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An Open Letter to Carl Akeley

Discussion in 'The Taxidermy Industry' started by Joe Kish, Jul 1, 2016.

  1. Joe Kish

    Joe Kish Well-Known Member

    Dear Carl,
    As I reported the last time I wrote to you, competitions now completely dominate association activities, not just in Texas but nationwide. And in the last ten years or so more and more entries have drifted into a silly trend of trying to impress judges with all manner of artsy-fartsy anthropomorphic gesturing of specimens, implausible scenarios of wildlife behavior and silly tasteless weddings of animal parts with polished rocks or driftwood. Simply put, for a majority, competitions have become mostly a chase after ribbons and trophies.

    But something really, really different happened this time here at the Texas state competition which to my knowledge is unprecedented in the annals of forty years of taxidermy competitions. I’ve always presumed that you spirits up there have ways of peeking in on such goings-on down here in the mortal world but in case I’m wrong I’ll tell you what happened. I thought you would get a kick out of hearing about it.

    One of the competitors in our recent state show in Lubbock, an accomplished taxidermist in his own right, must have been tired or bored with winning ribbons and awards year after year and entered a joke mount this time. Maybe just to see if anyone would catch on that he was pulling our legs. Kinda like ‘the king has no clothes’ sort of thing. And dang if he didn’t pull off the joke slicker’n pig snot. His entry won an amazing total of five awards including People’s Choice!

    At first I didn’t get the joke myself because I presumed the entry was done by some amateur vainly trying to impress judges and other competitors alike. It had no artistic merit whatever, being a straight horizontal piglet with no legs or belly, like a fish with no fins or belly. It couldn’t have taken more than a day or two to put together. It was attached at one cheek to a 1 inch diameter curvy root-like support rod about 6 feet long a few feet above the base. No context, no legs, no belly, just a partial pig on a stick. It wasn’t until the awards were handed out at the banquet and I saw it was not entered by some beginner but by a pro that it dawned on me that we were all being put on by a guy with a wonderful sense of humor with no apparent disrespect intended or displayed toward his fellow competitors.

    As he went up to collect award after award the applause at his accomplishment increased with each round trip and his wry smiles coming and going told me that he knew he had pulled it off with no one having caught on that we had all been had. I know you’re a serious soul but Janelli assures me there’s still a funny bone somewhere in what’s left of your mortal remains in that lonely grave up on Mt. Mikeno. So I trust you can see the humor in this story.

    I don’t know how the mechanics work in the spirit world , but maybe you could appear in a dream to that fine jokester and let him know he did us a service in giving us all a good look at where competitions are headed if we think that winning ribbons and trophies is the only or the straightest path to recognition and fulfillment as taxidermists.

    And about that other matter I wrote you about, the one of trading on the honor and prestige of your name by indiscriminately giving out Akeley awards at competitions? The award that honors neither you nor your legacy at all? I’m afraid it’s gotten worse. Now the Texas association gives out one too. It’s an unscheduled award I couldn’t find listed in our club’s Competition Handbook, as approved in 2/2015. Just another excuse to hand out yet another meaningless award and without having to write criteria for it at the expense of your good name. As the Irish say, “May the saints preserve us.”

    Yours truly,

    P.S. Please say hi from me and all the members of the TTAI to our old beloved friend and colleague Bob Wilkins next time you see him. Thanks.
  2. catman

    catman Active Member

    Oh my!

  3. txoutdoors

    txoutdoors Active Member

    I am a nobody as far as the taxidermy world is concerned. Writing this response to your post is honestly a little intimidating because you are an icon in the industry, but here are my comments.
    We all know that every judge has their own personal preferences that can sway the outcome of a competition. Every judge has their own "pet peeves" that they look for and score accordingly. We also know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That being said, clearly your opinion of the piece was not positive, but that's your opinion and you have every right to it.

    Several others at the competition have found the piece to have artistic merit due to the fact it won several awards, including judges best of show.

    It seems from your post that part of your problem with this piece is the fact that it wasn't a full body mount. You take exception that it had no legs, etc.. With that in mind, what is your opinion of the "wall art" that mckenzie is selling? Just a head with skin on a backboard? Does this also lack artistic merit or is it something new and unique?

    I am a bird guy and personally get sick and tired of seeing the the same stuff year after year. I did a piece last year that consisted of 2 wigeon fighting. It was a difficult piece to pull off, and I didn't score well. When getting the critique the judge asked me what I was thinking trying such a difficult pose and that I could have done much better with a more traditional pose. I completely agree with his assessment, but I wanted to push the boundaries. Isn't that the same thing here?

    Doing things a little different than everyone else isn't a bad thing in my opinion. Some will like it and some will not, but having a open mind and pushing the limits will only help to keep the industry fresh and bring new ideas and techniques.

    In this case, you didn't like the piece, but the vast majority clearly did. For me personally I will continue to try new things and push the limits. Maybe one day people will write the same negative things about some crazy idea that I try and that's fine. On the flip side, one day I will find a new technique or way to present a piece that knocks it out of the park. Something that nobody has ever done or seen and it will be a hit.

    I say congrats to James on this piece. Like it or not, he pushed the limits, tried something a little different and in this case it paid off. Clearly it didn't hit home for you, but we all know what they say about opinions....everyone's got one right?

    Dan Allen
  4. Joe Kish

    Joe Kish Well-Known Member

    Thank you Dan. You just set the standard for civil discourse.

    In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
  5. txoutdoors

    txoutdoors Active Member

    Civil discourse is what you intended by this post isn't it?

    The engagement in discourse (conversation) intended to enhance understanding.....

    Even a man with two eyes can have a myopic view of things.

    As I asked in my earlier post, I would love to here your opinion of the "wall art" that recently hit the market. I am sincerely interested in your perspective on that.
  6. Taxiserv

    Taxiserv James Newport

    Joe, you never cease to amaze me!!!
    First off man I sure wish I had the skills to sling that piece of crap together In a day it woulda saved a lot of time! HaHa
    I understand that this is just another one of you strange ploys to drag as many people as possible into another one of your way out of pocket conversations and I'm sure it'll work good luck with that, you can chunk rocks at me anytime I'm a pretty easy target!! That's the cool thing about art, some people can see it and some can't, some have it and some don't (I consider myself to be somewhere in between) As per your opinion there are much more professional ways of saying your not a fan of a piece other than writing a six year olds note to Santa but you have always been one for being way out on the ledge (or maybe hanging from it).
    As far as the Akeley Award we give there is a very long description and definition if you will of the criteria and next time you talk to Carl please mention that the cast bronze that I sculpted and donate to the association was the best my hands could do at the time and I appologize for offending him of and ofcourse you! I am done with this thread and I am done with you Mr. Kish have a good day!!
  7. txoutdoors

    txoutdoors Active Member

    I find myself laughing right now.

    I am honestly a very conservative person. I think that a lot of the problems in this world is because there is no right or wrong anymore.

    Everyone has to be accepting of what anyone else wants or does. How dare anyone make a stand and say that someone's opinion of abortion, homosexuality, or other controversial topics is wrong. The minute you say someone is wrong in their opinion of those specific topics you are the one persecuted and made to feel like your a caveman with outdated views. I still believe that there is a right and wrong on all of those topics and don't care if someone disagrees.

    So with that in mind, I laugh and wonder why my position on taxidermy is so completely opposite?

    I think it's because it's really ones individual expression and interpretation of art. For some reason the term "art" seems to change things in my mind. It opens things up and creates an environment that has no boundaries in my opinion. That's what makes taxidermy fun and exciting for me.

    You really made me question about my own logic and ponder why I think so differently about this particular subject. Lol, but that's what you intended when you posted this right?
  8. Duckslayr

    Duckslayr Active Member

    Industry icon or not, to hold your own opinion as so vastly superior to that of the judges and competitors of an entire state association is....arrogant seems woefully inadequate.

    Perhaps the industry isn't the issue Joe. Ever meet a man who can't appreciate a new Bentley because the last great car was the '57 Chevy. I'm kind of doubting Carl would be disappointed with the mount. Pretty sure he'd be shocked and thrilled to see the quality and accuracy of the average mounts at the show. We've come a long way since '57. Come on with us Joe.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  9. Jerry Huffaker

    Jerry Huffaker Well-Known Member

    Here is the criteria for the Ackley award that the TTAI created to honor the father of modern Taxidermy, at our annual convention

    The TTAI
    Akeley Award
    Introducing the TTAI Akeley Award. This will be the State of Texas’ Award that is meant to honor the impact that Mr. Carl E. Akeley had on our industry and our society. The ingenuity and artistic skill expressed in his work are still evident and on display today in the Natural History Museum in the “Akeley Hall of African Mammals”.

    Criteria: This award will be given to the Large Life-size or African piece in our show, which exhibits the strongest reflection of combined artistic expression and technical skill. The winning entry must exhibit the utmost in Taxidermy technique as well as Artistic Flow. The recipient must receive a first place ribbon but will be based on overall merit and not only on score. In the case where there are two entries of equal technical merit the decision will be based on the artistic expression of the piece in its entirety. This will be a unanimous judges choice decision. The recipient will receive a replica of this sculpture by James Newport that is meant to reflect the influence Akeley had on his beloved Africa and it on him.

    The award sculpted by one of our members


    Here is the piece we Honored Mr. Ackley with this year

    I'm sorry Mr. Ackley if we offended you in any way , we did the best that we could. ;D



    As for your opinion of our breakthrough BOS winner, all duly noted.
  10. Joe Kish

    Joe Kish Well-Known Member

  11. Jerry Huffaker

    Jerry Huffaker Well-Known Member

    Here is the Breakthrough Award Judges Choice Best of show Winner at the 2016 TTAI Texas State convention and championships That Mr. Kish is speaking of.

    It was the 2016 NTA North American Champion Gamehead as well (scoring 98)

    The entire piece is an original creation by the competitor, the only part purchased from a taxidermy supplier was a pair of eyes and glue.

    As far as it being a joke you are sorely wrong Mr. Kish , this piece was created as a work to stir the creativity of your mind and make you think, by an extremely talented individual.

    Pushing the boundaries of artistic expression using taxidermy as the medium.

  12. Ah the piglet. Gamehead it was I believe and very, very well done. The pig was not in the lifesize category

    The Ibex, where do you start Its a excellent piece.

    While there were pieces at the show I did not understand, there certain are many pieces there that could grace any museum with their quality. Matter of fact maybe better than any museum has at this point. Some pieces are just thing others do not like.

    Presentation counts for a lot, I do not care for the artsy fartsy type of presentations. But they are what they are.
  13. Skywalker

    Skywalker Well-Known Member

    Oh Joe, As one of your secret martini drinking associates I am always vastly entertained by your gift of conversation and your wonderfully unique view of everyday things. And, of course, your ability to stir the pot! I really like Super Piglet. [It's the S] The newer generations of taxidermists, and taxidermy fans are making it necesary to use the term "Traditional Taxidermist" more and more. I think Larry was showing amazing foresight when he introduced the "Interpretive" category at the World Show. He also was able to stave off future controversy. Just ask the crazy Sasquatch guy where he was forced to put his piece! And yes, said piece was protested in advance by re-creation competitors. As one of the original fans of sculpted art given as awards, All I can say about that Akelely award is "I want one"! Some of the best pieces out there are certainly controversial and I'm not a fan of "traditional taxidermy" going outside the parameters of behaviour or accurate anatomy. But when it's presented as something more along the definition of rogue, then that's a different story. To me, Super Piglet is a traditional piece with an extreme presentation, and it makes sense that it won't sit right with some. That's why it works. My Father, who was always perplexed by artists, set the stage for my view of art many years ago with this one comment; "Who the hell has the right to tell me what good art is"? I love my Dad, and I think the world of each and every one of you guys. I'll try to make next years Texas show. I want that sculpture! 8)
  14. Joe Kish

    Joe Kish Well-Known Member

    Whenever one puts his/her works of art before a public audience, that piece of work is fair game for praise or criticism. Book and movie reviewers and art critiques make a living doing just that. My written piece is fair game for every/any reader to critique however they wish. The artist is fair game too. I’m one of the few who is always fair game.

    I wish the five award winner had returned my call before I posted the piece so I could let him see it in advance. I didn’t want to blind-side him. His chose not to return my call.

    And thanks again Dan Allen. You set the tone of responses and they have all been civil. Emphasis on the word ‘all.’
    Please everyone, I would like this post to play out further before I comment further. There’s just too many questions for me to answer everyone. Besides, not enough have weighed in yet.
  15. Tanglewood Taxidermy

    Tanglewood Taxidermy Well-Known Member

    If this was a pig on the ground on all fours in the same position and I was looking at all the photos of the contest, I would have went right on by with only a slight acknowledgment, oh a pig, on to the next. This made me stop and say hmm, interesting. I wondered what the motivation was to do it without legs. I had to look at it and determine if I liked the composition of it. Is the artistic design of it something that is pleasing to MY eye. In the end, I spent 15 or more seconds observing it and that in my opinion is what art is all about. It creates interest, stirs emotion (in the negative or positive) and provokes thought.
  16. shane d

    shane d New Member

    First of all I would like to say Congratulations to James for thinking outside the box. My Philosophy is You will never get there first by following every one else. Mr. Joe, I am surprised to read this post ,after spending HOURS at the Texas show discussing this very thing with you ,about my bob cat morphing out of the rock, but I see we have slipped back into the stone age way of thinking. ONCE AGAIN IT IS AN ARTIST VIEW POINT ...Some people follow the pattern before them and some are mavericks. Nothing wrong with either one ,the world needs both . Neither of which should be criticized . I am really thankful for the Mavericks from the past that gave us inventions we all enjoy such as electricity, air conditioning , automobiles , foam manikins ect. There will always be (nay sayers ) or negative people , when some one does something different. I personally was not put here on earth to be like every one else , nor do I want to be. With all do respect Mr. Joe we all have likes and dislikes. How arrogant for one to think their opinion is superior to another's , that is being closed minded and not productive for anyone.
  17. michael p.

    michael p. Getting better with age :)

    If you would have told me a few years ago that an icon of this industry would openly slam a national and state winner simply because "he didn't find it up to 'his' expectations" I would have said "that'll happen when pigs fly!" And I'd be right again :)

    Keep it up James. The art you put out in this industry, the professional way you and your wife run your FAMILY business and the simple courtesy and respect you show all, beginners to old pro's makes you a true icon in this industry in my humble opinion.

    Damn proud of how always represent our state nationally!!!
  18. Kerby Ross

    Kerby Ross KSU - Class of '83; U.S. Army - Infantry (83-92)

    I'm with ............

    I'm with James. Good job!


  19. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    ROTFLMAO, gotta say I love it.

    Joe, I've known this for some time and from your first paragraph, I'm assuming you recognize it as well. I know you're never going to win a popularity contest by being brutally honest, but I fear our time has passed.

    Let's just say it: Joe only said what others have thought but were too afraid of being scalded for saying it. Joe is a purist and much the same cut as Carl Akeley. He's a stickler for detail but only if it follows the natural ebb and flow of actual real life creatures. I've noted several times here, much to the chagrin of many, that a live deer would probably fail to ribbon in a taxidermy competition today.

    Many of you genuflect at the mention of that hallowed name, but few of you understand that Akeley was a purist in every way. Read his biography. You'll see a man totally immersed in realism to the point of collecting dirt and vegetation samples of the area an animal was taken in so that his diorama's could be as acurate as his anatomy was. Joe is correct in the fact that Akeley would likely have a stoke seeing some of what we pass off today as "artistic impression" in TAXIDERMY. Akeley felt that his "artistry" was in RECREATING an animal as it had been when it breathed, bled, and died. There's a huge difference.

    Joe may remember, but some decades back, another very prominent taxidermist won a National Championship with a baby Angoro goat. The goat was lying down on its rear hooves under the hair and its chin lying over its front feet. The long ears were folded over the eyes and the only thing left to be "judged" was the kid's nose. Now that was over 40 years ago and many of us "OLD" guys still laugh about how he pulled one over on the judge.

    I had to laugh at how some of you did exactly what Joe said in castigating him. You presume that a "judge's" opinion is hallowed and Joe's is sacrilege. What he said was HIS opinion and it really doesn't matter what yours is of him. He's entitled to it and it won't change the outcome of what happened in Texas or the NTA. Joe's earned his stripes carrying the ideals of Akeley forward and if he hadn't, most of you would never have responded to his post.

    Joe, it's good to see there are still some people of convictions, even when those convictions seem counter to the majority. Best always.
  20. Carolin Brak-Dolny

    Carolin Brak-Dolny Active Member

    Holy Crap, for the first time I agree with George! Hell must be freezing over.

    If Akeley was a purest, who attached the "artistic" award to Akeley? It maybe should the most realistic mount in a realistic setting.

    Joe has also raked me over the coals. He slammed me on some of my mounts. It was shocking at first because we are so used to having roses blown up our behinds. When someone gives us their honest opinion it makes us mad, but after a while we calm down and start to think.

    I sometimes like the artsy mount and sometimes the natural. And sometimes people have to tell you that indeed " the emperor has no clothes"!

    Glad Mr. Newport self sculpted the form and made the mouth. To me that is most important.