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Associations. Knock, knock... Anybody home?

Discussion in 'The Taxidermy Industry' started by Joe Kish, Nov 15, 2016.

  1. Joe Kish

    Joe Kish Active Member

    259
    173
    Texas
    “Power is not granted, it is assumed.” - David Miscavige

    Associations are corporate entities recognized in law as having many of the same rights and responsibilities as living human beings. They are in fact the collective persona of many human beings, that is, their members. Such organizations form and operate for worthwhile purposes usually of a public, educational or charitable nature, to benefit members, society or mankind as a whole. Their purposes and goals are spelled out in their charters or by-laws. The best of them leave to posterity an enduring legacy of service and good deeds well done.

    The art of taxidermy has a legacy as well. It was bequeathed to us from19th and 20th century N. American (Carl Akeley) and European (Herman H. ter Meer) taxidermists and results from the techniques and methods they perfected and passed on through museums and commercial studios to the generations that followed them. It is the legacy of men like these that has made possible the giant leap in the art of taxidermy which we take for granted today. The enduring part is our heritage which is on perpetual view in public and private museums and like institutions where it’s protected and maintained by custodians who understand its value to science, education and as wildlife art. Other contributors to this heritage were the master sculptors, painters and technicians who created the dioramas in our museums that support the mounted specimens in factual context and wonderful visual appeal.

    Today’s giant leap in the art, its high standards, has come to us through educational and technical innovations and the opportunities afforded through taxidermy association conventions and competitions. It is directly attributable to the many skilled and dedicated taxidermist/artists who generously shared their knowledge. All this and more was aided along the way by the enterprising support of magazines and taxidermy supply companies. Consequently the art has steadily expanded in the number of practitioners with the general level of competence of both professionals and amateurs at the highest level ever in the history of the art. Even the art itself is enjoying a current resurgence of interest by the public, thanks to exposure in mainstream media and facilitated by supply companies who have made snap-together taxidermy a snap.

    In a broad sense, 21st century taxidermists are leaving a legacy or sorts as well. It lies in the millions of up-to- standard mounts in sportsmen’s dens and private collections everywhere. It’s an individual legacy of thousands of individual taxidermist practitioners, it’s just not a collective one which taxidermy associations can claim as a direct work product of their own. Neither is it an enduring legacy. Most of those first class mounts will eventually sustain damage by mis-handling or accident, by exposure to sunlight, insect damage or end up unappreciated in a junk store. While associations have supported the creation of this legacy, it’s not a single association’s singular legacy like the institutional legacies at the American Museum in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum in California and so many others like them. However, I don’t believe that even a minority of taxidermist actually go about their commercial or competition work thinking that it might form a legacy of sorts to be treasured very far into the future. To the taxidermist who created that fine work, once it’s been picked up and paid for – it’s out of sight and out of mind. Any association he might be enrolled in is not in the loop. And that’s about the size of it.

    Unlike the legacies of famous taxidermists and the enduring collections in museums, taxidermy associations can’t take credit for pioneering anything of singular merit such as inventing competitions, creating a central library of taxidermy publications for its members, or discovering new material applications or even creating a credible hall of fame. (Like the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown [NY]). Nor have they done anything of particular distinction by way of conservation projects despite most association by-laws including the phrase, “..dedicated to the conservation of wildlife through the preservation of specimens to the highest standards of the art of taxidermy.” Mounting a blue ribbon duck or deer head isn’t dedication to anything except personal recognition or the profit motive.

    Our associations also remain undistinguished in areas of legal matters that affect taxidermists in the practice of their commercial activities. Many states still require government permission in the form of a license to operate a taxidermy business –an occupation of common right no less. Associations quietly accept this exchange of their members’ rights for government granted privileges, not necessarily from weak leadership, although that is a factor, but mostly because the members themselves really aren’t concerned with the business of protecting their own rights. When it comes to lobbying help on legal matters that affect us all, you can ring the doorbell of taxidermy associations all day long, but when you do it’s like no one is ever home.

    I’m well aware that taxidermy associations have played a supportive role in the evolution of progress in the art. But who can deny that all of the growth in associations has been directed inward with one notable exception? It’s the Akeley Memorial Stone in Clarendon, NY. Nevertheless, no association can take credit for such a visionary idea, and only a handful contributed to such a worthwhile project. Plenty of association members belong to Ducks Unlimited and other conservation clubs. Nevertheless the singular thrust to associations’ progress has been putting on competitions which they’ve held for the past 40 years, and in educating any and everyone in the latest taxidermy techniques without regard to whether or not a member brought anything to the table himself. Each year associations promise the next convention will be bigger and better than the last one, but only in that they will have a new category or two and an ever expanding list of new personality awards and nothing more. This prompts the question of what will be the legacy that this generation of taxidermy associations leave behind to mark their passing, a legacy the next generation will look back at in admiration, gratitude and pride. Besides the Akeley Stone, I mean. Well, maybe there’s also the… the…., I’m sure I’ll eventually think of something else.

    An association, business or institution which is not growing or evolving into something better is showing clear signs of stagnation, the first rung on the ladder of decline. One sign of this is the shrinking memberships of many associations. Once a member has taken all the classes and won all the ribbons and awards he cares to, what service or challenge does his association offer him to keep him in? Where is any of that “public, educational or charitable” stuff characteristic of a credible association? As I see it, associations are simply disengaged from any meaningful role in the educational, scientific, artistic or public service dynamics of local community life, such as the Elks and Lion clubs are. Beyond convening once a year in state and regional conventions, associations do little to prompt the public to view or credit taxidermy associations as a contributing part of their community cultural life. In fact, before and during conventions, local media usually feature our conventions in their coverage, but the day after conventions close, the parade is over. Period.

    Getting back to those masterful works of taxidermy art that take top competition honors, many of those winning mounts are especially fine or finer than lots of specimens in our finest museums. Associations that fail to see this or lack the motivation to create an avenue to preserve such superb work far into the future is either neglecting a duty to its members or aren’t mindful of the provisions in their own by-laws. Associations don’t have to build or maintain their own museums. The avenue is already there. Natural history museums, large and small, are in every major city and state across the entire US. I can’t think of a single museum that would not welcome and give credit to donations that meet or exceed their mission statements and exhibit standards. There’s a crying need waiting right there to be filled by the creative genius of our best men and women taxidermists. As is, the work of these talented individuals leave the conventions and step right into an uncertain future where the merit and value of those pieces will more than likely be lost.

    This is not an indictment of taxidermy associations for shortcomings or failures. Far from it. Those who were there in the late 1970s when associations were just getting underway and competitions were being added to their agendas, those old-timers can attest to the excitement at convention time. When they could make new friends, learn of new methods and materials and see better work in competitions than they ever knew existed. Standards for taxidermy work and supplies were rising at an accelerated rate. That was the time when the chasm between professionals and amateurs and between museum and commercial taxidermists was finally being bridged once and for all. Old timers can tell you when most hardly slept for three days of shop talk and camaraderie, there was so much to see and learn and talk over endlessly. To their credit, associations were the focus and avenue for that excitement and growth.

    If days like those are ever to return, it’s up to this generation to pump some oxygen on those dying embers and bring them back to life with a fresh load of firewood. It’s you, the members who will have to do it. You may have to overcome an old guard of entrenched officers and boards who like things comfy, just as they’ve been for decades, but just keep in mind, power is not granted, it is assumed. That’s how competitions came to be in the first place.

    My own legacy, such as it is, will at least be on record long after I’m gone. But before that happens I would like that record to show that I was a member of at least one taxidermy association that really distinguished itself by taking seriously its duty and responsibilities to its members, to the art and to the state and communities of which it was a unique and valued part.
     
  2. gtout

    gtout Member

    108
    0
    Excellent thoughts, Joe. Haven't heard from the national associations in over a year, and I am a lifetime member of one, and past board member. How can they generate excitement and participation if they don't reach out? Preserving a legacy and looking to the future generations is critical. It takes work and commitment.
     

  3. 3bears

    3bears Well-Known Member

    5,574
    945
    MN
    Joe, If my "Uneducated" mind understands what you have expressed here, I believe I agree with your statement.
    I'm not sure that you have paid any attention to my plea for support against the state of MN rule on the transport of deer carcasses. I asked the national and the state associations for assistance and was basically ignored. I have made some headway with our state association, so we'll see.
    I'll admit I had let my membership lapse with the guild because of the apparent lack of interest in helping to create a better, less restrictive environment for small taxidermy businesses to prosper, but with a recent conversation I had with the VP of the guild I may just reconsider.
     
  4. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    Joe, I've read your glowing article and God knows I'd love to agree with you, but I guess I'm just the guy who throws the turd in the punchbowl. It just ain't so.

    The fact is that you and I and many others are anachronisms who're in denial about the X-Generation and the Millennials. Taxidermy Associations, though based on the grandest of schemes have become a feeding ground for egotists. We proclaim to be artists, but you'll never find any artists guild holding "competitions" and awarding money from oil paints ane easel companies involved. In fact, most "associations" for artists use them simply as a yard sale or advertising gimmick. That's why the Duck Stamp programs have drawn the thousands of starving artists to their annual fetes. But I digress.

    When this "art form" began, simple crude armatures were used to stretch skin over. It was more of a necessity than a luxury as the skins were used in clothing and the "mounts" were used as decoys. Move forward to the Renaissance where culture and fine arts flourished. Sculptors and flat artists produced during that period still have not been surpassed. The "dark side" of the time, however, began using the skills of those artists and creating animal recreations.

    As history moved forward, civilization began to expand beyond knowledge and practicality. People in mid-America may have read or seen drawings of exotic creatures, but to have side shows with live animals or museums with mounted specimen was such a life changing experience the popularity of it grew. Museum curators sought the very best artisans to fill their venues. Carl Akely came to the forefront and those that followed learned quickly that realism brought people to view their work and their reputations were enhanced.

    Then came the Great Depression. Museums took a hit as even food was too expensive. Country boys hunted for food, but the adventurous few still wanted some bauble to remember their endeavors by. We fell into the Dark Ages of Taxidermy once more. A carnival barker by the name of J.W. Elwood found a venue in selling taxidermy courses to those who had a quarter to spare and he even rewarded his "graduates" with "diplomas". Taxidermy began it's upswing. The thirst for knowledge was insatiable and those of our mindset did whatever we had to in order to succeed. About the same time, other artisans discovered they could make life easier than the old excelsior and wood frames the masters had used. The began to make manikins from papier mache, red rosin paper, and even fiberglass to enhance anatomy recreations. The Golden Age of Modern Taxidermy was on. It seemed like daily that the closed shop mentality of the past was quickly dying off and to accelerate their demise, we created "associations" to share new methods and ideas. Sadly, it also led to the creation of "competitions" and money were involved. Certainly such events brought the cream to the top, but at the same time, it began to erode the confidence of the less talented. Events like Piedmont that had attracted literally thousands of people started to wither. Associations that had help conventions with hundreds of mounts began to show a decline and many of us went into denial. We found reasons why the phenomenon was happening, but after the excuses were eliminated, the problem didn't get any better. We still can't accept that we've killed the Golden Goose.

    A gradeschool kid has more information at his fingertips on a cell phone that my generation could have found in the Library of Congress. Even half-assed or bad taxidermists made video clips and posted them on the internet so that there was no longer a need to learn through trial and error. The true artists of this industry were pouring out manikins, user-friendly chemicals, and techniques whereby a school kid could AND DOES produce a decent mount on their first try.

    The old establishment maintains professional pricing, but todays public simply doesn't care that their deer is two sizes too small and looks like a diabetic goat as long as the "horns" are visible. Our pricing is used by these charlatabs to undercut prices. In the modern day world of taxidermy, a taxidermist simply cannot make a living on taxidermy alone because of that. Museums aren't hiring and unless you have an unlimited supply of well heeled clients, you're either going to have to diversify, or have a life-partner with a real job. As my friend Richard Christoforo says, "We've become a business of ceramic shops with hair."

    Only about 20% of Americans hunt and the actual sport of hunting would be eliminated if we didn't convince 60% of those who don't that doing so both conserves the species and provides food for our tables. If we highlighted "tropy hunting" or "sport hunting", today's population would have a coronary and demand the practice be stopped. We're already growing "liberated" poultry and cattle and all you need to do is visit your local grocer and see how "organic" products are taking over.

    Associations are not going to "save us". Neither is changing those associations or increasing prize funds. The industry has and is diversifying. Suddenly the bone heads have reached back into the dark ages and "European mounts" are quite popular. Home decor has brought about SCULPTURES OF ANIMALS rather than the real thing, and the newfound "Rogue Taxudermy" seems to have taken a foothold. In the meantime, museums are eliminated taxidermists and taxidermy staffs in order to survive dwindling visitor revenue. At the touch of a keyboard I can watch a live Aardwolf and passenger pigeon, but if I wanted to see a mounted one I'd have to travel to a scant few museums around the country.

    For decades now, taxidermy has eaten their young to the point we're not much more than a pyramid scheme. I do see some dawning of using tastefully done specimen in "man caves" but I'm not sure that's enough. We won't prosper again until we clean up our shops and clean up our images. We need to speak and write intelligently to convince those with disposable cash they can entrust us to perform tasteful work. MY OPINION is that if we don't do that, we'll still be our own worst enemies and are already on that slippery slope to oblivion.
     
  5. Joe Kish

    Joe Kish Active Member

    259
    173
    Texas
    George,

    Your response is an excellent counter-point to what I wrote. It’s the other side of the coin, welcomed because it’s needed. The opinions I expressed was to get on record and credit the useful and beneficial role associations have played, and not just damn them all with faint praise. My points were intended to support those mostly newbees who are still smitten with taxidermy fever and are benefitting from what associations can offer to leap-frog them along their way. They can get disillusioned later.

    I could have written your side of the coin too, but I felt I first had a duty to give credit where credit is due. That being done, I can hereafter address the turd in the punchbowl without appearing like some spoil-sport who has some axe to grind against associations. Before I croak I intend to tell why I talk and write the way I do. And what experience made me the way I am. That’s for later.

    You’re right in your observations of the egotists in this field. They’re easy to spot by their entries in competitions. If the first thing you ask yourself when you encounter an ego driven piece is “what the heck is he trying to prove?, rather than “Is it real or is it Memorex?” He’s the guy who’s piece is screaming, “Hey, look at me! Ain’t I somethin'?!” Even when they see the turd in the punchbowl (called associations), they just nudge it aside and keep right on dippin’ and swallowing’ it. As long as the liquor in it gives them the high they crave, they don’t care if it’s clean or not, because somewhere in the bottom of that bowl is an Akeley award, and they want it bad. Their egos need it.

    The following is what I also could have said but I was biding my time till someone like you presented an opportunity I could counter-point and let ‘er rip. It’s parts from a piece I wrote a year ago, but wasn’t ready post it then.

    ………Most of today’s competitors have no conception of a time when competition rules and categories were simpler and fewer, when winning first place was indeed a rare badge of honor. Back when ribbons weren’t as long as your arm, as though a really long ribbon equated to a high achievement. Consequently I believe most will remain fiercely content with things as they are. Current rules and special interests (like supply companies) are too deeply entrenched and will be vigorously defended industry wide. Therefore I don’t see the status quo changing in the foreseeable future. But unless improvements are seriously considered competitions will continue degrading in value as categories continuously expand, as ribbons grow longer and awards continue being handed out like candy on Halloween.


    …….As an observer, it appears that a good way to put some spin on one’s chances at an Akeley medallion is to choose something foreign or exotic like African lions or a leopard. Then cut and paste a couple of commercial lion forms – dancing or pirouetting on their hind feet, while making ugly faces at each other. As long as you can’t immediately tell how cleverly they’re attached to the base or to each other, that the seams are tight and the skin work is up to par, most just presume that it must be a great piece because it’s BIG, exotic and has a large base. Oh, it also must have ‘artistic impact’ and show ‘creativity.’ To a judge, artistic impact might mean that the lions have to be snarling or floating off the face of a vertical zebra for instance. Creativity likely means that the poses have to be invented fantasy and not expressly accurate or typical wildlife behavior. Wipe the snarls off their faces and what you have are two giant kittens playfully sparring. Watch a few lion fights on you-tube and see how often lions never leave the ground when fighting or capturing prey.

    …….It’s painfully obvious that too many competitors have not studied animal behavior much less the visual arts. You see it often in state shows. Rather than use Nature as their standard they just make up poses out of whole cloth or simply enter a commercial job they did for a wealthy client whom they talked into a high dollar action packed wild melee between a couple of big animals, like big cats. And the judges? How many judges majored in art (visual arts) or even made a serious study of art, animal behavior or natural science? How many of them ever heard of an African leopard scattering a pair of Asiatic deer?

    …….And why do blue ribbon winners brag about holding a ‘TITLE’ of whatever? Titles are what you win in sports and athletic contests not art contests. Are we still that unsophisticated? Picture a newspaper headline such as, - “National Master of Masters Taxidermist Wins World Taxidermy Championship Heavyweight Title of Whitetail Deer Head Mounter.”? (Or maybe, Middleweight championship title.) Is it any wonder professional art societies don’t admit taxidermists or taxidermy into their memberships or their art shows and juried exhibitions?

    …… Without competitions associations would almost certainly fold. The NTA figured that out a long time ago. Associations can only profit from refocusing their thinking about competitions and at least try to make them a better yardstick of artistic merit and less a chase after ribbons or a recruiting tool for supply companies.
     
  6. hodx

    hodx Herman Darr

    Why are you quoting a cult leader of scientology..thats not a role model
     
  7. Tanglewood Taxidermy

    Tanglewood Taxidermy Well-Known Member

    Having never been, am not now and do not plan to be involved in taxidermy competitions, I do enjoy viewing them.

    I once marveled at a ram descending a rock face that took multiple awards. What I marveled at was the fact that it appeared to be a walking form that was secured to the base by it's back leg. It looked to be walking on air. It looked so unrealistic, I could not look at it long enough to appreciate any of it's award winning attributes. Conversely, I saw a mule deer ascending a rock face that had no major awards, but was done so realistic in it's body, leg placement, facial expression and eye focus that I took multiple pictures of it and put them in my work area as an inspiration to keep it real when doing any action pose.

    I would rather attend a taxidermy show that had no competition. No awards, no ribbons, no anything but wall to wall taxidermy, taxidermists and non taxidermy public veiwing taxidermy for the sake of enjoying others mounts. I'd even be inclined to display a few of mine in a show like that.
     
  8. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    1,159
    55
    Iowa
    Yawn..same old ranting from the same folks. You are better and none of us will ever be able to achieve your glory, happy?
     
  9. Jerry Huffaker

    Jerry Huffaker Well-Known Member

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  10. DL

    DL Well-Known Member

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  11. wa

    wa Thanks John...this depicts me better

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    nice pics you guys!!!
     
  12. Joe Kish

    Joe Kish Active Member

    259
    173
    Texas
    Great photos of large cat behavior. I’m saving these in my reference files. Thanks fellows.
    So, what’s your take on my analysis/slant/opinion of associations and egotists?
     
  13. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

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    My take on your analysis/slant/opinion of associations and egotists is that you are a bitter person with nothing better to do with your time. Maybe you should have looked up more cat reference with the time it took you to type yet another manifesto on taxinet.
     
  14. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    1,159
    55
    Iowa
    For every jaded person with associations there are 10+ that are optimistic and happy with them. I've seen nothing but positives at every show I've been to in the last 5 years. Learned much faster, met lifelong friends, and if anything we joke about our egos! Fun dammit! You should try it sometime.
     
  15. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    Brian, spare the bullspit. You're the one who sounds bitter and I vividly recall your comments about the NTA. So does that make you the "1" or the "10" you spoke of. "The traits you most dislike in others are traits that you, yourself possess." That was written by someone much smarter than me.

    Joe and I butt heads. We have in the past and likely will in the future, but it doesn't close my mind to what he's saying. It's impossible to "believe" in anything when your refuse to listen to what you don't believe in. Joe comes from a different era where talent was appreciated and "snap-together" taxidermy hadn't come along yet. Look at those pictures and tell me which one of you could pull off any of those poses WITHOUT ALTERING A FORM DESIGNED AND BUILT BY SOMEONE ELSE. It's a rhetorical question but I'd bet I wouldn't use up the fingers of both hands naming those who could construct an anatomically correct manikin for those poses. Joe Kish could.
     
  16. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    1,159
    55
    Iowa
    It's 2016 George,Things are different now, face it.. the NTA was a joke during my comments. Let's also face the egos and bitching are the minority that compete in masters at the shows. The Majority are there to learn and have fun! I'd think the full time guys grinding would just like to go and unwind and reconnect with buddies. You must think I'm good at taxidermy by thinking I'm the 1 and not the 10. I suck, therefore I love state association shows! Going to at least 5 this season.
     
  17. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    1,159
    55
    Iowa
    My wife and I are officers for Iowa and really enjoy supporting other surrounding states. I bring a mount to get beat up, we have a few too many, rib our friends, and have a blast every time! We honor veterans, do free mounts for charities.. who cares about multiple supplier awards and such, it's not about that!! Wake up, fun dammit!
     
  18. Tanglewood Taxidermy

    Tanglewood Taxidermy Well-Known Member

    How about everyone display their mounts and have experts go around and critique all the mounts? No ribbons, no awards, just an expert critique. If you are there for the camaraderie and a critique for learning, then that would fit the bill. No need for a competition.
     
  19. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    1,159
    55
    Iowa
    Fine by me, in the words of Rick Carter, we all suck compared to the real thing anyway. When other than shows can we spend time with peers to get better and have fun?
     
  20. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    1,159
    55
    Iowa
    Life is short! The best taxidermist in the world ain't gonna be as rich and successful as an investment banker, doctor, lawyer, etc.. it's a damn association show, not life changing. Geesh..