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Discussion in 'The Taxidermy Industry' started by Rick Carter, Jun 16, 2017.

  1. Rick Carter

    Rick Carter Administrator

    Everything in nature is a complex combination of color, texture, contour, shape, balance and expression. To be able to duplicate flora and fauna you have to create and capture as much detail as possible. If you cannot draw it, sculpt it, shape it, and paint it, how do you suppose you will successfully reproduce it? Taxidermy without artistry can never be anything more than a bizzare form of tacky upholstery with horns. Artiistic talent is the foremost ingredient to becoming a competent taxidermist. Taxidermy supply innovations have made the process of doing the upholstery fairly simple. But then again, we can probably teach a chimpanzee to stretch a skin over a form easier than we could teach him to upholster a couch. I think the days of being able to pass off junk to the public are coming to an end. The level of work at many competitions is now reaching hyper realism and quality. We are beginning to see higher quality in upper level commercial work on a daily basis as well. The artists are widening the gap between themselves and the upholsterers. You may want to reconsider jumping onto taxidermy as a career just because you like to "hunt and fish." It's really all about the artistry. It always has been about the artistry but now it is much more obvious.
    copper, Mac McLane, JL and 4 others like this.
  2. catman

    catman Active Member

    My view is just the opposite. This is the golden age of the skin applicator. I guy can mount a really good deer because all of the hard work has been done for him. I just altered a left turn standing dall sheep into a right turn lying down desert sheep. The reason I was able to do this is because I had a Dawayne Dewey rt lying dall sheep in my shop to try and mimic. Without that I would be lost. I mount a dozen or so lifesize sheep a year, I have no problem getting 6 or 7 grand for them. The reason I can do that is because I can purchase a sheep form from HQ, a form that I can throw a skin at and send a bill out. Is it a Dewey sheep? In some ways it is, you see it has enough of him in it that a decent skin applicator like myself can mount a Dewey like sheep and charge Dewey like money for it. This is an example of how far we have come in a good way. An example of how far we still need to go would something like Leopards. Lets face it, even though leopards can vary a great deal anatomically from each other, not yet have they evolved to look like the manikins we have to choose from. The more I study them, the more questions I have. To this day I have not seen a really awesome leopard mount. At some point, leopard taxidermy may become a thing of the past, thus rendering it fruitless from a sculptors perspective to spend the time and money to unravel their mystery. Lucky for us there are a few sculptures that the true artists have kissed with their hands and helps us skin applicators make a far better living than we had ever hoped.
    JL, Richard C and harriekat like this.

  3. Jerry Huffaker

    Jerry Huffaker Well-Known Member

    I'm a little on the fence on this one. But I do think there is something lost in these discussions. If it were just gifted artists doing taxidermy there would be very little taxidermy being done at all. There are a few die hards who believe every mount should be an original sculpture creation as in the Ackely museum days. If that were the case , again there would be very few pieces every created.

    Without the every day snap together taxidermist like me, there wouldn't be a multi million dollar industry, no McKenzie, no Research , no Headquarters, not taxidermy.net, no industry as we know it today. It would be virtually impossible for the very few gifted and talented artists to service the entire sporting industries demand for taxidermy.

    Phil has a great point, We have some extremely talented artists in our industry who have sculpted almost perfect mannikins we can use as a canvas for a starting point. Because of The way our industry has progressed over the last 40 yrs due to conventions, seminars, sculptors, large supply companies a person with average hand eye coordination and some knowledge of reference study can produce a customer quality piece at a fair price. Blue ribbon masters? Best in World? maybe not but a very clean representative mount for a hunters show room can be achieved by someone who doesn't have a lot of artistic talent.

    If it weren't for us " skin applicators" , there would be no industry. In my opinion you don't have to be Michelangelo to produce a solid customer quality mount.
    harriekat likes this.
  4. Museum Man

    Museum Man Well-Known Member

    I agree with all that being said. with the exception that the days of bad mounts are coming to an end. I still see some of the worst hellen keller taxidermy out there that is being passed off to customers with not only those producing the mounts not caring but also those customers using them as their taxidermists not really caring about how the mount looks. remember the days when you would show someone whats wrong with the mount they had done only to tell you that it looks great to them? they were only looking at the rack, not what was under it. as things progress in the industry, some things will still stay the same.
    JL, Richard C and harriekat like this.
  5. Jim McNamara

    Jim McNamara Well-Known Member

    My thought is that an artistic eye helps with finish work, i.e. Colors and blending. With habitat work , with design, composition. I see it more with fish finishing and bird work then any other endeavor. Perhaps another piece to this puzzle is having a passion for the "art" or trade. Then there is the desire to learn and improve ones abilities. Having viewed several of the pieces produced by both the gentlemen above I really do think it's more then just skin application, much more.
    harriekat likes this.
  6. Harum

    Harum Active Member

    If you want to call yourself an Artist then guess what, you become an Artist. Well, at least in your perspective you would be. Now, are you a talented artist or a cognitive Artist?
    The defining principles of the label Artist have been evolving sense their inclusion to our vocabulary. A person could have little to no artistic talent yet have incredible concepts and be considered an Artist. For that matter, the concepts don’t necessarily even need to be all that incredible. This conceptual quagmire of what defines an Artist has gotten so muddied by time that it has me scratching my head as to why so many craftsmen want that title. Maybe it is simply the misunderstanding of what the title implies. You might be interested to know that before photography came into existence the realistic Artist (the group we like to call talented) were called craftsmen.
    It has been my observation that this industry loves to belittle each other in an attempt to elevate themselves to a higher plane. I see so many cast judgment on those that they feel are less “Artistic” than themselves. Or at least less “Artistic” than their perception of themselves. So many times I see a pile on mentality when a taxidermy piece is offered up for persecution, for its lack of skill. Maybe we should consider the fact that there is always someone else out there that is more talented than you (no matter how much you think otherwise) and they could be looking at your website and wondering how you could possibly be casting judgment on others work. Let alone call yourself an Artist.
    Without the knowledge of the subject you intend to portray your talents and artistry will fail you. I feel this is the first priority for any craft or artistic endeavor.
    Craftsman, Artist, Taxidermist, Axidermatayist, call me what you want. Why does it matter so much?

    Phil, I rather like what you wrote. You are a humble man with an enormous amount of talent.

    harriekat likes this.

    TIMBUCK Active Member

    I agree with Rick, I believe a person does need to be "artsy' but I agree with Phil too. The hard work has been done.
    The use of and ability to read and apply reference is huge. I still struggle with this.. It helps in many ways from form selection to finish work.. It blows my mind(which is not hard to do)how many taxidermist never look at reference.. I would be lost without it..

    Oh and I do believe that the general public views us as artists.. So I've been told over the years.. When someone sees my work and says "wow your a true artist" my response is always, 100% of the time, "thank you BUT the true artists are the one who sculpted that manikin".. That's just my personal feelings on the subject...
    harriekat likes this.

    TIMBUCK Active Member

  9. catman

    catman Active Member

    I can say this for sure, there are a lot of mounts I have sent out the door that I secretly hoped no taxidermist would see. Not the I don't try, just that some things end up less than I hoped they would. Often I go into deep water only to later realize the current out there is stronger than I anticipated.
    That said, try to chew on this, when you worry about what other people are doing, you are hurting yourself. The market will decide if the 99% of garbage taxidermists will stay in business. Some taxidermists may not be as artistically gifted, but are outstanding business men. I worked for a man that took over his fathers business in 1959. By the early 90s his work had not changed a lot from the mounts he had done in the 70s. He built a name for himself as a sheep guy and still gets a pile of sheep as he passes his craft on to his grown son. He is a kind man with a dry yet clever sense of humor. He is alway upbeat and is generous in every way. He has also made millions of dollars. He and his son are now doing work for the great grandchildren of his fathers clients. This man lives everyday with integrity, yet there are those that would question his artfulness. The market has proven him a smashing success for over 50 years. I have never heard him badmouth any taxidermy or his competition. His life has been artistically lived through hard work and an encouraging heart. I want to be more like that guy and less like a guy that crows like a noisy little rooster.

    TIMBUCK Active Member

    Aint nothin wrong with that!!!!!!!!!
  11. Denton Shearin

    Denton Shearin 2009-Breakthrough Award, McKenzie Award,

    I have been a taxidermist for 34 years. I have been teaching others for the last 10 years.

    One of the first questions I ask a prospective student that contacts me about learning taxidermy is if they have any artistic ability. I teach 15-20 students per year and the ones that do have some type of artistic ability definitely pick it up quicker and become good taxidermist faster and become better taxidermist than those that do not have artistic abilities.

    With that said, having a successful taxidermy business has little to do with artistic ability.
    It depends more on doing decent work, charging a fair price and having a reasonable turn around time. Of the 3, turn around time is probably the most important.

    Just my experience and observations aka my 2 cents.
    harriekat likes this.
  12. Nathan

    Nathan Active Member

    I agree with Rick's original post, but the fact still remains that a lot of the sporting public cannot tell the difference between truly good, or excellent work. The determining factor more often than not seems to be the closeness of the relationship the customer has to the taxidermist. I have seen many mounts that lack any amount of anatomical accuracy or symmetry be judged as "good" by guys who desperately want to believe that they didn't waste their money on a mediocre (or worse), mount. Case in point: I was looking at a friend's collection, when he stated ":D.... was one of the best in the business". When I asked him why D... painted the belly of his Largemouth Bass hunter orange, he gave me a blank stare. I don't think that he is necessarily an exception. The same held true for all of this particular guy's game heads. They all lacked balance, symmetry, and simply looked like a "stuffed head". The fact remains that if you give an average guy a beautifully altered form that fits a given skin exactly, he will still not be able to attain a symmetrical, soft look to the mount that a real master could recreate. There will always be an upper echelon of taxidermists out there, and the industry standard, while notably improved over the work of a generation ago, will always be below the standard of the select few at the very top.
    harriekat likes this.
  13. Monte

    Monte Missouri fur-Limited hair-tanning

    Art is never going to be a contributing factor for success in taxidermy.

    Catman , has hit the nail on the head

    Now since 1971 I have employed over 600 different people in the tannery and taxidermy shop.
    In the mid seventies , at the suggestion of our national accounting firm we decided to give aptitude test to folks applying for jobs. and it turned out that the ones with the highest score in mechanical aptitude were much better at both tanning and taxidermy. They could interpret the reference much faster. I was surprised at the out come of test results as I thought the artist would be better. As it turned out , the artist were very handicapped in using tools. The mechanics would out preform in almost every case.

    your business skills is what will make you a success or not and I have had enough success and failures to know the difference . And , I could write a whole damn book on that.
    I would love to take taxidermy into the art venue and I am looking at ways to do just that. I would like a bigger audience to understand what taxidermy is and why some of us do it.
    my interest in taxidermy began in 1951 at the age of nine after a school trip to the museum of natural history in Kansas City. My interest in taxidermy was taxidermy nothing else
    harriekat likes this.
  14. Rick Carter

    Rick Carter Administrator

    First of all, I never referred to business success at taxidermy automatically equating into quality taxidermy. I have insisted for years that the people who produce the most lifelike work also happen to be very good artists. Second, Catman is blowing a lot of smoke up your behind to even insinuate to you for a millisecond that he is not a very talented artist. Third , your post implies that Mario Andretti's crew chief would have mounted a better deer than Leonardo DaVinci. God Bless you all and good night. LMAO!
    artwildcreate and harriekat like this.
  15. Monte

    Monte Missouri fur-Limited hair-tanning

    Rick, I have no argument with you. But, take your A-Z video, a WASCO form, and a cheap pair of eyes and Andretti's crew chief will come out on top.
    The monkey will never get the thing togather
    I am thrilled that you LYAO as laughter is very healthy

    Is catman's (I am well aware of who catman is) ability to interpret the reference art?
    I know from experience I stated above that someone can be very good at interpreting the reference and has a lot of trouble with the mechanical end of things

    If I am going to hire a new taxidermist and they have no experience, they are going to have to demonstrate interpretive skills first , I can teach them mechanics, and any art skills are going to come last and of coarse might be an asset in some custom presentations

    Rick, I do respect your accomplishments
    harriekat likes this.
  16. tomdes

    tomdes Me my dear and Fall BAZZ!!!


    I'm a firm believer that 'artistic talent' is a learned trait just like taxidermy, and some are much better and learn much faster than others. As you progress in taxidermy, your artistic talent also grows at a certain rate. Again, some can apply this talent better than others, some are more passionate and work much harder learning at getting it right.
    harriekat likes this.
  17. Carolin Brak-Dolny

    Carolin Brak-Dolny Active Member

    I say you have to have both technical capabilities and artistic abilities. You may be able to draw pretty animals and have nice composition but when you start to learn and apply the knowledge needed for taxidermy all of your artistic ability may fall out of your elbows before it gets to your hands.

    I know of a young mother who is just been in taxidermy for six years. She is going to be a real contender at competitions. She has the mechanical capabilities and the artistic ability. She does her own home improvement and she can present an animal (form made by herself) in an artistic way and It looks alive.

    I myself have built my own addition to my house, done my own repairs on the house, fix numerous items and vehicles. In my younger days even changed a motor in a race car. Today I am putting a deer head together and I will have to change the bladder in my cold water tank.

    You need both skills and you also need to be stubborn and the gumption to keep at it. It may also be that I am from Dutch heritage and am stubborn and cheap.

    Having business and personal skills is also another matter. You can be a mediocre taxidermist/artist and be very successful financially, by just having a great personality and knowing how to run a business with employees.. I know I do not work well with others .....so it is best I work alone and just get by financially. I know I am not going to get rich anytime soon for that reason.
    harriekat likes this.
  18. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    Oh you just had to go there, didn't you? I love all the self-aggrandizing that takes place here from the "me-better than you" crowd.

    #1. ART IS A TALENT, NOT A SKILL. You cannot be "taught" to be an artist. Just doesn't happen. Because someone told Grandma Moses she was an artist doesn't mean she was ever in the category of Normal Rockwell. Picasso is my favorite target as to a gullible public buying into the Emperor's new clothes.

    #2. There's as much shifty work our there now as it ever was. In fact, there's probably more because of the quality of the supplies available to the Nimrods out there doing it. Just like those "classes" I spoke of earlier, familiarity breeds contempt. Some beginner takes out Rick's tape and meticulously follows each step, striving to make a facsimile of what he or she is seeing on the screen. Not half bad, but by the time the second mount comes up, so does the tendency to think "I've got this", no need to wastch that part of the video. By the time number 10 comes by, a decision has been made: this is just not worth the effort or, You know I'm dumb enough to keep doing this as it's easier and easier on my comfort zone. I've had way more clients tell me straight up that they like my work but they don't pay that much attention to it. All they see is their "horns".

    Now I've probably been doing this for 20-30 years longer than Rick so let's use the two of us. Give us a deer of the same measurements, give us the same hide paste, the same clay, the same eyes, the same earliners, the same forms, and the same epoxie putties and paints. Put us into a room together with a blind between us. Who's deer do you think will look best? I know who I'm betting on and it ain't me.

    Most of you are simply in denial anyway. Taxidermy has slowly been sinking back underground. Oh, I can see the hand wrenching and clutching your chests. Many of you live in game rich and big hunting areas. You already get premium prices that your beginners are charging more than our professionals. But let me tell you how the other side of the world works. In the northeast and the upper northwest, the politics you hate to talk about have quietly eroded this industry. How many of you have looked at the boxes your supplies come in? Most of them don't include "Taxidermy Supply" or "Fur Dressing" on the boxes any longer. Why? Because the bunny hugging clans and political correctness have trashed enough shipments to teach them to avoid that. I have a friend "up north" who is an especially gifted ARTIST and a taxidermist. He does a great deal of museum work and restoration work for them. He doesn't get the work he once did because museums eschew "putting the skins of dead animals on forms".

    So if you're that rare big fish in a small pond, you shouldn't be so shortsighted to see the future. Taxidermy is still a luxury expense and when having to decided between the mortgage and the mount, the affinity for judging taxidermy wanes quickly. After all, it's just a "representation of the species."
    JL, artwildcreate and harriekat like this.
  19. Richard C

    Richard C Well-Known Member

    One of the last things you want to do up here in the Northeast is have your taxidermist shop name on your truck . If your young and out bar hopping looking for female company , you tell them when they ask you what you do, " I'm a tax attorney " , that's close sounding. You don't want to scare them off , remember 1960's movie Psycho ? That was when my friends and I were out looking around.
    Megan :), JL and harriekat like this.
  20. DL

    DL Well-Known Member

    Here's inside an artist's shop. Notice the Mannakin in the background. He will start with one of his choice and saw it up to create what he wants or carve his own. This is just normal days work for him. For some challenged people like me this is mind boggling. When I was working I could tear any truck up to a 10 wheel truck tractor down to the frame and rebuild it.. tearing a form apart, which I've done, does not come easy for me. I'm a person that has to learn by repetitive tasks. We have a 4600 sq ft home that I built but finish work is not my strong point at all. Girls and women come by artistic abilities far more than males. Starting in grade school girls printing and handwriting are for the most part are very neat. I took drafting in high school and once a month one project was to do a 6"x8" lined card with with the alphabet and 1-10 numbers repeatedly. Try as I might I could never get an A on one of those basic skill projects. I go to other taxidermist shops for training at least once a Year hoping that some of their skills will magically rub off on me. At least now I can blame some of lack of detail skills on arthritis in my hands, maybe brain too.

    harriekat likes this.