By Helen Colella
Kids of all ages like to bring home souvenirs from places they have visited, or from events they have attended. Once these special items are taken home, they’re often displayed in a special way so as to share their memories with others. If treated with care they can last a lifetime.Hunters, anglers, and wildlife hobbyists are a unique group who like to keep souvenirs they call trophies. These trophies cannot be purchased because they are the actual animals caught on their adventures. To turn them into keepsakes, they must be taken to a taxidermist for special treatment. Taxidermist’s clients can be found all over the world and all have different reasons for wanting to use the process of taxidermy—perhaps to mount a young child’s first fish catch, to commemorate a hunter’s catch, or to create an educational exhibit like those found in a museum.
Taxidermy is the creation of a life-like, three dimensional representation of animals for permanent display by combining different techniques of science and art. There are many aspects of taxidermy and it depends upon what species you’re interested in preserving that determine the process used. Birds, fish, mammals, big or small game, a game head, or a life-size animal specimen (bear), whatever you choose to preserve. requires a special skill to produce a finished project.
The word taxidermy itself comes from two Greek words: taxis, meaning movement; and derma, meaning skin. Loosely translated it means the movement of skin. It is an accurate description of many procedures used in this specialized field - the movement of skin.
Taxidermy has been around for a long time. Thousands of years ago when man first hunted for his food, he discovered the skins of his prey, when treated with certain substances, could not only be used for clothing and shelter, but also be preserved.
The first taxidermists were primitive hunter-gatherers who formed animal skins over mud and rock for use in their hunting rituals. Soon they realized the need for better and improved methods to preserve skins and developed ways to tan animal skins. The tanner became one of the most important members of the tribe.
Then as the demand for quality leather and skins grew, the methods became more and more sophisticated. In the 1700s, almost every small town had a prosperous tannery business.
By the 1800s, many hunters, both men and women alike, decided to make some of their “kills” into trophies. Most took their “catches” to upholstery shops where the upholsterers stuffed them with rags and cotton, then sewed up the animal skins. This process gave birth to the terms “stuffing,” or a stuffed animal which produced some terrible looking mounts and gave the business a bad reputation that still plagues the industry.
But thanks to Martha Maxwell, a naturalist and artist from Pennsylvania, who started her own taxidermy business in 1863 after being disappointed by the business as it existed at that time, the industry has evolved. Maxwell collected, prepared, and mounted her own skins, and turned the reputation of the profession around. She developed the idea of dioramas to depict animals in their natural habitat, established a museum in Boulder, Colorado, and was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.
Then in the early 20th century, artists such as Carl E. Akeley, William T. Horneday, Coloman Jonas, and Leon Pray developed anatomically accurate mannequins in pleasing poses and placed them in realistic settings. Their lifelike reproductions made two important improvements to the business of taxidermy. First, it did away with the previous crude, snarling, scary looking caricatures people called hunting trophies. Second, it made a more acceptable model for personal and educational display.
Today, taxidermy has developed into a full-fledged wildlife art form, and taxidermists are fine-artists in their own right. They must be knowledgeable in sculpting, painting and drawing as well as skilled in many crafts like carpentry, woodworking, tanning, molding and casting.
Students interested in pursuing careers in taxidermy must study anatomy, animal configuration, standing, running, and jumping and have first hand knowledge of animal habits and habitats. And this is only the beginning of the process of becoming a taxidermist.
There are several ways to learn this art: participate in hands on training, read technical manuals and booklets, videos, and magazines. However, the recommended way is to attend one of the certified taxidermy schools located all over the country. Check the following informative website that covers all aspects taxidermy: http://www.taxidermy.net. Then take a look at http://www.taxidermy.com to find the supplies wildlife artists need.
Taxidermy is not for everyone. But the combination of art and science techniques used in this unique process has to be respected. It requires special skills to produce the finished product that appeals to some hunters, anglers, wildlife hobbyists. Perhaps taxidermy is something to consider after your next outdoor adventure.