard you call,
Wanted to sail upon your waters
since I was three feet tall.
You’ve seen it all, you’ve seen it all.

Watch the men who rode you,
Switch from sails to steam.
And in your belly you hold the treasure
that few have ever seen, most of them dreams,
Most of them dreams.

Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late.
The cannons don’t thunder there’s nothin’ to plunder
I’m an over forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late.

I’ve done a bit of smugglin’
I’ve run my share of grass.
I made enough money to buy Miami,
But I pissed it away so fast,
Never meant to last, never meant to last.

I have been drunk now for over two weeks,
I passed out and I rallied and I sprung a few leaks,
But I’ve got to stop wishin’,
Got to go fishin’, I’m down to rock bottom again.
Just a few friends, just a few friends.

I go for younger women, lived with several awhile
And though I ran away, they’ll come back one day.
And still could manage a smile
It just takes awhile, just takes awhile.

Mother, mother ocean, after all these years I’ve found
My occupational hazard being my occupations
just not around.

I feel like I’ve drowned,
Gonna head uptown.

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