“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.