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NTA Lifetime Membership essay contest......what's your story?

Discussion in 'The Taxidermy Industry' started by michael p., Jun 1, 2013.

  1. NTAHQ

    NTAHQ Dedicated to protecting the future of taxidermy

    Just a brief note to say "Thank You!" to one and all who make being a part of the National Taxidermists Association such a worthwhile experience for all of us in the taxidermy community. Every Board Member, Officer and the Staff at the new Headquarters is extremely grateful to each individual who is taking on personal commitments to help the NTA flourish with a refreshing sense of pride and purpose.

    Most sincerely,

    John Janelli
    NTA President

    Mitch Webb
    NTA Vice President
  2. mimes

    mimes Member

    I have always had a great love for the outdoors, having hunted, fished, and trapped all my life. That in itself grew a slight interest in taxidermy. Back in 2000 I was living with a friend that received a mounted bass back from the local taxidermist. It was a very poor job that took 2 years to complete. My friend was determined he could do better even though he knew nothing about taxidermy. He found a taxidermy school about 45 minutes from our house and took the 6 week class. Returning home with his finished mounts, he proclaimed “we” were going into the taxidermy business. He would teach me everything he learned in school and make me a 50/50 partner. We had an old office building, zoned commercial right beside our house and proceeded to open shop. We took in a total of 9 deer that first season. Over the next 6 years, we attended state conventions, attending seminars and competing a few times with waterfowl. About that time, my partner met a girl and moved out of state. I bought his half of the shop and became a one man show.
    About this time in life, I also met my wife. So now….not only was I working a full time job away from the taxidermy shop, but I was also getting married, working on a family, going to night classes once a week to finish my master’s degree, working in the shop at night and weekends, and trying to squeeze in a little hunting and fishing. Along came my son and the little bit of hunting and fishing just about stopped!
    Finally finishing my master’s degree, I put more time into improving my deer mounts. I attended more state conventions and did some one on one training with a couple of different well known taxidermists. My quality, numbers, and prices began to climb. Right now I still work a 40 hour job, working in my taxidermy shop two nights a week, taking in about 50 deer and some other work totaling about 100 pieces a year.
    I really enjoy seeing well pleased and excited customers leaving the shop with their finished trophies. The kids are a real treat. To see their “first” deer brought back to life …..the excitement in their eyes …..is a nice reward for me. I was able to experience that “first” deer excitement first hand this year when my own son harvested his very first deer, a large doe. Of course I was going to mount it for him!
    Later that evening, he almost harvested a second doe. One of the funniest comments all weekend came as we were walking back from the stand that evening. He said, “dad if I had got that other doe, I would have two doe heads on my wall!” I was also blessed to be with my nephew this year for his very first deer. I had been taking him for years, with no shots at all and he ends up taking two doe within 20 minutes of each other. Moments like that are really heart felt, as he is also a leukemia survivor, being diagnosed at 5 years old and recently turning 16.
    Another highlight of my taxidermy career was meeting Brian Harness. Meeting him would not have been possible had I not been attending the state conventions. Later, I would have the opportunity to go to his personal shop and train with him. Knowing that he was a past NTA champion, I jumped at the opportunity! Brian kind of took me under his wing for that day, teaching me a lot. He gave me a few of his products for free and we talked about trapping over lunch, one of his passions.
    Last year I attended my first NTA convention. I was very excited that it was in my home state and I would not have to travel far. I could picture all the great mounts that were going to blow my mind! Little did I know, the number of mounts and quality was actually pretty disappointing. I attended some good seminars, but left the convention less than impressed. I pretty much knew in the back of my mind that the turmoil within the NTA was the reason. Returning home, it was not long before actions starting heating up on taxi net. I eagerly read every post each day, hoping like many many others that the NTA would be once again put on the right path. Fast forward and here we are today, a new board and a new leadership that the NTA has needed for many years.
    The taxidermy industry means a lot to me. I think about taxidermy 24/7. I think about upcoming projects and how I can improve. The excitement in client’s eyes and the smiles on their faces are great rewards for me. I think about years in the future, knowing that the drive to do taxidermy will still be there, but wondering how long my body will allow me to continue this art. My thoughts also wander to how future gun and hunting rights will affect the taxidermy industry and how this may play in to any future plans of mine of making any after retirement income from my shop. Ideally, I would like to see the future NTA build the membership and leadership to the status where it would be possible to join other organizations against any actions taken by those who would try to tear down our industry.
    Lastly, I would like to say thanks to MP and his anonymous donator for this opportunity, as well as the panel of judges for their time.

    Mike Duren

  3. pir^2h

    pir^2h Retrievers give you the bird

    A lot of good stories on here. I thought about posting mine but it seems to sound too much like the ones on here already. I have been in and out of taxidermy since the age of 12. Besides that, I am only a hobbyist. I love doing taxidermy but I do not do it commercially now and do not plan to in the future (never say never!). I am a teacher and plan on doing this as long as I am capable of teaching. One of my fellow mathematics colleagues just completed his fifty-fourth year of teaching. He says he plans to die at the chalk board. I don't know that I plan to work that long but who knows!

    As cool as it would be to win that NTA lifetime membership award, I think it should go to someone who is a professional taxidermist who could get the full benefit out of the membership. The honest truth; that is not me at this time in my life. Best of luck to all those who entered this contest.

  4. taxi_grl_ga

    taxi_grl_ga Active Member

    When I was a child, I did not have board games, I had very little tv time, and few toys...most of which were hand sewn or previously owned. My little brother and I colored, read books, drew, played with freshly-dug georgia red “clay”, and spent time outdoors. We built forts and fought and rode bikes, shot BB guns, we learned to learn, were taught to think, and were held accountable for our actions. We had very active imaginations because we were forced to use them for our entertainment. Some of my earliest memories include my father and his friends bringing wild game home for butchering, going fishing and tubing at various rivers, boating on lake lanier, and taking nature walks. My grandmother’s rocking chair adventure stories were always tales from hunting camp, and the shoulder mount of a whitetail that always hung on her fireplace served as an object of obsession for me for many years. In fact, the mount is hanging on the wall in my garage right now awaiting a good cleaning and several hours of “fixing.” The mount belonged to my grandfather; he passed away within days of my birth but left enough behind to give me a glimpse of his passion for the outdoors. I have photos, a camouflage vest, a revolver, and some interesting old books and magazines. The ones I’ve enjoyed the most are booklets from The Northwestern School of Taxidermy....”taxidermy taught by correspondence” from Omaha, Nebraska. I treasure these items and enjoy flipping through them! I wish I knew if the whitetail was mounted by him or not....but that will forever remain a secret of the past.

    I was quite an odd and serious child, most children hinged on sugary cereal and cartoons every Saturday morning. I had granola and was outside observing birds eat bugs and collecting eggs by sunrise. I wasn’t allowed to watch much television, but when the opportunity came I chose programs such as Kratt’s Creatures, Bill Nye the Science Guy, NOVA, Crocodile Hunter, and Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures....and just for the record...the Kratts were my favorite! When school field trips rolled around I was limited on participation throughout the year due to finances. When choosing my events for the year from the calendar I always scanned ahead and high-lighted trips to the Yellow River Game Ranch and Atlanta Zoo before even considering the rest of the destinations. If the outing didn’t involve animals, I didn’t care to go. Period. I excelled in my high school science classes, however, did not fare so well in art save for the week that we worked on sculpting. The biology professor didn’t approve of post-dissection frog puppeteering and the art teacher couldn’t appreciate stick people. I was given an A and advanced placement into anatomy the next semester by the biology teacher and somehow survived my mother’s exasperated “of course MY kid is the one that flunks ART?!?” lecture. My final recorded grade at that institution was for the dreaded senior-class literature project which included an essay, mentor interview, recorded shadowing hours, and a physical representation of things learned and/or work completed to go along with a verbal presentation. I was the only person to have ever chosen taxidermy for the project and a few of my prior educators were interested enough to make special arrangements to sit in my class on presentation day! I found it liberating to speak to others about things I loved, my nerves calmed quickly, words came easily, and I was excited to answer questions at the close of my presentation because many of my audience members had spent the weeks beforehand snickering about my topic choice. Their questions reflected genuine interest, which meant that I had opened minds to previously rejected notions...I had done my job. A+!

    Early life for me was a bit tumultuous. My parents separated when I was nine and the details of their divorce touch every emotion, from hilarity to bribery to violence to jackassery, all spread out over the course of seven years. My mother chose to move away and leave my father with our house around year two. This decision was facilitated by the man that I call my stepfather, even though my mother never actually remarried. We went from an acre-sized vegetable patch and a handful of chickens to a fully operational trout farm. Practically overnight, we became a farming family. I soon came to learn that part of farm life is managing mortality and a majority of our losses were due to predation from otters. We also had problems with small coyote packs killing young deer on our property along with occasional fowl killing coon or fox. We culled the offending animals and they were buried along with the rest of our organic farm waste. I couldn’t help feeling guilty for wasting the beautiful pelts!

    My stepfather had been an avid hunter in his younger years, his parents were the developers of the TreeLounge tree stand and producers of their own series of hunting videos. In more recent years he had exchanged hunting for wildlife photography before taking on farm operations full time. My concerns for the pelts piqued his interest and he encouraged me to skin the next otter that we caught. On the day, he explained to me how to case skin the critter, handed me a Buck 102 and promised to have it tanned if still recognizable by completion. The job took me forever, but the end result was perfect and away to the taxidermist it went...along with one of our extra large trout.

    While the otter was gone I grew curious about the taxidermy and tanning processes. I happened across a book about taxidermy at Walmart and bought it. Several weeks later we lost our pet turkey to a grey fox. That predator became my second specimen, it was a little trickier to skin but still turned out ok. Next, a rabbit that I watched munch clover at the school bus stop every morning fell victim to a negligent driver, it also went into the freezer but when I tried to skin it a few days later I ripped the tail off! The wallyworld manual didn’t exactly have instructions for that....so I decided it was time to try and find some better information.

    I ceased working on other animals that I obtained out of fear of ruining them while I researched possible ways to educate myself. All of the taxidermy schools I could find were out of state, not formally accredited by anyone anywhere, did not offer scholarship opportunities, and were out of my family’s budget. A book search at the county library brought nothing to the surface and texts obtained through a local used bookstore were two and three decades old! The information in the books was helpful, but the diagrams and photos left much to be desired. I set my sights on securing an apprenticeship for the hands-on experience and decided to tag along when my pelt was ready for pickup the following year.

    My only prior exposures to mammal taxidermy had been mounts on display at ruggedly themed restaurants and sportsman’s outlets. I expected to be greeted by more of the same when we arrived at the studio. Upon walking in I was immediately in love with the smell, which I’ve since identified to be the mixture of freshly tanned skins and bondo fumes. The next thing that stole my heart was an african lion. He was mounted in entirety, with mouth slightly opened as if panting or detecting the scent of game on the breeze. I felt that any approach or disturbance on my part would result in him suddenly breaking gaze to attack...I touched his mane carefully anyway...no such misfortune...but I was hooked!

    After completing my tour around the shop, being in awe the entire time, and asking a million questions about everything on the walls, I asked about working or learning opportunities and was told that none existed. My parents and I visited at least six other taxidermy studios with the same end result....a profound no. My visit to THE last studio within driving distance of my home lended positive results! It may have been destiny or it may have been pity...I had been orthodontically traumatized less than an hour before stopping by that day...but whatever it was, a yes was a yes and I was thrilled! I began this new journey as a sophomore in high school, about a month before my 16th birthday. After finally being granted the opportunity I so lusted after, I wanted to spend as much time underfoot as possible as immediately as possible! My mother and I fought tooth and nail with the local school system to be allowed to alter my second-semester schedule to include the privilege of leaving campus early every day for their student-work program to no avail. Luckily, Boyfriend X lived around two miles from the studio and Forsyth County WAS willing to compromise in the form of allowing my regular bus stop drop off location to differ from my registered residence for the remainder of the year without daily signed permission slips. I was delivered to BfX's house every afternoon and taken to the studio by one of my two mentors every evening.

    The importance of using quality materials, doing a job right from start to finish, positive customer and public relations, and the use of photographic reference for guidance were the fundamentals of my training. I was also introduced to the idea of showmanship even though it took years for me to get over being shy and attend a convention. My experiences there were exhilarating! I was able to work with exotic animals, some of which I had never seen or heard of before....like the bongo, serval, civet, duikers and a multitude of avian species. My early fascination with the wild world was rekindled as my knowledge expanded! I learned to study not only the aesthetic qualities of an animal's color pattern, but also its body mechanics, its habitat, and its regular behavioral antics in order to bring realism to my pieces. Every tool I picked up felt right in my hand, my co-workers soon became as beloved to me as my family, I was at peace with my work, looked forward to every day, and was soon rewarded with a paid position! I went from part time to full time after graduation and had the pleasure of working on some truly incredible and artistic pieces, including a full-bodied elephant. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and my employment was no exception. My home life changed in a plethora of ways again, some professional elements that required communication between myself and my mentor were neglected, I went to my mother for advice....what she gave was poor, then she involved herself in the situation and we’ll just say the end result was very unprofessional and immature behavior on my part that lead to what I will admit to being a painful parting of ways.

    Life continued, and lent itself to the immediate procurement of paychecks in order to support myself and my mother through a transitional period. We moved from 15 acres of fielded ponds bordered by river and highway to a lakefront subdivision plot, complete with overly curious neighbors and yacht traffic. I misplaced my love of animals at our local PetSmart grooming salon until my mother completed her CDL courses. She was soon employed and I was able to scale back my breadwinners' hours and once again incorporate taxidermy into my life through a part time position. I again went door to door seeking opportunities, and again the venture produced only one person that would put me to work. Once hired, I had to prove my skills every step of the way. All of the work was done outdoors in an open carport (wooden lattice on three sides with a tin roof), the materials and methods I was working with were different than what I had been introduced to, there were only whitetailed deer in the freezers. I had zero trust and zero credibility despite making my prior experience known. It was a frustrating situation for me but as a professional I understood his caution. I began with simmering skulls, then moved forward to the skinning and fleshing of specimens after several months. It was all old news to me, progression was slow, I did not have a steady schedule, projects were mundane, I felt true regret over bridges burned from my previous experience in short order....but it was still taxidermy...and I endured with a smile!

    Petsmart wasn’t working for me at all in the meantime. I confirmed my love for dogs through it all, but discovered that I did NOT love the corporate mindset of putting costs before care that possessed my co-workers and decided to leave after less than a year of employment. Jobs were scarce, but I landed an office position after a several months of looking and interviewing. I was attracted to the higher pay scale, the easy air conditioned days with considerably less responsibility than I was accustomed to, excellent healthcare and retirement savings plans, a predictable schedule, the position offered some managerial responsibilities right away, and I could see several clear paths to promotional opportunities within the company from my desk. I maintained my severely part time position at the taxidermy shop, but the hours grew fewer and fewer and my focus shifted towards considering some sort of “real” education and away from taxidermy. I went towards an easier and more standardized path as opposed to an oddly beloved one and enrolled in online college prerequisite classes, they were free for me through the GA HOPE Scholarship program. I soon decided on a path in the medical field to feed my love for science and ultimately transferred into a school that offered a surgical technology degree. This major choice of educational undertaking collided with my first trip to the Pennsylvania Taxidermists Association convention in 2009. I was incredibly inspired while at that show because I was once again reunited with works of wildlife art that reminded me of earlier days and brought a latent passion directly to the forefront of my consciousness. People I was meeting for the first time felt like old friends, seminars satisfied educational itches, I felt nostalgic as I viewed the art. The entire basis for the pursuit of that medical degree became focused towards being able to afford a future in taxidermy at some point during that convention. It was a pivotal experience. Once back at school, I faked my way through the interview process by lying about ambitions of organ procurement, and made straight A’s from day one. That degree equaled money, money equaled taxidermy, and I wanted it by any means necessary. Twelve students were accepted into the program out of 90 applicants, the selection was extremely competitive and some students were on their third and final chance for entry but I made the cut on the first try. I celebrated quietly, my false ambitions had very likely cost someone else their dream and I felt guilty despite the success. I had gained considerable ground with Mister Taxidermist by then due to the fact that I had been laid off from the office that year as he had coincidentally developed a need for decreased personal workload. He begrudgingly trusted me to mount a deer from start to finish, was overly pleased with what I produced, and I worked semi-regularly for him until all of the work orders were completed for that season. New work was being turned away because he was planning to close up shop but my focus had again shifted and I was not overly concerned by the news.

    During down time after classes I had been setting up my own studio at home, Foxy’s Taxidermy. It was a tiny space, but I made the best of it and started working on projects with one of my friends whenever we had time. I enjoyed helping her learn and appreciated having my own knowledge tested by having to answer her questions. Sometimes I couldn’t, and those days were spent reading and researching website archives together. Her enthusiasm and curiosity were uplifting! I was simultaneously employed at two other part time jobs while in school. I worked as a gas station clerk on weekends and as a caretaker for an eight year old boy on weekdays. The latter of those two arrangements ended up couching taxidermy practices; scheduling demands became too much for me to maintain and my budget was ever tightening due to increased course loads equaling more book expense, the added job meant more fuel expense, more food expense, more stress expense, I spent more time in my beloved Lincoln than anywhere else.

    I kept in touch with my passion through the posts of taxidermy.net, made it to Pennsylvania for a second time, and the next event I was able to participate in was the Gator Wars hands-on weekend seminar. My participation was made possible through the kindness of another. An unexpected cancellation occurred by someone that had already paid to participate, instead of requesting a refund he asked that his funds be transferred to me so that I could go, all he asked for in return was a t-shirt. I might have cried a little over it....ahem....anyway...The seminar was being held to facilitate a taxidermist-to-taxidermist life saving organ transplant, I was honored to have had the opportunity to be included. The taxidermists hosting and teaching the event couldn’t have been a better team of people, I boarded the plane for home with tears in my eyes, fond memories with new friends, and a restored spirit.

    A month or so before I was scheduled to take classroom experiences to a functioning operating room, I received news of a relocation to Louisiana. I went a long time not knowing whether to be excited or devastated about the changes....nonetheless....they were coming and there were many preparations to be made. I withdrew from the surgical technology program immediately after completing the semester’s final exams. My instructors were very disappointed, but I was sent away with letters of recommendation that any president would have been proud of and a sealed copy of my transcripts. All are still perfectly preserved, unused and intact....and will hopefully remain in that state for eternity as I am finished with pouring precious energy into false notions. With school out of the picture, I increased gas station hours a little to include nights during the week and negotiated to push the move back in order to maintain care of my best friend’s munchkin until the end of his 2011 school year. The whirlwind of packing began, goodbye dinners with lifelong friends ensued. I gained a little of my time back and spent much of it in a reflective state as boxes were filled while empty nest syndrome lashed out irrationally every step of the way.

    The move was a two-part phase for me, phase one was moving me from the northern part of Georgia to my boyfriend Kyle’s house in the southern part of the state. It so happened that the most direct route between the two locations was also the route on which my previous mentor’s new studio was located. I passed his sign at least three times a week, each time I was plagued by severe regrets over the way I had acted in the past and I decided that part of tying up loose ends before moving would have to include a long overdue apology. It took more courage than I can put into words to finally make an approach, but when I did I was openly and immediately forgiven with misty eyes and a strong embrace. I wondered why I had waited so long to reconcile, was thankful for his kind and patient ways, and continuing forward became easier after clearing out that negative mental closet.

    We moved into our home in Slidell, Louisiana on June 15, 2011. Phase two complete, Foxy’s inherited a two-car garage for space. That space was to be shared with 80’s model GM manufactured truck parts and gardening essentials, but compared to the 6x10 that I was subjected to before it was a massive upgrade. I also gained an office to work with! Dreams were nice but bills were reality. Relocating had sucked down most of our saved financial resources and July’s rent was about to claim the rest, it and our utilities were all still carrying deposit balances, our insurance rate had also doubled upon crossing into the official state sponsor of the DUI. Kyle and I were partners on this deal so I went back to work as soon as I could...July-ish. The work wasn’t taxidermy. Kyle and I were both smokers when we first arrived (I gave up the habit at the start of 2012, yay!) and the man that carried our wares had been trying to sell me a side of employment for several weeks, I finally accepted. Management of the stores and staff was great, pay was fair for the work but not the occupational risks, everything was clean and under intense video surveillance, the location was poor and dangerous and quite a few of my late evening customers were rude or foul, some even downright threatening. All shifts were worked alone by the employees; every one of which was female, two of which were daughters of the owner and his wife. We had a massive “wall of shame” publicly displaying those that had been prosecuted by the owner for armed robbery, credit card fraud, drug trafficking while on the clock, and theft among various other things. I was constantly on guard and sometimes afraid, I continually scanned the grid for a different gig. Being isolated from my friends and family lead to depression, my studio and personal items being in boxes intensified the effect, and sleepless nights in an unfamiliar house rounded out the downward spiral. I was trying but suffering, jealousy over my partner’s career successes caused petty conflicts, said successes weren’t satisfying debts at the desired rate anyway. I was even having to park in Foxy’s garage to minimize repossession opportunities. I just wanted to go home.

    Home called, not from Georgia, but instead in the form of an email notification of an unread personal message on “taxinet.” I had withdrawn from online social presence just as badly as personal interactions and hadn’t spent much time on the site. My friends that had hosted the Gator Wars event divulged their plans to operate another seminar-filled weekend that September called the Midwestern Regional Taxidermy Convention. Along with an invitation, we engaged in some idea sharing but the fact remained that I simply could not incur the cost of the seminar.

    Kyle’s work had been increasing, his vigorous positive attitude and constant reminders to celebrate every single tiny pro and reject all non life-threatening cons had slowly started pulling me from the nosedive. Opportunities to work here and there as a background extra in films and television programs presented themselves in addition to hours spent at the liquor and tobacco store. I was given as much time off to pursue other options as I wanted without complaint or concern so long as advanced notice was given. Even though the new opportunities were not taxidermy-related Kyle and I dedicated a lot of our resources to bringing vehicle expenses current and unpacked FoxyDermy boxes at his relentless insistence. I will admit to a lack of motivation. We had very little lagniappe but pigeon-holed every penny of it anyway.

    I am fiercely independent and tend to put on a smile and deal with life’s hard knocks privately instead of asking for help. On that same note, if I’m offered resources when they’re needed I consider it a universal life raft being thrown and humbly accept without guilt. I was anonymously offered a loan to cover the cost of the seminar in September but would still be responsible for travel expenses. The hosts of the event helped ease costs by welcoming me into their home for the duration of the event. I was only responsible for fuel, food, and had been persuaded to prepare a piece for competition. I told Kyle the news and his immediate response was to estimate everything out and start counting piggy banks. Yes, literally, we wrapped change and yes it was enough with two penny-rolls worth of surplus remaining upon my return!

    I faced several challenges while preparing a competition mount. My original plan was to mount a fox. It had been over a year since my last mammal mounting experience, I had never attempted a fox on my own before, I fell victim to stress, had self doubt, and wore myself down with worrying. I became ill with the flu and had to set the fox aside on the day I was stitching her up for a trip to the hospital. Shots, home, sleep, soup, meds, sleep. Even though the skin was tanned and had been refrigerated during my absence I woke up the next day to hair slippage in obvious places. I was upset but still wanted to make an entry and the only other form I had on hand belonged to a practice mink. I knew it wasn’t the best pelt for show and hadn’t mounted one of them solo yet either but with my lowered state of energy, a time crunch, and limited specimen options I did what I could. I ended up having to finish the piece after arriving in Illinois much to my dismay. I entered it in the novice division, placed it on the table, wished it well and forced myself to let go of the stress as I walked away to meet up with others at the seminar area. Once there I forgot about the mink and focused on learning, my instructor that weekend was very helpful and engaging. He also served as the judge for my competition entry, it was given a score of 90 and his remarks for improvement during the critique were very encouraging and helpful. The banquet and awards ceremony was an elegant and fun end to the weekend, I was soon hitting the road for home.

    Our finances still rise and fall with semi-frustrating limited predictability, but the situation is bettering and with every rise we gain a little more ground towards lessening the blow of the next fall. Debts are slowly but surely disappearing, we’re not having to pay any late fees this month, and my vehicle will be made roadworthy again soon. I did lose my nice economical car, but it was taken through an act of spite as opposed to repossession and was out of my control no matter which way I look at it. I’ve worked hard to try and let those frustrations go as well but it hasn’t happened yet. I am not much a fan of forcing those square pegs, when the time is right things will happen. Foxy’s gets new tools, instructional materials, and needed supplies more frequently now than ever! I’ve met a few local people that share my interests in taxidermy and the outdoors that have cheaply sold or given me respectable specimens to work with. I have done favors for others and have several offers to “ask for anything ya need!” on the table that have gone uncalled upon (save for obtaining some hog meat! mmmmmmm!). I don’t generate income from taxidermy right now and thus I feel the projects I take on are more on the “want” side of the spectrum since my survival does not hinge on their completion as many others do that may also be struggling. So many things have been given to me in so many different ways that I’m already looking for ways to give back.

    Several months ago I was finally given that chance. I was asked to perform tasks to aid efforts directed toward a necessary but controversial change of management within an educationally focused association that has been floundering in peril for quite some time. I function as part of a team and our work is far from over despite recent changes toward a positive direction. This association is known as the NTA, aka, the National Taxidermists Association and it’s been around longer than I have. An individual taxidermist can only touch a limited number of minds no matter how willing and able he/she is to teach apprentices, write books, host seminars, judge competition entries, or produce instructional DVDs. Taxidermists working towards the same goal as a group of positive contributors will have the power of voice that it takes to impact the masses. At that point not only will we be forwarding taxidermy for the education of other taxidermists, but we’ll be forwarding taxidermy for the education of the world. Most of the people we interact with have no idea about what really goes on in a studio, including our customers. Reality television programs and documentaries have raised awareness in recent years but I would venture to say that most are not satisfied with the way the majority of those projects have ended up portraying taxidermists and their work to the general public. Our industry is sometimes looked down upon with disrespect but I truly feel the reaction is from a lack of understanding due to an absence of common knowledge just as all other prejudices exist.

    When I consider the future of taxidermy within the hands of the NTA, the above listed issues are what I would like to see motions towards resolve being directed. Over the course of the next five years I would like to see an increase in the number of NTA sanctioned conventions being held and some form of educational outreach attempts to rurally located and/or financially disadvantaged taxidermists. I would like the seminars at these conventions to include lessons not only on the creationary acts of taxidermy...but also business/marketing/self promotion skills, writing/communication/public speaking/educating skills, internet familiarity and computer software use, and some chemistry/biology oriented classes that delve into the reactions that occur during various preservation processes. I also believe it could be beneficial to shed light on the materials we use commonly....as in how to work with them safely, which ones are friendly to mix (proportionate measurements for said mixing), and how to identify the difference between simply needing fresh air and lots of water versus needing medical care in the event of a negative reaction or accidental overexposure. I would like more of the mounting technique oriented seminars to be presented in a hands-on format.

    It would be wonderful to see this association develop a more outspoken and proactive approach in their position as liaison between taxidermists and media affiliates, political officials in charge of making decisions about laws that impact our industry, other taxidermists associations and other institutions or philanthropists that support the funding of artistic endeavors. It is up to us to clear the air with those that have formed incorrect assumptions, most people aren’t going to come looking for a change of direction but if it’s placed in front of them we will at least be heard, and that’s a step forward in my opinion.

    Lastly, I want my NTA to always be a beacon of positivity and allow the open exchange of ideas without fear of rejection from current and potential members. I want to see prompt and professional responses to any concerns that are publicly voiced, I want honorable leadership, I would like taxidermy.net to remain a basecamp of sorts for direct communication with my board of directors, I want that board to work as a team that’s solution oriented instead of blame oriented and I want them to always be in touch with one another. I would like to see the opportunity to become an NTA certified taxidermist continue and I want the journey to the top to be a rigorously challenging one while maintaining an air of encouragement when being critiqued by judges. When it comes to whether or not I think some defining standards would be beneficial to our industry, I can see valid points for both sides of that debate. I see an equivalent need for objective and subjective critiques because I understand that each wildlife artist’s goals for success are different. Ultimately, above all, what I would like to see happen over the next five years for my NTA is a unified body making positive progress in typical “all for one and one for all” fashion!

    In closing, first I would like to say...............whew! Secondly I would like to simultaneously hug and pinch the creator of this essay project. I haven’t ever taken the time to word out my experiences in their entirety until now, it’s been a long week but I am satisfied with my work. Thank you for allowing me to relive some fun memories along the way! I appreciate the time that any of you spend reading to learning about my personal experiences, and I appreciate the fact that our leaders are interested to hear what we have to say!

  5. Bob Mead

    Bob Mead Mead Taxidermy Studio, LLC

    I have always had a passion for the outdoors, and my father taught me to camp, hunt and to fly fish in the beautiful country surrounding Salt Lake City, Utah in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. These trips were almost always family outings, with my mother and brother willingly along for the ride, accompanied by whichever adventure-loving dog was brave enough to abandon the back yard and jump in the truck with us. The majestic Wasatch Mountains and epic landscapes we roamed were so close and accessible, and are etched forever in my memory. As I turn 49, I miss them more and more the older I get.

    My first job was as a 15-year-old trap puller at the Holiday Gun Club. It was dangerous, exciting, miserable work, and I enjoyed my time there immensely. There’s just something about the feeling of knowing you could lose a finger in the trap arm if your top-side partner pushed the button too fast as you loaded the next clay pigeon on (especially the double-birds), and this adrenalin rush is the stuff on which youth (and stupidity) thrives. As an added adolescent bonus, the gun club was the haunt of many a rich old wing-shooter, and more than once I was given the opportunity to pull the trigger on uber-expensive shotguns I could never afford and could barely pronounce. What an experience!

    I cowboy’ed up in Idaho for the next 3 summers, working cattle and moving irrigation lines up in the mountains for 15 hours a day. Aluminum Irrigation Specialists we fondly called ourselves, and we were rolling in the money. When you’re 16 and clearing $250 a month, you are riding the lightning, partner. Besides that, fishing the mountain streams of Idaho is a magical experience only a teenager living on his own can appreciate, and I would have been the envy of Tom Sawyer himself during those summers. Although I left a couple of finger tips in the fan belts of an irritable irrigation pump in 1981, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything in the world.

    In 1983, after graduating high school, I heard my country’s call, and joined the US Marine Corps. I saw the world on the government’s dime, more than satisfied with the understanding that it may cost me my life in the trade. Nothing worthwhile comes cheap. I saw exotic places where the locals loved us, hated our guts, or were just plain indifferent. It changes your world view to be sure. I was honorably discharged in 1987 with a couple of rows of ribbons and a new outlook on my place in the grand scheme.

    I bounced around Salt Lake for the next year working as both a security guard at a missile plant on the swing shift and as an orderly in a retirement home during the night shift. Talk about polar opposites in the career field. But the kids were small and the bills were large, and 16 hour days paid the piper but left little time for much else. I went fishing one time that year.

    Thankfully, in 1988, the US Border Patrol accepted my application, and I went to the BP academy in Georgia in July of that year. There, I met my soon-to-be life-long friend and BP recruit Bob Most, who was also an avid outdoorsman, prior college baseball pitcher, and taxidermy novice. After we were both stationed in Laredo, Texas, he introduced me to taxidermy and we mounted my first bow-kill forkey in his garage. It was basically the blind leading the blind, but isn’t that how these things usually start anyway? The taxidermy process absolutely fascinated me, and I began devouring any and all information on the subject I could find. I bought books, videos, magazines (I still have all of my American Taxidermist magazines), and I headed down the road of the “self-taught” taxidermist.

    My buddy Bob continued to mount deer, but I wanted to do more, and began accepting friends’ deer, birds, fish, and random road-kill to have something to practice on. I also mounted just about everything I personally put a bullet through, and put out some really terrible work for the first year or so. I mounted my first customer deer in an old camper trailer I had in the driveway, then bought another house and converted the garage to a more decent set up. I have had a taxidermy shop since that time.

    I joined the Texas Taxidermy Association in 1989, and went to their show in Tyler in 1990. I learned so much at that event that I never missed another show. The people were absolutely terrific, and I felt welcome in a room of what I considered all-stars in the taxidermy world. That same year, I joined the NTA, and have been a member ever since.

    I continued to compete, and my work got better. The seminars at the state shows were a godsend, and I learned more in those weekends than I could have in a year on my own. After 10 years in Laredo, I transferred to Deming, New Mexico, and quickly opened my shop there. I joined the New Mexico Taxidermy Association in short order, and even sat on the board for a couple of years. New Mexico has some really stellar taxidermists like Roy Cogburn, Paul and Vince Gallegos, and my good friend Manny Chavez, and I felt privileged to have met them and learned from them while I was there.

    During my first 20 years in taxidermy, I attended every local state show there was, even occasionally crossing state lines and competing in neighboring shows. I won a bunch of ribbons, some best of this’s and best of that’s, but mostly I reaffirmed my belief that this was the greatest career with the greatest bunch of people anybody could possibly have. I went to and competed in the National Taxidermy Association’s Convention in Springfield, Missouri during this time as well, and saw what taxidermy work on the national level looked like. Needless to say, I was impressed.

    My last transfer in the BP was to Yuma, Arizona in 2008, and I had disappointedly decided that there was not enough hunting or fishing activity in this area to sustain my studio, and I made the decision not to open up here. It was a business decision, but a hard one to swallow nonetheless, like telling your lab he can’t retrieve anymore. Fortunately, it was relayed to me through my friends and colleagues that there was a flourishing sportsman culture bubbling under the baked surface in the desert southwest, and better yet, there wasn’t a full-service taxidermy outfit within 100 miles of here. That settles it. I built a new 1,500 sq. foot studio next to my house and opened up for business. I joined the fledgling UTA in 2011 amid the NTA turmoil that was brewing, and I attended their national show in Pasco, Washington in February. It was my honor to win the National Championship in the master’s category during that show.

    During my time in the state associations, it was always a priority with me to make sure our younger taxidermists had equal representation at the shows and in the organization. It is my view that we have to constantly bring new blood into our ranks, and getting kids involved in taxidermy is one way to keep our organization strong. The days of holding back information and shunning new taxidermist went the way of the Dodo bird, and those that engage in this practice will doom the rest of us if we don’t change that culture. It’s better than it used to be for sure, but we can always do better. Let your kids fumble around in your shop for a couple of hours…they may surprise you.

    In 6 weeks, I will retire from the US Border Patrol with 25 years of service, 29 years total government time. It has been a career I have loved and have sometimes hated. At that point, I will become what I have worked and dreamt of for the past 25 years: a full-time taxidermist. I am eagerly looking forward to the day when I can wake up and be knuckles-deep in a project at first light without worrying about having to go to another job later that day. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind hard work. Even with our 10-12 hour days in the BP, I still managed to put in 4 or 5 hours in my shop almost every day since 1988. That’s what you do when your passion drives you…you come home from work, change clothes, stuff a bologna sandwich down your gullet and hit the shop. It’s not work if you love what you do. To me, that’s when you know you have found your calling. Taxidermy is my calling. The thought of not having to dodge bullets on a routine basis has something to be said for it, as well.

    I don’t know if my story differs that much from any other person pursuing their passion. The subtle details may vary, but it seems to me that there is a commonality in all of our stories. We live our lives, do what we have to in order to survive and try to maintain our sanity in the process. Sometimes it pans out, sometimes it doesn’t. This strange and wonderful pursuit of taxidermy bonds us together as artists, professionals, friends, and colleagues, and no matter how diverse our experiences have been, we always have that little piece of common ground to fall back upon when the dust settles. For as long as I can recall, the NTA has been that common ground, and I for one am glad to see that it is back on track.

    Bob Mead
    Yuma, AZ
  6. onesportylady

    onesportylady Member

    I have really enjoyed reading all of these. Judges, you have your work cut out. If it wasn't so late tonight I may have written an essay for you.
  7. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    Quote from MP..

    “We want your story of how, why and what got you into taxidermy. What does this industry mean to you? What do you get out of it? What keeps you in it? What would you like to see happen in the next 5 years & what if you had 15 minutes to tell your side of this industry whether it be the supply, education, competition or convention side.....what would you like to see stay the same, changed and how can we, in your words, move forward.

    Now this is not the simple essay contest where you just jot some things down, this is serious. Serious as a competition. This is not just a contest to win a $625 Lifetime Membership, this is a contest that will also spell out how the young, old. successful & hanging on how you want YOUR National Taxidermist Association to move forward. You are not just telling your story, you are giving idea's for the future.

    This contest is so serious and so many people making decisions will be reading your views that we have got a panel of judges that will probably never be seen again in the near future. The 3 judges of your essays are Ken Edwards, Larry Blomquist & Skip Skidmore.......yes, this is NOT your normal easy contest, your entries will be judged by these three men and collectively they will decide who is the most persuasive in our move forward as an industry, the direction it steers and what it takes to make it.

    This essay will not only be seen by thousands, but also reflect the standard of this industry and what it takes to move forward.”

    I have read good parts of the essay's as previously posted, but from my perspective, and this perspective may be flawed, the gist of the essay wasn't just to re-tell ones life story and how taxidermy became a passion, but to offer guidance for the future and where the NTA can improve – you are giving idea's for the future.”

    This latter goal hasn't had lots of suggestions because it is REALLY hard to think of how to help a National Taxidermy Organization where 90% of the taxidermists can only afford to attend perhaps one convention in their lifetime. There are those that would mortgage the house and sell off the kids to attend one of the World Shows or to attend the NTA when it was at it's peak, but the vast majority of practitioners do taxidermy as a hobby on the side.

    Virtually everyone over 55 can tell the story of J. W. Elwood, and how they began taxidermy based on his course purchased through money from mowing lawns or delivering papers. I went the paper route route ( not a typo a play on words). Most had grandpa's with stuffed deer on the wall and bear rugs, and the smell of a Wood fire when the grownups would return from hunting and you were only 5 and waiting in anticipation of joining the hunting clan. But this isn't really what I would guess the ultimate goal would be.

    Trying to get new ideas for a revived NTA is quite difficult, because us old Northwestern School of Taxidermy trained guys don't really have the pulse on how to get the young generation focused on the NTA. The young people, see taxidermy much differently, more like the artist's on the immortalizers – primarily as an oddity or bizarre art form, and do not do taxidermy as a tribute to a sacrificed animal, e.g. to stop in action the regal stature of some Animal/Bird/Fish/Reptiles or to tell a story of nature. I am old school, and inviting dozens of rogue taxidermists to an old fashioned bible thumping family based taxidermy convention just doesn't seem right – but that may actually need to happen. Merging old fashioned taxidermy with lesbian and gay rogue, heavy metal headbangers probably wouldn't work.

    The best essay would be written from someone with true passion for the NTA, someone who actually thinks the NTA is relevant to everything they ever knew or learned about taxidermy. I only know one person like that – and everyone know him. John Janelli eats, breathes and lives the NTA (actually he eats canoli’s, or some other Italian food, but you get the idea). I believe I only met John once at a PTA meeting and we were diametrically opposite on the NTA. At the time he still had his blinders on in relation to the past Executive Director, but he truly believed he owed his taxidermy education to the NTA. I believe JJ went to the first NTA meeting along with a few who still post on this forum.

    I was entirely self taught, to the point where I had been doing taxidermy for 12-13 years, went through undergraduate and graduate school, and was hired at a large Natural History Museum, and worked there 3 years before I ever saw someone mount any kind of animal – again at a PTA meeting. I was a scientific preparator not a taxidermist, but I already had stuff on exhibit. I did learn about the NTA in the mid-1980’s and probably was a member for about 7 years. I did attend one meeting in the city I live in, and while picking up a scientific collection of Amphibians and Reptiles at the University of Richmond, I spent a couple days at that meeting.

    My taxidermy education has been had been by books, papers, journals, textbooks, magazines, and on the Taxidermy.net. I have amassed a huge collection of literature on the history of the subject. People with a modicum of smarts can learn everything that is needed in these avenues.

    The second suggestion for the NTA is to open, or make accessible, all the articles in Outlook, from year one. I know JJ wrote a few stories on history and there are perhaps many relevant pieces over the years. The way of the future is open access. Most scientific journals are going that way, perhaps only restricting the last couple years of the journal run. Many might suggest that people wouldn't join because why pay for the cow when you get the milk fro free – but, the NTA has to have some avenue for getting itself out there. A closed web site does no one any good. The Taxidermy.net is completely open access and has essentially almost everything I am suggesting be on the NTA site, and Breakthrough and Taxidermy Today is also competitors for dispensing knowledge, but well written, reviewed, semi-scholarly papers published on the net would perhaps elevate the esteem that the NTA is trying to build.

    Perhaps also, and here I may be stepping on toes, there should be plans to think about joining the UTA and the NTA if it is possible, or at least have a joint meeting when the world show is in Europe or Australia, or Figi… I know everyone wants to be a big fish in a little pond, but joint ventures, if run by noncompetitive organizations might work. There are other organizations they may even pair with – perhaps some rogue taxidermist organization for a mini-convention, or even SPNCH. I believe I met Skip Skidmore many years back at a SPNCH meeting, and the people there are as clueless about taxidermy and most taxidermists are clueless about what they do. Just a thought.

    I actually didn't intend on adding this much discussion to this posting, but thought I would perhaps put a different spin on the thread. This essay is not to be considered as an entry into the competition – I am just offering a different perspective.

    My ultimate goal would be to have George Roof and Ken Edwards come to an PTA meeting, I have no need to get an NTA life membership to an organization which will meet down south for the next 20 years...
  8. James Parrish

    James Parrish Tundra Swan...Its What's For Dinner!

    My taxidermy journey began when I was in the 5th grade. That year, on Christmas Day, someone broke into our school and burned it to the ground. As you can imagine, the rest of that year was tough as we had to deal with relocating to a different building and starting from scratch. At the end of the year, my teacher, Mrs. Gotschall, decided to have a class picnic as a reward for us for overcoming all the adversity we had endured while managing to actually learn the material we were taught. When the day of the picnic arrived, we loaded into a bus and headed to Mrs. Gotschall's brother's house. Where we actually went was to her brother's taxidermy studio.

    At this point in time, I had never been hunting and all the fishing I had ever done was to provide a meal for our family. I had seen trophies of fish and deer in other people's homes, but we certainly did not have any in ours. I'll never forget walking through the double doors of that taxidermy shop. Upon entering, we were greeted by a large male lion, mounted standing erect on his back legs with his mouth wide open and his front paws stretched forward as if he were ready to attack. I remember being awestruck by that mount. I had never seen anything like it.

    As we toured the shop, there were of course many fish, deer, and ducks mounted in various poses. I can't give you any detail about them, but I distinctly remember a zebra shoulder mount over in a corner and a still-born fawn that was mounted lying down as if it had just been born. Our teacher's brother had even given the little fawn a coating to make him appear wet, as if he's just emerged from his mother's womb. I don't remember much else about that picnic, but I remember well the details of those awesome pieces of art. At that moment, standing in that taxidermy shop, I knew I wanted to be a taxidermist.

    Fast forwarding several years, my high school days were drawing short and I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I remember having a conversation with my mother and telling her that I wanted to become a taxidermist. I begged her to let me go to taxidermy school, but she insisted that I was "too smart" to be a taxidermist. At this point, I still had nothing mounted of my own and I had not pursued taxidermy, but I knew that one day I would learn to do taxidermy as skillfully and artistically as Mrs. Gotschall's brother. I really liked science, so as a second choice, I chose to attend NC State University to get dual degrees in chemistry and science education. Taxidermy would have to wait.

    After college, I took a job teaching high school science and got married a few months later. While taxidermy was not at the forefront of my ambitions at the moment, I still had a desire to learn to mount animals. After teaching for two years, I decided that it was not the career choice for me. I left the teaching field in hopes of finding a job in the pharmaceutical industry because I knew the pay was good and I liked working in a lab. With no real-world, hands-on experience, I was not a highly sought after candidate for those types of positions, but I did manage to land a job working in a lab for the state, testing animals for rabies. Shortly after beginning my job with the state, my wife was flipping through a paper from the local community college with their upcoming course offerings. She had heard me mention wanting to learn taxidermy and when she saw a series of taxidermy classes were being offered, she told me that I should sign up for one of them.

    So, I signed up. At long last, I was going to have my shot at learning taxidermy. At this point, I still was not into hunting, so I had to find a small game animal to mount in class. Luckily, the streets of my subdivision are a prime location for locating road-kill squirrels. I found one that was fresh and not it bad shape, so I picked it up and put it in the freezer. When class time rolled around, I finally learned how to mount an animal and I did the worst job one can imagine on that squirrel. I was proud of it though. The next quarter, I took a duck mounting class and at that time I found my real calling in life. I liked mounting ducks so much, that I actually had to take up duck hunting to get specimens to practice on.

    From there, like many others, I began mounting animals for friends and family and the occasional customer. I set up shop in my 12x12 shed with no running water or electricity. It was not the ideal studio, but I made it work. As I began to get better, I picked up new clients and eventually was able to build a shop that was 4 times the size of that shed with water, electricity, and best of all, air conditioning! During that same time period, I began attending taxidermy competitions. I earned a blue ribbon in the amateur division at my first show and I was hooked on competing. I kept going to the shows, getting critiques, and applying what I learned.

    Within a couple years, I was staying fairly busy part-time with my taxidermy work. I earned my first professional division blue ribbon and best of category at the Surry show. I called my mom to tell her the news of my win and she told me that she was proud of me. I reminded her of that conversation we had when I was in high school. She had long forgotten it, but she told me that she had confidence in me that I could succeed at anything. Wow, I was humbled and blown away, but most of all, I was inspired to keep pursuing taxidermy.

    While all of this was going on, I kept working at the state lab. I had advanced in my career there to a point where I was making good money with good benefits, and a good retirement system. I wanted to quit to pursue taxidermy full-time, but at this point, the economy was bad and I was having trouble getting mounts picked up on time. One of my friends from our state taxidermy association retired from his government job at a young age, I believe 51. He began alternating weeks doing taxidermy and going to the beach fishing. Seeing the state of the economy and knowing that if I could hang in there with my state job until I was 51, I could do the same. So, I decided to give up the idea of doing taxidermy full-time and to keep providing service to my clients part-time. What I did not give up was my love for the taxidermy community and the taxidermy industry.

    After attending church one Sunday and hearing the pastor talk about helping others and leaving a legacy, I decided that helping others was what I wanted to most be remembered for in this business. I began to post lots of taxidermy tutorials and videos to give away just a small part of the knowledge that has been given to me by so many that I look up to in this industry. While I have achieved some success in the competition circuit, my passion for competing has given way to my passion to see other taxidermists succeed. I have often seen taxidermists at shows that are working themselves to death, charging cheap prices for their work, either because they lack skill or if they have skill, they lack confidence in themselves. Many times, they can barely meet their monthly bills, let alone provide some of the nicer things in life for their families. Honestly, it breaks my heart to see people that I call friends struggling in the taxidermy business. My approach is to help them by teaching what I know and then encouraging them to charge a price that will allow them to make a life rather than simply making a living.

    Michael asked that we post what we want for the future of the industry and the NTA. My vision is not that the NTA become radically different in its approach to building the industry. I think having a world-class convention with instructors/judges who are at the top of their game is critical in educating the masses and improving the quality of the taxidermy being produced. The people who have judged and given seminars at previous NTA conventions fit that description. The changes that need to be made are in the administration of the organization. We need open, transparent leadership that will include the many, like myself, who have not been members because of that lack of transparency. Instead of pushing aside those who ask questions, they should have those questions answered. I'm glad to see that it looks like that is the course that the NTA is on now. I think the focus of the NTA should be what my personal focus is: helping taxidermists make a life rather than a living by helping build skill, business acumen, and confidence in themselves. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.

    I would like to see the NTA get involved with attracting more young people into the industry and the outdoors with a program similar to the Ducks Unlimited Greenwings. I would also like to see the NTA become more involved in governmental affairs. A strong NTA would have the resources to lobby congress and state legislatures when critical bills affecting gun rights, wildlife conservation/importation, taxation, etc. come up for votes. Many of these issues directly affect all taxidermists, yet the NTA has had no power or influence to fight for our interests. The new NTA can change that.

    My story is still being written. My wife and I are expecting a daughter in August. We have chosen to name her Liberty. While my mom did not want me to become a taxidermist, I would be proud if that is the career path she chooses. While I don't know what Liberty's future holds, I would love nothing more than to teach her the art that I love and one day be able to work along side her. Hopefully, Liberty will be able to one day write her own taxidermy story. And that is what building a life is all about.
  9. AMCTaxi

    AMCTaxi Wholesale Small Mammal Taxidermist

    I am Adam M. Clossin. I am 29 years old and grew up in west-central Pennsylvania. I spent most of my childhood in the outdoors in one way or another. I would go with the neighborhood kids to the local park and net crawfish and salamanders out of the stream that ran through it. I was always drawn to nature and more specifically, animals. After netting those salamanders, crawfish, frogs, etc. from the stream, they would come home with me and usually meet their fate in numerous ten gallon aquariums spread around the house where I would sit for hours and watch them.

    At around the age of six or seven, the allure of capturing animals and holding them in aquariums was starting to lose it's appeal and I was looking for new ways to keep things I found around and "alive" longer than they would last in the aquariums. While I came from a family who were all hunters and fishermen, I never really noticed the taxidermy on the walls. My grandmother on my father's side had pheasants, grouse, owls, and squirrels hanging around the house from her late husband. My father had a handful of trout mounts and a muskie. My mom's inherited a single mount from her father, a massive whitetail deer mounted sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s. I was around taxidermy but there was no catalyst to make it "kick" for me. Then it all hit me on the head...literally. It was around Christmas 1990 and my father was struggling to put up the tree in the living room. I stood around watching like any good 7 year old would, laughing while he tried to maneuver a tree, far too big for the living room, into it's glorious spot near the front window. It happened quickly, and like a well placed set of dominoes. The tree buckled in the stand on the platform and fell forward, crashing down on the deer head from my grandfather. The deer head spun on the wall before the solitary nail gave out and the deer came CRASHING down on top of me. I saw tree, antlers, and heard my mother screaming. When I sat up, the deer head lay on the floor, half the rack shattered and spread with broken tree branches across the living room. I felt a warm trickle from my forehead and felt around and pulled out the tip of an antler tine. The deer had been struck by the tree, fallen off the wall, hit me, and left the tip of an antler impaled in the top of my head. My mother, a nurse by trade, rushed over and pulled it out and patched me up. I made a statement that I never wanted to see that deer head ever again and it, as well as the broken antler tines, were bagged up and sent to live in the attic for the next few years.

    Shortly thereafter, my father, trying to get on my good side for nearly snuffing the life out of me by way of taxidermy deer head, took me to my first "Sports and Outdoors Show" that our hometown had around January every year. It had the usual gimmicky fishing lures, sure to catch fish! Guns, guns, guns, more guns, and then at the end of the endless rows of bore I saw something that I could never believe. A giant taxidermy display, cobbled together from vintage pieces that the guys who organized this show probably had kicking around their houses and cabins was laid out on display. It was like some impossible and terrible diorama setup showing tons of animals interacting with each other in ways they never would in reality. Think a giant Victorian case with deer standing alert and watching as a crosseyed coyote slowly crept up to them. A pheasant who used a fox as a trusty steed because it fell off the pegboard hook and landed on the fox below. Fish flying through the sky in the mish-mosh around flocks of gliding ducks. A bear rug draped over a walking bear, as if the walking bear had slain his kingdom's enemy and was now wearing him to show his dominance. Today it's a laughable affair, but when I walked into this scene at 7 years old I was mesmerized. Suddenly, I wanted taxidermy and I wanted to fill the house with it! Unfortunately, there was no way that anyone was going to give a 7 year old a taxidermy collection overnight, so I made my own. I dug through my toys and nailed stuffed animals to tree branches and wood. I split open a giant stuffed black panther I had won at a carnival and made a "rug" out of it. I spent all day setting up my own massive display to show off to my parents later that day when they got home from work. My sisters who were babysitting me thought I was just batchit crazy. Well, low and behold, they came home from work and I gave them a tour of my "Taxidermy Museum." I think they were a little less than enthralled and realized that something had started that would not easily be quelled.

    After this, my father started taking me to local auction sales with him in search of vintage taxidermy mounts that were cheap and ugly and would satisfy my budding need to collect taxidermy. I came across soot covered deer heads, dusty moth eaten foxes, bald owls and hotdog weasels with marble eyes and forever menacing glares. In a short time with allowance money I had a small museum of vintage horrors but it was really never enough to quench my thirst for taxidermy. I wanted new mounts. Better mounts.

    When I was 8, I caught a huge rainbow trout in a kids trout derby. It was around 22 inches long. I wanted it mounted. My parents refused to have it done for me because the cost was too much. I couldn't afford a few hundred dollars from my meager savings that allowed me to buy crusty $10 deer heads at auction sales. I thought of the next best thing. I flipped to the back of Outdoor Life and Field & Stream and wrote to J.W. Elwood, Dan Chase, and WASCO for their supply catalogs advertised in the magazines. I then asked my mother to take me to the county library, where I asked the woman at the desk for any and all books on taxidermy. She raised her brow and took me to the dark corners of the library where I pulled out a handful of dusty old books. Practical Taxidermy by Moyer, Taxidermy Guide by Tinsley, Museum Fish Taxidermy, and a handful of others that I can't even remember at this point. My grandmother's neighbor got wind of me doing taxidermy and said, "Hang on. I got sumthin' fer ya." and handed me old J.W. Elwood course books and the lesson books from Mid-South Taxidermy. I devoured this information and then decided - it was time.

    I followed the instructions in the books. I thawed my fish and skinned it out as best I could. I scraped it down, washed it, and rubbed the skin with borax. I sewed the incision up and I was missing a vital ingredient from the fish mounting lesson...sawdust. I instead packed my trout full of shredded newsprint, plastic bags, whatever I could find to "stuff it" full. Once it was stuffed to the gills, I set it aside to dry and waited. After a few weeks, I painted my "Hotdog" trout and so began my life as a taxidermist. I followed up this fish with as many other specimens as I could get my hands on. I would trap chipmunks and squirrels with rat traps, shoot starlings and sparrows with the BB gun and save every and all fish I could. I was hooked. With each mount I did, I improved more and more. By the age of 12, I was giving taxidermy demonstrations at summer camp and explaining to my peers my hobby and how it was done. At 15, I was involved in a wildlife art show and had some of my work on display for the month the show ran at the art gallery. I spent two weekends there doing demonstrations with kids on how taxidermy is done and handed out information and flyers on how to tan your own skins and information on how to get started if taxidermy interested you. When I was 19, I applied for the PA taxidermy exam and passed on the first round with mammals and fish. My birds failed me and on round two, I was able to acquire my certification. Those pesky birds are still my Achilles's heel. So that, my friends, is my abbreviated history of my life as a taxidermist.

    Bonus: Some old pictures of my original works and me giving a demonstration in the art center. Hopefully they work...

    That original "Hotdog Trout." This was the second paint job.


    Me circa 12-13ish with some of my collection of taxidermy

    Me giving a speech at the art center on taxidermy at 15 years old


    Working on a porcupine at around 14 or 15
  10. Well I know it's to late and according to JJ I'm already a life member even though I told the old HQ to use my life member dues to pay the attorney since I was charged for wasting his time asking for info that I never got :-\, but here goes my story anyway.
    I was born and raised in the Laurel Mtn. Ridges of PA .Where I live in Mill Run PA and have for the last 24 yrs with my wonderful husband and my 2 awesome 24 & 19 yr old sons. I was raised with 4 brothers, 3 of them older 1 younger and then I have 2 half brothers from my fathers 2nd marriage that I didn't see much til we were much older. But at a very young age, 7 or so, I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian because I love animals so much. So along with helping skin hunted and trapped animals all my life growing up I was always filling my drawing folder with new sketches of animals out of magazines and books that I would draw as best I could to reproduce the picture. I was always trying to nurse and take care of baby birds that got knocked out of the nest, baby bunnies that my bad cat would bring to the house, or raising up and keeping for pets the different nests of a variety of squirrels, baby raccoons, and young crows that my brothers would bring home in their lunch boxes, from working for a saw mill in the woods cutting trees. Or the mama opossum with a belly full of babies my brother caught while we were out spotting deer one night. We took her home put her in a giant pen and took care of her til the babies came out of her pouch and were eating and running around on their own. We came home one day, mamma and babies had gotten out of their pen tore through the screen wire where the crows lived. They filled their bellies on crow and flew the coup (so to speak :eek: lol) I was devastated, my crows were dead and my opossum' gone. But besides the wild pets there were dogs, cats, hamsters, lizzards, snakes, to ponies, pigs, cows, chickens, ducks, geese, and goats. All that I loved very much. Those that know me know we still have 6 to 10 hounds at any given time even now. And since I don't have a show room my house looks like a zoo with all the critters I've mounted. That brings me to how I got into taxidermy. Actually it was my husband Rick that was going to learn taxidermy because he had gotten a few really nice trophies a couple years in a row, a few deer and a turkey, and the taxidermy bill was getting steep. But after going through a video correspondence course with him he mounted a pheasant and said that it wasn't for him. I took that pheasant, shook it around and placed feathers and made it look better and I was hooked. Seeing how after I graduated from high school I didn't want to go to school another 8 yrs or more and didn't have the money for college anyway, veterinary school was out of the question. So if I couldn't fix animals that were alive I'd fix the ones that were already dead and wasn't half bad at it. So after years of waitressing, tending bar, cleaning villas, bussing tables in ski lodge and working in the big laundry at 7-springs resort, taxidermy was what I started and loved to do and have made my career. It was also a way for me to be at home with our kids since we started a family and I worked out of my home and still do to this day.
    I had gotten information about the PTA, and the NTA. I went to a few PA shows before I offered to help or get involved. I think it was my second year helping with registration at PA show in Altoona, about 2003 I think, that I met JJ through giving him motel advise on taxinet. He showed up at the show, brought me canollis, we talked and he told me more about the NTA. I went to Louisville KY for the 2007 show, had a great time even though I didn't realize all that was going on behind the scenes even then at that show. I thought then and still do think it's a wonderful association worthy of our support and CAN be an enormous asset to our industry. ;D the end
    PS. English was not my best subject in school so I apologize for all the run-ons and broken sentences. ::)
  11. tem

    tem Well-Known Member

    i fell like this is an essay for the teacher ;D. i only been doing this for six years now. so theres not much of a story. besides i am a one finger typist. this contest would be over by the time i finished :). so i will say. i came. i saw. i taxidermy 8). great story's every one.
  12. dablaw

    dablaw Member

    Well I was going to throw my hat in the ring, but I have been so busy with my mother over the last few weeks that I didn't have the time or energy to post...Good luck to all that took the time to post...David.
  13. michael p.

    michael p. Getting better with age :)

    out of time I am :-\
  14. double barrel

    double barrel New Member

    I have really enjoyed reading everyone's story. Wouldn't this make a good section on Taxidermy-Net? Place it right under the History section, " Come on and tell your story." With 38,000 members and more to come, there's got to be some more good uns.

    Let's hear it M.P. Everybody's waiting.
  15. If I had a vote, I'd vote for Adam M Clossin. "Hotdog trout"
  16. Some really good stories. I'm with double barrel on starting a new topic...
  17. taxi_grl_ga

    taxi_grl_ga Active Member

    note: My first PTA show was actually in 2010 and not 2009...I caught the mistake this morning but didn't want to edit my post since it's a contest entry...but yeah. SCAT show was in 2009, PTA was in 2010. so sorry for the mixup! ;)

    I have appreciated reading everyone else's stories!!
  18. Harry Whitehead

    Harry Whitehead I love to hunt Buffalos!!!!!

    My whole taxidermy career started in Eastern Kentucky as a kid collecting insects. I was fascinated by wildlife and would collect pictures of animals from all over the World. It was my dream as a little kid to travel and hunt these animals that I studied through pictures. In 1968 I started getting the Lessons from Northwestern School of Taxidermy just as most of us "old" guys did. I mounted everything from Cardinals to Great Horned Owls that I picked up off the road or shot on squirrel hunting trips with my Father. I haven't stopped mounting animals since. I played basketball all through High School and earned a full scholarship to the College of Charleston in South Carolina but I hunted when I could and mounted animals when I wasn't playing basketball. After college, which I studied Comparative anatomy and Zoology, I worked at several places from Shoe Companies to Medical Supply Companies before settling in doing taxidermy full time by starting Gunners Taxidermy in 1983. Eventhough I was doing taxidermy on the side for friends and some clients it was a challenge to make ends meet at first but luck was on my side. The "big" taxidermist in Lexington was going out of business and I purchased his client list for a mere $300 and that very first fall I took in 150 deer heads and I haven't looked back since. Realizing that taxidermy could be my vehicle to fulfilling a lifelong passion to hunt and fish all over the World I started booking hunts to game preserves. Building upon my contacts and finally saving up enough money to go to Africa in the early 90's I then had enough contacts to start Gunners Outfitters LLC. I now have fulfilled my childhood dream by hunting and fishing for a living and doing taxidermy. I feel that I am blessed and very fortunate to have the life that I have.
    On the industry side of this story, I have seen taxidermy go from a 'hidden' profession to an industry that is artful and filled with talented people. In the early days nobody would tell you anything and most if not all were self taught. I attended my first World Show in 1984, I think, and it just blew me away that all of this information was out there. I started competing right away and have done so ever since. Taxidermy has changed for the better due to the exchange in information and through competitions. I think that we still have a way to go though. I think that taxidermy is the only profession that you can go bankrupt while having more work than you can do. I would also like to see ALL taxidermists rise as a group to get paid what we are worth and legitimize taxidermy as a true profession. I feel that to keep taxidermy moving in the right direction we need to emphasize keeping together as a group and educate our members in business. We will have a tough time in the future with all of the anti's agendas out there and coming together will be the only way that we can survive. In closing, Taxidermy has been a way of life for me and everything that I do revolves around it. I feel that I am the luckiest man in the World because of Taxidermy...
  19. double barrel

    double barrel New Member

    Don't let your head swell, but I bought your turkey dvd and liked it better than Ferebe, Newmyer, or even Ed Thompson's. All of which were great.
  20. antlerman

    antlerman NTA Life Member #0118

    I guess the timeline for the contest is over, but I sure do enjoy reading the stories. I hope this can and will continue. I find them inspiring.