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An Open Letter to Carl Akeley

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

  1. Bill Yox

    Bill Yox Well-Known Member

    Joe, you and I have only talked a handful of times, if that. But I know a little about your way of thinking. Allow me to bring up a similar letter you wrote years ago, pre-social media, to Bill Turner, and the shitstorm that followed. I know what youre up, even if others do not. Ill say this...due to the level of respect we give James Newport for how he conducts his business, if it were me, Id have waited to hear from him before moving forward. Ive held some rather unpopular views towards our industry and how we run shows, and its never made me many friends hahaha. Taxidermy leprosy, you might call it...
  2. Skywalker

    Skywalker Well-Known Member

    I personally like to hear differing personal opinions. Even if it's not what we agree with. I have, in the past, refused to give critiques to people who have asked for fear of hurting their feelings. It's always been a mistake. We are still all family even if we disagree at times.

  3. KatieC

    KatieC Active Member

    I'm a nobody and somewhat of a newbie so I'm sure no one cares what I think, but I'm sharing it anyway (and I'm not particularly intimidated by anyone, we are all just people). I have a fine art background, so have no problem with an artistic interpretation of traditional taxidermy. If you're working for a museum and striving for perfect biological accuracy, then yes, everything should be limited to absolutely accurate lifesize mounts with completely accurate habitats that are in no way stylized or abstract.

    However, most of us aren't making mounts for museums. When you're mounting a gamehead or anything that isn't the whole animal, there's going to be some artistic interpretation in how to display only part of the animal. People have gotten pretty creative with that, and I like a lot of it. Some pieces do end up looking a bit awkward or strange, but that's the art and design talent (or lack of it) involved. I think you can still have a gamehead that's spot on with anatomical accuracy for what's there, and have habitat elements that are mostly correct, but still have some leeway in how you arrange those things artistically. This is what the piglet mount does. I think it's excellent.

    Should we limit ourselves only to 100% biologically accurate lifesize mounts and surrounding displays with no artistic leeway? I don't think so. Taxidermy is a fine wildlife art also, not just a museum display. I think you can have a balance between lifelike accuracy and artistry, without going too far into the purely artistic (and totally unrealistic) side. Mounts should be anatomically and behaviorally correct, but some artistic design in the composition of pieces and surrounding habitat is completely ok in my opinion. I don't like a lot of the newer museum taxidermy displays without realistic dioramas around them, that's what really bothers me, since I feel those places should be trying for total scientific accuracy, and personally I love to be immersed in a well done diorama!

    Anyway, interesting discussion!
  4. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    Katie stop that. I once said what you said when I visited Joe Climbs some years back. He told me that EVERYBODY Is SOMEBODY and they should never sell themselves short. You don't need to be Mozart to know when the harpsichordist screws up. I personally like to be around newbies who exhibit an excitement I once had. It's humbling and your opinion is as valuable as anyone elses.
  5. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    I'd much rather see a NEW piece of art win the Breakthrough than the same damn lizard or chipmunks that are over a decade old and still dominate state and national shows.. It's not art until somebody hates it in the words of Dennis Harris. New blood is taking over, get used to it!
  6. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    Brian, you "new blood" guys aren't as good as you dream you are. Museums aren't hiring you and competitions only create big fish in small ponds. The commercial work you depend on to pay your mortgage only exists because the old blood of guys like Joe Kish created a manikin that makes your work look good.
  7. Paul B

    Paul B Active Member

    I heard a judge say when he does a initial walk through, there are a few pieces that make him stop, backup and take a better look. Its the "that's different" that gets the attention. Whether it wins anything, who knows, but its an attention getter. A ram on a rock or duck on a stump, its nice but I like the same but with the subject doing something that's out of the ordinary on the rock or stump. Example, there was a mountain lion piece posted a year ago rubbing up against a tree, looked like it was purring and as natural as could be, but different.
  8. Tanglewood Taxidermy

    Tanglewood Taxidermy Well-Known Member

    Speaking as a spectator, as far as a pig on a stick goes, not much different than a deer's head on a wall. I have never seen a legless pig floating in the air next to an up right root vine in the wild. Then again, when was the last time I saw a deer walking around the woods with a wall attached to it's shoulders or an elk with 2/3's of it's back end cut off, brisket wedged into the ground with leather glued to the back of it's shoulders with a small aspen or two thrown in for good measure? Remember the "popsicle" heads from the Jonas catalogs? Things change. They must evolve or become stagnant and die. Sometimes for the good and sometime the not so good. I'm not in the competition scene, but I do appreciate all the entries when I see them and am partial to the ones with the wow factor.
  9. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    First off George I'm not in the new blood group, I suck at taxidermy.. Clint Rickey on the other hand is an example of new blood. His half deer has done just fine even at the world level. All self sculpted down to the berries on the tree! Never seen a half deer while hunting so I guess that's another case of fooling a judge. As far as the old timer's forms making us new guys look good, depends on which one I spose. I know Bryan Eppley's deer forms make me look good for sure so I agree with you on that.
  10. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    In my thousands of hours in the woods I can honestly say I've never seen baby chipmunks sitting in a wood hand.. Or in all my hours on a farm never seen a fake hand coming out of dirt feeding a two headed calf. Times are a changing in this industry, going beyond museums..
  11. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    Brian, I apologize for sounding a bit brash (you know I'd NEVER be "brash") but taxidermy today is infinitely different from what people like Akeley and even Joe grew up in. I was self taught and had an idiot for a teacher, but that's another story. There is absolutely NO reason a rank beginner, watching a Rick Carter video can't go out, and on his first try, mount a passable commercial deer. IN MY OPINION, that's where we're moved astray with "competitions". What started out as a "mine is bigger than yours" had no place else to go. Instead, it went into sculpting and casting and creating anatomical improprieties just to "one up" the others. Few people realized when that gate opened and it's still conjecture, but I'm going to blame Scott Brewer. All competition deer looked the same from across the competition floor until Scott came along with the "Winter Warrior". He blew everything apart. There was a Canadian whitetail with an open mouth on a pedestal with snow all over him. For the next 5 years, everyeone tried to do that mount commercially and competitions started relying on those features to show up other competitors. Now I did see a closed mouth whitetail shoulder mount at the NTA this year but it was in the "Commercial Division". Now we have pedestals that grow out of stumps having whole apples stuck in their mouths. Yet they're all for competition only. We all know there's no way you could pull off such a mount commercially and expect to be paid what it's worth.

    Some years back, all the bird forms were made for different poses. A bird jumping off the water had it's spine grotesquely bent. Nancy Crocker pointed out that though the feather arrangement and the wing placement could change, the ANATOMY has to remain proper in order to be realistic. Unless you broke a pintail's back, there's no way he would conform to those "C" shapes they were given.

    The competitions are a wonderful happening for a multitude of reasons. But for the 99% of taxidermists doing commercial work, we still depend on that gifted sculptor and that supply company to make us look good.
  12. michael p.

    michael p. Getting better with age :)

    .......and we have had so many sculptors who create Mannikins who appreciate that we like their art and are thankful that we buy them because our money 'pays their mortgage'...... this is a double edged sword, DO NOT THINK FOR ONE MOMENT JOE PUT HIS S. HIT OUT THERE NOT LOOKING TO GET COMPENSATED! I love you buddy, but we look good with people's work in Mannikins and they get compensated, that's a 50/50...... and I'll tell you one damn thing, shut down the taxidermy supply industry and see who can survive..... I know I can and Newport has more talent in his pinky than I do in my body..... so as you say, don't blow smoke or roses up people's asses...... you wanna **** with somebody, **** with the person who's not gonna make it, don't defend this industry on a bitter person..... because they could ban foam in October and we'll be taking deer in November and having them delivered in June! Sorry, some are not writing letters to heaven, we're dreaming and working down here on earth and will kick ass no matter the flood.
  13. antlerman

    antlerman NTA Life Member #0118

    Judges tell you that to win competitions one must think outside the box. The minute someone does, and wins, someone says: Get back in the box. I guess one must obtain permission from the box builders to go outside the box. Has taxidermy became the new BIG BOX Store? Be you a fan of the Super Piglet or not, try finding a box to put it in. Oh, they did, Gameheads. Imagine that. According to the Judges, I guess it fit pretty good, ey? I remember this same competitor winning a couple of years ago with a deer head that was outside the box also. Nope, they found a box to put it in too. Maybe it's the box that people have a problem with. Maybe the box is all wrong. Just sayin.......

    Coming soon to a competition near you; a flying elephant on a stick. ;) Now that's gonna take a BIG Box.
  14. Amy

    Amy Mammal artist

    Everyone else has chimed in on this, I guess I might as well say a few things.

    I was online when this was freshly posted, before any responses. I read and re-read it. It took me well into the post to realize that this was not some sort of inside-joke with friends, perhaps between he and Mr. Newport. I guess I'm not familiar with Mr. Kish's brand of writing. I couldn't imagine that an individual, especially of such high regard, would actually publicly post something so brazen towards another person's art. I don't think we need roses blown up our butts - no - but each and every one of us puts our heart and soul into each piece we do, and there is some respect that should be shown for that. Personal opinion is one thing, open negative statements that imply they are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, are another.

    Indeed, I lie awake in bed every night, thinking of new ideas. Things that haven't been done yet. Poses that will catch the eye, and presentations that can make my mount stand above the rest. Sometimes the award winning mount at a show is simply a mount standing on all fours, doing nothing notable. While that's great, it's almost never the one that sticks out in my mind. It's usually doesn't win people's choice either. I like the creations that push the envelope (yes, while still in the realms of behavioral accuracy). Finding the combination of both that will work, is the key. That worked for James in Texas; perhaps at another show, he wouldn't fare as well, but that's when the human element comes in, too.. it's all just one judge's opinion on a given day.

    (As far as the actual Superpig --- is it my style? Not exactly. It caused me to say "what the.." when I first scrolled past the mount but then I took a closer look and began to appreciate more about the mount. As someone who enjoys molding and casting, I can see simply from the photo that it has some amazing casting work to the nose and mouth. I can appreciate things like that, and the time they take to do right. It most definitely is NOT something an "amateur" could "throw together in a day or 2" and if anyone looks at that mount and thinks that, then they are not looking at the whole picture!!)

    Can any of us say what Carl Akeley would *really* appreciate? Sure, he was a purist, but these types of mounts weren't around back in that day. The products were not even available to create a lot of what is done now. You can't appreciate what hasn't been dreamed up yet. I'm sure he'd shake his head at some things, but he would probably be blown away by some of the others. I don't think addressing Carl's name to sarcastically illustrate a stab at another individual is tasteful at all. That was my very first feeling I had on this letter. It seems if one must initiate a post like this, it should go a little bit more like, "James, *I* hate your mount and all it stands for - Take that!" not "Dear Carl.. YOU would be so ashamed.."

    I'm going to keep dreaming up new ideas. If they speak to my soul, they stir emotion in both me and the viewer, and they keep that spark alive, that's the reason we do this. Otherwise, both creating competition taxidermy, and viewing the competitions, would become as dull as mounting that last straight-forward shoulder mount of the season.
  15. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    LMAO. Sorry Tim, but I just had to laugh at that comment. You had me there with "thinking outside the box" when I realized that you admitted that the judges had put the mount BACK in the box by judging it as a "game head". No one is ever really "outside the box". They just move into a new one. How many people follow will determine if the box stays or is discarded.

    Just as a side note, Donnie Oliver of Maryland won National Champion with a baby pig half mount just like this. The only difference was that Donnie out his on a darkened piece of acrylic and made water splashes around it to give the impression it was swimming. I think those judges decided it fit in the 'lifesize" box.
  16. furtanshop

    furtanshop New Member

    IMO, Joe's comments are not personal, and are intended to reflect the state of the associations and the competitions, everything George said is true.

    I have been in this industry over 55 years and the competitions do not satisfy any of my needs and that is why I do
    not belong to any of them at this time. I think that the only mounts in a competition should be full body mounts,
    just my opinion and would be a peoples choice by several thousand , not other taxidermist.
  17. R.J. Meyer II

    R.J. Meyer II Member

    This is what happens when everyone keeps telling themselves that taxidermy is Art........................People get Artsy..............................
  18. Skywalker

    Skywalker Well-Known Member

    Box? What box? Lol I remember that Pig, George. I was at the Smithsonian when he did it. Very cool piece and a perfect example of what we are talking about for that time. I really believe that competitions have evolved about the only way they can. And it's the infusion of "new blood" that will always be the deciding factor. It's the winners of the past that inspire the competitors of the future, and that's why we have a "presentation revolution"! It would be a sad situation if at least some of the old guard didn't raise one eyebrow at whats coming out today.
  19. Carolin Brak-Dolny

    Carolin Brak-Dolny Active Member

    Furtanshop is correct.

    Joe's post has gone exactly were he wanted it to. First people were incensed that he dare post anything like this. Then as more people post, you see they are beginning to think! Its the same reaction I had after Joe criticized my mounts.

    Joe is not only a very good sculptor and the one who invented the taxidermy competition, he is also very intelligent. You may think he is bitter and crotchety, (is there such a word?)but you need
    to think of his post as if you were starting a university coarse on art.

    There is lasting beauty (an example for me is Stairway to heaven by Led Zeppelin) or there is the flash in the pan like the latest pop jingle. (like Justin Bieber, so sad to say he is from Canada) The pop jingle may be at the top of the chart now but will you want to listen to it 10 years from now? I don't want to listen to it now!

    The same point in taxidermy competition, is it something in the show room that may really draw your attention now because it is "outthere" done just to attract attention or something you will want to look at in your living room until you die? Here is one example, I could look at Travis De Villier's sitting lion forever. It is not fighting, dancing on two legs, or jumping to incredible heights , it is just sitting there , it has a beautiful look on its face, so serene.
  20. Sonnyknight

    Sonnyknight Member

    I could not agree with you more joe.