1. Welcome to Taxidermy.net, Guest!
    We have put together a brief tutorial to help you with the site, click here to access it.

THE WINNING EDGE IN COMPETITIONS - Skill vs Results

Discussion in 'The Taxidermy Industry' started by Joe Kish, Mar 1, 2018.

  1. Joe Kish

    Joe Kish Well-Known Member

    623
    1,171
    Texas
    Once more the convention season is off and running and the excitement is slowing building. While the how-to classes presented at conventions are a valuable part of the show, the competition part is still THE big draw.

    As the sole instigator of taxidermy competitions, (in 1976) it was my purpose to provide an opportunity for all practitioners of the art to exhibit their skills and achieve public recognition. Traditionally, if you couldn’t claim you had trained at a large firm like Jonas Bros. or in a museum, it was harder for smaller operators to advertise their experience and competence to customers. With the advent of competitions, ribbons and trophies in one’s studio show room cured that overnight.

    As the sole innovator of these contests, I had to devise a fair and credible way to measure the technical accuracy as well as the visual artistry of entries. I decided the best way to do this was to devise a list of criteria with numerical point values which a judge would record on a scoresheet rather than using the excellent, very good, good, fair, yardstick. It seemed that this was the best way to asses an entrant’s skills without disappointment or controversy. I felt like I was going where no man had gone before. That I succeeded on a grand scale is a matter of record. All competitions today still use the same basic categories and scoring system but not the rigorous standard that a competitor has to do it all himself.

    Back then bird and fish men were still mostly wrapping excelsior bodies and carving their own fish blanks but commercial paper forms were still widely used for game heads and lifesize mammals and it took lots of skill (and work) to reshape existing paper forms and perfectly model eyes, noses and feet up to museum standards. Too few could execute the Akeley method (model, mold and cast) or were well practiced with wrapping or carving techniques. The hard challenges of those early competitions as demonstrations of practiced skill still exist, but no competition today requires that all competitors must make their own forms or wrap, carve or cast their forms in all categories. It isn’t necessary either, as most associations are comprised of mostly non-professionals and hobbyists.

    Taxidermy Review competition judges were instructed to grade the degree of the competitor’s skill as evidenced in the mount, rather than grade the mount per se as something distinct from the skills that produced it. In other words, the competitor had to do it all himself with the concession that glass eyes and plastic mouth parts, which required industrial machines to produce, were a fair and logical substitute for the natural parts.

    As state associations organized and put on competitions, the emphasis was solely on the mounts themselves with little particular regard to the skills it takes to create them. Now if an entry is made up entirely of a supplier provided form, ready-made earliners, noses and mouth parts, or a fish blank with fake fins, or a waterfowl with a fake head and feet, it doesn’t matter. To this generation of practitioners and judges the mount itself is the only arbiter of excellence, no matter who engineered everything but the cape and antlers. This may sound like an unnecessary distinction between skill and results, but master taxidermists like Jean Roll and our late friend Jan Van Hoesen, and others too numerous to name here, are still celebrated for their skills which showed trend setting virtuosity in results. (With an equal nod to Carolyn Brak-Dolny.)

    Today’s competitions now seem to be a test of the average competitor’s ability to select a popular form and how skillfully he/she integrates a fake nose (read artificial if you prefer) or other prefab parts into his entry. Realistically, the clean application of a skin over a form is easily and quickly learned and not that difficult to master. Hundreds upon thousands of blue ribbons since 1976 have testified to the fact.

    Don’t misunderstand, my facts or opinion in no way denigrates anyone who has won his ribbons under existing rules. But when rules in sporting events become too easy to win, they raise the bar to increase the challenges. Today’s taxidermy competition managers keep lowering the bar by adding superfluous categories and personality awards, (often without membership’s knowledge or approval) just to create more winners.

    Nevertheless if you want to put real spin on your chances of winning a blue ribbon, why not rely on supply companies to give you a legitimate edge? And when you’re up front at the awards banquet collecting your award and a generous check which covers the expenses in your winning mount, remember to thank the people behind the scenes who made your win possible. Suppliers would appreciate the courtesy.

    And suppliers can thank me for invigorating their industry by providing perfect incentives through competitions to produce new and better products at a time when the supply industry was as lethargic as fish in a pond covered in duckweed.

    Lastly, read my book, A Conversation With Carl Akeley. It’s full of information and reference to sources that will boost your confidence toward a winning edge. Small differences in ability can translate into enormous differences in results. Go for it and good luck.
     
    H.Buffington and artwildcreate like this.
  2. Cole

    Cole Amateur Taxidermist

    After reading this post I'm of the impression that you are both out of touch with the demands of successful commercial taxidermy, as well as competition taxidermy. In order to run a successful commercial shop one must utilize as many manikins/parts as they can in order to remain profitable. Sculpting every bobcat or whitetail that comes into the shop just isn't practical. Like it or not, when doing this for a living one has to weigh custom artwork with profitable output, and find a balance somewhere therein.

    As for competitions, everything you mentioned is being done at every competition I attend. Yes, competitors are using artificial fins...that they mold and cast themselves. Yes, competitors are using synthetic bills and feet...that they reproduced themselves. I just returned from a taxidermy show this past weekend that I had the honor of judging. There were whitetails with custom earliners, and mouth parts. I believe most were on commercial manikins, but had been altered a great deal. All of the fish I judged were on bodies created by the competitor. Fins and heads custom molded and cast by the competitors. There were small and large life size mounted on completely original forms. One was a carcass cast camel. The competitor's that won with birds also created their own forms, and artificial parts. Are there more products available from suppliers than there were back in the 70's? Yes. Will you see some of these products utilized in the competition room, especially by those competing in the open divisions? Yes. However, to make such a claim that today's competitions are nothing more than manikin popularity contests is ridiculous, ludicrous, and frankly untruthful. Not only are competitors today using 40 year old techniques as well as innovative new approaches to the art...they are better at it than those that came before them.
     

  3. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    1,209
    214
    Iowa
    2 Corinthians 11:30
    If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
     
  4. wa

    wa Thanks John...this depicts me better

    951
    1,090
    My competition started in 68 with myself I'm still in it.
    PS... Taxidermist have always been in "competition" long before 1976
     
  5. Joe Kish

    Joe Kish Well-Known Member

    623
    1,171
    Texas
    Cole,
    You haven't a clue who Joe Kish is much less my background, experience and knowledge of the art and industry. To shoot from the hip and say straight out that I am out of touch with commercial and competition taxidermy reveals your ignorance in the plain absence of examples or evidence.
    Your response to anything I write is typical Cole: Wandering off point, accusatory and ending up negative, negative, negative. You don't like the message so you attack the messenger.
    Example:
    "....However, to make such a claim that today's competitions are nothing more than manikin popularity contests is ridiculous, ludicrous, and frankly untruthful."

    I made no such claim. Therefore a claim that wasn't made can't be "....ridiculous, ludicrous, and frankly untruthful." Either you are not a careful reader or something else.

    I don't know you beyond what I've read on this forum. But judging from the number of "likes" your response received, I suspect that there are plenty more much like you out there. If you need more material to take pot shots at me send me your email and I'll send you a doozy that stunned the entire board of directors of the TTA into total, I mean total, silence. There's enough Joe Kish in that one piece that you'll need a case of ammo at least.
    To be fair however, for the most part the majority of practitioners today (It would be incorrect to refer to all who practice this art as "taxidermists") don't care a wit about the past, present, or future of the art. They do it for the recognition and as a source of compensation (money). All are at liberty to do as they wish. I have no problem with that (anymore.)
    P.S. It's not a piece of cake to be a judge is it? But it is something of an honor.
     
  6. socalmountainman

    socalmountainman Northwestern School of Taxidermy - Class of '73

    Mr. Kish, I do know who you are and I want to Thank You sir for all the contributions you have made to this art of taxidermy. It is because of people like yourself who were never greedy or secretive about new methods and ideas that many of us held on to that desire of continuing to practice and improve our taxidermy skills. I too learned it from that mail order course as you and it was always exciting to have the new lesson booklet come in the mail or the monthly magazine subscriptions in a time before video and in-person schools. So Thank You Mr. Kish for your continued dedication to this ever-changing art. Joe IMG_2255.jpg
     
    TIMBUCK, Cecil, Skywalker and 3 others like this.
  7. Cole

    Cole Amateur Taxidermist

    If I wandered from your point, it could only have been because it eluded me. I addressed only things you mentioned in your post. Example: "Today’s competitions now seem to be a test of the average competitor’s ability to select a popular form..." Next post: "(nothing more than manikin popularity contests) I made no such claim." Where ever did I get that from? If anyone is wandering, it's you Mr. Kish. What does the TTAI have to do with a conversation about making manikins and the evolution of the taxidermy competition?

    If you re-read my post it was not negative at all. I am obviously pro-competition. I actively compete and judge. I made mention of some great works of art I had the pleasure of admiring this past weekend, many of which were completely done by the competitors. I mentioned the incredible things today's competitors were doing, achieving a level of realism and accuracy never before obtained. If you see all of that as a negative, then perhaps you're just being cantankerous.

    Just because you don't know who I am, doesn't mean I don't know who you are. I know plenty, probably more than you would like. I didn't "attack" you because I didn't like your message. I didn't "attack" anybody. I completely disagree with your message, as it was portrayed, and I explained why. That is all. Feel free to respond with more condescending remarks, I strangely enjoy them. I'm also quite fond of you referring to yourself in third person, so more of that would be great too. For what it's worth I do agree with you about one thing: Being asked to judge is an honor. For an organization to recognize my knowledge, skills, integrity, and abilities to teach, so much so that they would compensate me for my time, really means a lot to me and I will do my very best each and every time I'm contracted to do so.
     
  8. jim tucker

    jim tucker Active Member

    3,041
    21
    Get off my lawn!!
     
    Doug Motgomery and JR like this.
  9. Cory

    Cory Keep an eye on quality!


    I may be wrong here, but I believe the "old timers" if you may were compensated also. Or did they do the work for museums without compensation and just out of the sheer joy of doing taxidermy?
     
    rogerswildlife and Steven Klee like this.
  10. Joe Kish

    Joe Kish Well-Known Member

    623
    1,171
    Texas
    Cory,
    You are not wrong. In fact you are absolutely correct in your belief. Old timers, part-timers and some-timers were compensated also, as you well know.

    However, the old timers you reference were not “…the majority of practitioners today…” which I was referencing. Old timers were practitioners of an era commonly accepted to refer to two generations and more in the past. I was writing about category A - living people, - and you were asking about category B – except for a dwindling minority like myself, are mostly dead guys. I hope that clears it up for you.

    Read my book and learn about numerous magnificently accomplished old timers whose legacy in museums are still practically matchless even in this age of (dare I say it?) snap-together taxidermy.
    P.S. One doesn't have to work in a museum to do masterful works of taxidermy art. As you well know.
     
    socalmountainman, DFJ and Cory like this.
  11. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    1,209
    214
    Iowa
    Joe,
    As the “sole instigator and innovator” of these competitions I would love to see your work that is at the highest pinnacle of the art you say has gone by the wayside. Or do you just write about these true works of art that modern day folks can’t achieve?

    I too know more about you than you might think, and it ain’t all roses. People on the sidelines are always the toughest critics. The comments you have made on this site about Mike Orthober and James Newport in particular are embarrassing to your name and so called legacy..
     
  12. Joe Kish

    Joe Kish Well-Known Member

    623
    1,171
    Texas
    Brian,
    Readers would have been better served from you with some intelligent commentary on my facts and opinions. Your response here is nothing but a cheap shot strictly intended to injure not to enlighten.

    To a Louse
    (poem) by Robert Burns (Standard English translation)

    "Oh, would some Power give us the gift
    To see ourselves as others see us!
    It would from many a blunder free us…."

    “When I am dead, I hope it may be said: "His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.” – Hilaire Belloc
     
    artwildcreate likes this.
  13. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    1,209
    214
    Iowa
    Very sorry Mr. Kish, I should have limited my question and not pointed out
    Injury has already been done by you sir. About this exact topic. Remember when you wrote that silly letter to a dead man about a 2nd in World piece? Also remember telling folks to be wary of a certain bird guy judging their pieces since he has some stuff sold in a certain catalog? New awards at shows are a good thing, not filler. These shows are a celebration of the art, and if you aren’t supportive of that I feel sorry for you since you “invented” everything, lol
     
    rogerswildlife likes this.
  14. TIMBUCK

    TIMBUCK Active Member

    Joe, you know I know who you are and all that you have done for this industry, its obvious some on here do not. That's ok but maybe they should not be so judgemental.. Anyway I'm with Socalmountainman in my thanks and appreciation for the trails that you and others like you, have blazed.. Your Bobcat manikins, IMO, are still the best on the market..
    Now with that being said there are a lot of taxidermists in competitions these days who ARE putting in the work. Work that even you would appreciate.. I only attend the Texas show(for about 15 years now)but over the years, although I'm not one of them, I have seen more and more taxidermists(competitors) sculpting, molding and casting every part imaginable including manikins, body and mouth parts, trees, habitat parts and the list goes on and on.. Custom manikins and custom habitats are pretty common in competitions these days actually especially at the "masters" level... You'd be surprised I think... The talent(skill level)is pretty amazing and inspiring.. Granted the molding and casting supplies are better and more readily available than they were years ago nonetheless it still takes a vision, raw talent, a love for the art and a strong desire to do what is being done today..
    It is impressive...
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2018
    artwildcreate likes this.
  15. Cole

    Cole Amateur Taxidermist

    Timbuck, I take exception to your first statement that some on this thread do not know who Joe Kish is. I'm fairly confident after going through the list of names of those that have responded, that all of us know exactly who he is. I can know who he is, and disagree with his statement. I find it amusing that after you accused me (and others) of being judgmental, the rest of your post agreed completely with what I said, and contradicted Joe's claims.

    I would ask Joe, as the "sole innovator" of taxidermy contests (which I would argue actually started in the 1800's), what made those early taxidermy competitions better than the competitions held today?
     
  16. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    1,209
    214
    Iowa
    I am still waiting to see or hear about Kish competition triumphs. The way he judges everyone else and silly new awards he has to have so many best in shows it will make our heads spin. Please let us know of your masters pieces that show your prowess, I’m assuming they all scored 100?
     
  17. Jerry Huffaker

    Jerry Huffaker Well-Known Member

    2,477
    282
    Crickets
     
  18. Jerry Huffaker

    Jerry Huffaker Well-Known Member

    2,477
    282
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....
     
    Cole likes this.
  19. Western Wildlife Art Studio

    Western Wildlife Art Studio STUDIO PHONE (406) 356-2100

    marking