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An Open Letter to Carl Akeley

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

  1. v.fleming

    v.fleming New Member

    If you guys only new the whole story about James, this would have never got started!
  2. 3bears

    3bears Well-Known Member

    But he did typically use 2 eyes.
    Joe ,do you love to be disliked or what? Being an "educated" man you must know that when you smack a hornet nest with a stick you're going to rile a bunch of them up. Why?

  3. Jerry Huffaker

    Jerry Huffaker Well-Known Member

  4. Kerby Ross

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

    Well ............



  5. ryan rhodes

    ryan rhodes Well-Known Member

    Jerry! Hahahah! I don't know why i bothered getting involved....
  6. txoutdoors

    txoutdoors Active Member

    Good one vince!
  7. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    Rick Carter's post was priceless, spot on, and just what this discussion needed.
  8. michael p.

    michael p. Getting better with age :)

    So true. The train left the station years ago but the caboose is still trying to keep up.
  9. BrookeSFD16

    BrookeSFD16 Well-Known Member

    Ok. I'm pretty sure I will regret posting on this, but my curiosity has gotten the best of me.

    If "Super Pig" would have had a mud Habitat up to its armpits, would it have then been accepted more so?

    I'm still new, and accept everyone's opinion as their own. I don't mean to crank up the argument again. I'm just still trying to figure out the competition end of the industry.
  10. KatieC

    KatieC Active Member

    BrookeSFD16, I'm guessing it would depend on the taste of the judges. I don't think that piglet in the mud would be as attention grabbing or have as good of a composition as the way it was mounted up in the air, but in the end some judges might like it while some might not.
  11. BrookeSFD16

    BrookeSFD16 Well-Known Member

    Katie, yes. Every piece is the opinion of the Judges and each varies. I'm just saying if the "whole picture" (traditionally speaking) would have been obviously displayed with actual Habitat would that have not caused the discussion in the first place? When I first saw the mount I immediately knew who's it was...:D and having seen his mounts in the past, and speaking with him about what he was thinking when he conceived them, I had a pretty good idea as to what the mount was (my interpretation). James leaves the rest up to us, is how I think of his style. You decide what's going on, where the animal is at(locale) and what Habitat it's in. That's my opinion as to what he tries to illustrate with his mounts.

    I have only competed for 3 years. So I'm trying to figure out if I should think outside the box, or go deep center inside to win.? Is it truly only what that Judge thinks?
  12. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    Brooke, I truly wish there was some "magic bullet" that competitors would know score the highest. UNFORTUNATELY, Taxidermy is much like my friend Richard Christoforo said, "Ceramics with hair". When you send a peer (YES, contrary to some egos, a judge is only a PEER who is entrusted- for a fee - to "grade" pieces according to their own personal likes, dislikes, priorities, and some reference materials, you're going to find that the "number" they pull out may or may not be consistent with what other judges would do. ESPECIALLY with the "artsy fartsy" stuff, interpretation and imagination play an amazingly elevated role. Personally, you couldn't give me a Picasso, but I'd cherish a Rockwell. That would make me a terrible judge for Picasso and a great one for Rockwell.

    Still, there are many great judges out there who take extreme measures to remove themselves from the equation. I'm fortunate enough to be friends with half a dozen or so of them and though I may not have agreed with their assessment, I know it was based primarily on reference, physiology, and technicality. I also know more than a few people who'll refuse to compete if a certain person is going to be the judge. There are others who'll travel miles to have that same judge look at their work. That should tell you a lot about this industry. But I don't have any velvet Elvis Presley pictures hanging in my house either.
  13. BrookeSFD16

    BrookeSFD16 Well-Known Member

    Thanks George! I think I'm grasping it.
  14. John Janelli

    John Janelli New Member

    George, just a quick story; One day we were out having dinner with Zella Jonas Merritt, the daughter of Lou Jonas. Carol, being a "Rockwell" fan like you, casually asked Zella if her father ever knew "Rockwell". She repilied, "Which one do you mean? Norman or Bob? He was very good friends with both of them."
    She was referring to the painter / artist and the sculptor / taxidermist Robert H. Rockwell. Well, we both were curious and amazed to learn that Lou used to frequently have Norman sit and sketch the mounts in his Hudson, NY studios. And then Zella tells us that when Norman was painting a calendar series of portraits, he asked Lou for a mounted deer head to use as a model. Naturally, Lou just took one off the office wall and handed it to Norman, but the he didn't want to use it. So when Lou asked what was wrong with it, Norman said it looked alive! Alert! Pristine! Puzzled, Lou demanded to know what he expected to see in a mounted deer head. Old Norm said he that what he needed was a deer head that looked stuffed, the kind you'd see in an antique shop, dingy old tavern or stashed up in a cob webbed attic. By now Lou was starting to loose his patience but then, Norm told him why...turned out that Norman was painting a scene for the month of April, with April Fool's Day as the theme of the scene. The deer HAD to look as creepy as everything else the artist incorporated into that particular piece of work. To see Zella tell the story as if she was re-living the entire script in her mind's eye, was something we will never forget. When she about snapped out of it, she quipped, "If you don't believe me, you can call my friend Angela and she'll tell you the same thing because she was there with me."
    I just had to ask, Angela who? She looked straight at us and said, "Angela Landsbury!"
  15. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    Like his approach or not, Joe makes you think, or perhaps reflect on the state of taxidermy associations these days. I have been following this thread, as perhaps a fair number of people on this forum have for a week now, and I decided to put in my two cents. The first paragraph in the original post is spot on.

    “ 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.”

    I went to the NTA and entered was my first competition in over 20 years with an idea that didn’t quite fit the mold – the recreation of a work table of a taxidermist from December 1898. The show was well done and organized flawlessly from my viewpoint as compared to the last NTA I attended in 1993. There weren’t as many pieces entered as I might have thought, but the quality was very impressive. The “partial pig on a stick” was there and some other very fine pieces – it was hard to find any flaws in some of the bird mounts, and some very excellent mammal and fish pieces.

    One of the reasons I go to meetings is to see the methods being employed by commercial taxidermists to understand how the pieces might hold up 50 to 100 years from now. As many who read my posts know, I am into historical taxidermy. We know the methods that the very early taxidermists used hold up well, because bird specimens done in the late 1780’s through 1820 by Peale still exist. Pieces done by Carl Akeley in the Field Museum are, however, not holding up very well as there are cracks and shrinkage and malformations, but the methods used a handful of years later when he was at the AMNH generally have fared better. During the time between the 1880’s when large taxidermy came of age in the world, until the 1920’s when museum taxidermists’ finally had it figured out, techniques and materials changed. When I went to the 1993 convention I remember watching a seminar on doing a dead turkey mount, and one of the “tools” used was a staple gun. He was so commercial he didn’t want to spend the time filling the ulna-radius pocket, and simply stapled the loose skin together vs. filling the area and sewing the area together.

    I went to the two seminars on birds to see what was used and how the birds were put together. Ryan Rhodes gave his first seminar ever on ducks, and I saw one on pheasants by Fred Barilla. What surprised me was how few people were in the audience in these two or in the one on casting facemasks and a couple I came in late for. I thought there weren’t that many people at the convention, but when the banquet was held, I was flabbergasted at the turnout. In 1993 the seminar rooms were packed, but here only, at most, a dozen people were present in the various seminars.

    I had thought people went to learn at meetings, but the goal appears to be the competition as Joe outlined in his letter to Carl.

    In retrospect, commercial taxidermists, at least most of them, didn’t really get to ‘museum’ quality until the challenges put forth in the ASOB competitions and Taxidermy Review began. By the time the World Show started, the commercial taxidermists were equal or superior to the few taxidermists left in museums. Joe can take credit for starting competitions, but he also should take blame for starting competitions. In the 1980’s many taxidermists shot the specimens they mounted, but now, most competition winners, at least in birds, have to buy a feather perfect specimen. A perfect plumage bird mounted on a passable habitat doesn’t garner any attention, and thus to win, some extravagant display or setting has to be done. The same with mammals hence Joe’s statement:

    “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.”

    His conclusion that association meetings are about ribbons and awards is spot on in my opinion. Many may remember another editorial he published in Taxidermy Today likening the first pedestal mounts to a deer head setting on a toilet bowl filled with habitat. That editorial didn’t have the ability to elicit responses as this current discussion has.

    I won’t comment on the discussions after his original post as it sunk into some bad directions and I am afraid Joe offended many people. I will mention one aspect. James Newport sent an email to me via the Taxidermy.net mentioning that he was going to visit Carnegie Museum after Seven Springs on Sunday and thanked me for bringing to his attention that the museum was only 60 miles or so from the NTA convention. I never met James at the convention, but I hope he liked the museum. The staff there now are a shadow of the former glory when from circa 1900 through the 1960’s there was a constant group of 3 to 6 full time taxidermists working there along with model makers, habitat specialists, painters etc. I have great reverence for the people that came before and left us with exhibits that still inspire us 120 years later. That is why I put together the Taxidermists Table exhibit I entered – gathering together various pieces of old stuff I had around the house. It garnered a little praise and was liked by at least some people at the convention – Russell Knight even posted a few pictures on his Facebook page. It was the first time I ever met him, and also the first for George Roof and Ken Edwards. It was like being amongst celebrities in an convention that is as important as the Annual get-together for the Garbage Man of America ( which probably has trophies as impressive as the NTA).
  16. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    Great story John. Thanks for sharing.

    BTW get Caller ID on your phone so I don't ignore your calls. Remember, it's election year on top of the usual damned telemarketers.

    Oh, and Stephen, I loved your entry as I told you at the banquet. It was akin to "Through the Looking Glass"for me. I spent more time at your piece than many of the others combined. I was searching for things I was sure you had hidden just to test the viewer. I told my friend I'd loved to have been able to sit at that work table and flip through the pages of that book.
  17. Paul B

    Paul B Active Member

    Just to clear and clarify as I have been in the refuse business for almost 20 years and playing as a taxidermist also, there are no awards for "Garbage Man of America", or I would have one on my showcase, just sayin. There was a convention in Vegas a few weeks ago for vendors and owners of the industry though, LOL.
  18. Tanglewood Taxidermy

    Tanglewood Taxidermy Well-Known Member

    If the pig would have been up to its armpits in mud, it would have been in the lifesize category. In the game head category, it went beyond the shoulders a tad bit. In the game head category, there are tons of game heads on sticks. Other than an outstanding job done by James, to me, it's not that out of box experience that it is being played as.
  19. Bill Yox

    Bill Yox Well-Known Member

    Just as I referenced Joe Kish's letter to the editor in Breakthrough so many years ago, and the exchanges it generated, this one has had some interesting twists as well. For me it was fun seeing the different personalities read into this, but the best line was Rick Carter's. While I dont completely agree with all that he wrote as fact here, I LOVE his line about if Da Vinci were an artist, that Mona Lisa wouldve gone to the guy down the road to save the money...that was good.