Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A few more of my own pieces...I love the look of the cats when mounted; always majestic.

Raccoons are not the most common of mounts, but they are beautiful animals with very precise markings that always show well.

Most folks don't realize how beautiful a bird Turkeys are. The males are beautifully colored and thier feathers are as soft as velvet.

Albinos...rare and beautiful. These are more examples of my work.

More Bear! All of these are my own handiwork...
Don't expect rugs (bear, coyote, etc.) to last any length of time if placed on the floor where they will be walked on. The constant foot traffic results in the hair breaking off and felt borders to pill and fray. Damage to ears, nose and jaws is more likely to occur.

Here are a few of my favorites from my own collection of work...hope you enjoy them!

Monday, July 18, 2005

I found this series of photos that I thought was interesting enough to share...hope you found them as entertaining as I did!

Duel to the Death
c. 1850?
Taxidermist unknown.
Two against one seems unfair, but the slain frog was quite a bit larger than the cheerful victors...
As if this scene wasn't violent enough, the loser also had his front foot severed.
From the private collection of T. S.R.

Squirrels in Pub: Taxidermist unknown.
This case was at auction and it was suggested by them to be the work of Walter Potter.
I feel that these squirrels are lacking the refinement of attitude in which Potter excelled.

The Prize Fight
Edward Hart
b. 1847 - d.1928
(Originally 6 cases?)
At Castle Ward in Ireland. On display in the Morning Room, also know as The Squirrel Room.

I'm often asked; "What IS Taxidermy?"

Well, Taxidermy is a general term describing the many methods of reproducing a life-like three-dimensional representation of an animal for permanent display. In some cases, the actual skin (including the fur, feathers or scales) of the specimen is preserved and mounted over an artificial armature. In other cases, the specimen is reproduced completely with man-made materials.

The word "taxidermy" is derived from two ancient Greek words; taxis, meaning movement; and derma, meaning skin. Therefore, loosely translated, taxidermy means the movement of skin. This is a fairly appropriate definition as many taxidermy procedures involve removing the natural skin from the specimen, replacing this skin over an artificial body, and adjusting the skin until it appears lifelike.

The modern practice of taxidermy incorporates many crafts, such as carpentry, woodworking, tanning, molding and casting; but it also requires artistic talent, including the art of sculpture, painting and drawing. In a modern deer head mount, for example, the only natural parts of the animal used are the antlers and the skin. All of the other organs and tissues are recreated with man-made materials. The eyes are made from glass, the eyelids are sculpted from clay, the soft tissues of the nose and mouth are sculpted from epoxy or wax, and the mannikin or "form" (which incorporates the anatomy of each muscle and vein) is made from polyurethane foam.

Today, some taxidermy mounts (most notably saltwater fish) do not contain any parts of the animal at all. They are completely re-created from man-made materials. This is ideal for catch-and-release anglers, who can release their gamefish unharmed, and can still have a life-sized trophy produced from a good color photo and measurements.

Works of taxidermy are displayed in museums, educational institutions, businesses, restaurants, and homes. There are many different methods for producing mounts (or re-creations) of different species.

Here's some info on HOME CARE for your mounts that I'd like to pass along.

NEVER use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust from any mount.

For small mammals( squirrels, hares, etc) use a feather duster to remove dust and dirt. You can also fluff the fur by using a hair dryer on low heat and low power. A quick once over with the hair dryer after using a feather duster will allow you to groom the mount with little effort. This method should also be used for freeze dried specimens

For larger fur bearing mammals ( fox, coyote, bears, etc) wipe the mount down with a damp cloth. When using the damp cloth, stroke with the hair, moving the cloth from the nose toward the tail. You can then gently groom the mount with the handle of an old tooth brush and a hair dryer. Make sure the hair dryer is set on low heat and low power.

For cloven hoove big game such as deer, sheep, antelope, etc., use only a damp cloth to wipe dust from the mount. Make sure you wipe with the hair, from nose toward tail(Shoulder in case of head mount).

For birds, simply use a feather duster, stroking the bird with the feathers( beak toward tail).

Never use windex or other glass cleaners on the eyes of a mount. The chemicals in some cleaners can work there way behind the eye and remove the coloration of the eye.

For extremely soiled mounts, contact your taxidermist about finding someone to professionally clean your mount.

Where you display your mount will affect the life of the mount. Placing a mount above a heavily used fire place or heat duct can cause the mount to excessively dry out. Excessive drying out can result in the hide cracking especially in the nose, eye and ear areas. Placing a mount in a damp dark room(Garage,basement, etc) will also ruin a mount.

Don't expect rugs( bear, coyote, etc.) to last any length of time if placed on the floor where they will be walked on. The constant foot traffic will result in the hair breaking off and felt borders will pill and fray. Damage to ears, nose and jaws is more likely to occur.
This a Big-Mouth Bass I did for a customer that turned out very well. The pic doesn't really do it justice...

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Largemouth bass are undoubtedly one of the most popular of all freshwater game fish. The largemouth is the largest member of the sunfish family. It generally has light greenish to brownish sides with a dark lateral line which tends to break into blotches towards the tail. Often confused with smallmouth and spotted bass, it is easily distinguishable because the upper jaw extends beyond the rear edge of the eye. Also, its first and second dorsal fins are almost separated by an obvious deep dip, and there are no scales on the soft-rayed second dorsal fin or on the anal fin.

The Bass Prefers clear, non-flowing waters with aquatic vegetation where food and cover are available. They occupy brackish to freshwater habitats, including upper estuaries, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ponds. Also, they can tolerate a wide range of water clarities and bottom types, prefer water temperatures from 65 to 85 degrees, and are usually found at depths less than 20 feet.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

These are photos of an ALASKAN COASTAL BROWN BEAR that I am currently working on. It's a beautiful animal that I've posed in a natural stance at my customer's request. It's been one of my more challenging pieces because of it's's huge!

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These are a couple of photos of the paws; it also shows the attention to detail...the 'water' is actually a chemical compound that, when dry, is so lifelike you would swear it was liquid.

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Mounted lifesize animals are both impressive to your customers and a beautiful statement to your skills as a taxidermist. However, by no means are they the easiest projects to complete. Often times there is not a form that fits absolutely perfect. To deal with this problem, a good practice to get into, if freezer space allows, is to save the skinned carcass until you receive your mannikin. By doing this, you can compare the carcass to the mannikin and, by using calipers, determine the small areas that may need to be customized to your specimen for easier fit. This saves wear and tear on the skin, as you will not have to test fit nearly as much. In addition, always try to take measurements for your mannikin from the skinned carcass. If possible, pose the carcass like the mannikin you are considering using. In some cases the pose of the animal can affect the measurements, especially the girth. By going off the carcass, you are comparing measurements much more accurately to the way your supplier does.

By studying the carcass and comparing it to the mannikin a wealth of valuable information can be learned and utilized on your project, including such things as, eye angle and depth, general body characteristics and anatomy that will help you with your lifesize projects.
Here's a few photos of a Bobcat that I did that I particularly like.

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As we all know, there is more than one way to skin a cat, but the two basic, and best ways, are the ventral incision and dorsal incision.
The ventral incision: The ventral incision is by far the best incision for competition bobcat or lynx mounts, or to achieve the highest quality mount.
Start with the bobcat lying on his back, and start the incision about 2 inches in front of the armpits in the center of the chest.
Always use a scalpel blade, which is razor sharp, so you`ll achieve a nice clean cut. Continue the cut down to the anus (cutting around the sex organs), and stop your cut about two inches onto the bottom of the tail. Now make a 3/8`s inch incision on the very tip (bottom side) of the tail so the tanning liquids will be able to flow through the tail.
The ventral is the only incision which is required to prepare this bobcat for taxidermy, but it does create a little more work when the mounting process begins, because there are no incisions on the legs to allow you to slide the skin onto the manikin without removing the head, and two legs of the mannikin.
For a beginner, the easiest skinning process will be the dorsal incision, in which you can just slide the mannikin down into the skin, less the head of course. Now back to the skinning…
After the main incision is complete, move up to one of the front legs, and start working the skin back towards the spine as far as you can. Then start inverting the front leg skin. Grab the paw and push it down towards the chest. Keep separating the skin from the leg until you have the skin removed around the whole leg leaving the forearm and paws to skin later. Take a bone saw and cut through the leg and continue to free the skin from the carcass up to the spinal area.
Now work your way towards the hind leg, separating the skin from the carcass. Once again, grab the paw and push the leg towards the belly of the bobcat, and keep working the skin around the leg until enough skin is separated from the carcass to make a safe cut with the bone saw.
Now that the leg is free, pull the skin back towards the spine, and continue to free the pelt from the carcass. Now return to the tail area, and continue to separate the skin from the tail up to the spot where you stopped your initial incision. Free the tail completely up to this point. You will have to skin some of the opposite rear leg and sex organs to achieve this.
Once the skin is free from the tail, grab the two inch portion of the tail and pull the rest of the tail bone out ( a tail puller or pliers will make this job easier, just use caution so you don`t damage the tail).
Once the tail is free, flip the cat over onto the side that you skinned already. Continue skinning the skin off the rear leg down to the ankle. Cut the leg off at this point and keep working to free the skin towards the front leg.
Skin the front leg down to his wrist, and cut through his upper leg with the bone saw. Now skin your way to the neck area, where you first started your incision.
At this point, you should record your eye to nose measurement if you haven`t already. Before you skin any further, make some cuts inside the mouth, to make sure youhave enough lip skin for tucking later.
Take a scalpel, and make a slice along the gumline. Just below the teeth, you`ll see where the base of the tooth protrudes through the gums. This is where you make your cut. Start in the rear of the mouth, and work forward on the lower jaw. After you have made this cut, start at the front of the lower lip and skin the whole lower jaw area back to the corner of the mouth so that the skin is free from the carcass; then go to the upper jaw and make the same slice along the gums like the lower jaw... don`t skin the upper jaw any further at this point.
Now, return to the neck area, and pull the skin over the skull. Grab the skin like a rope, just in front of the nose, and keep pressure on the skin as you work the skin toward the nose.
The ear butts on a bobcat are located on the back of the skull, so use caution in this area. Stick your hand up inside the skin and put your index finger inside the ear butt for reference. Make your cut at the very base of the ear. You`ll have to cut fairly deep through the muscle to reach the earbutt. Once you have made this cut, pull forward with your index finger and keep skinning the ear forward. Now skin the opposite ear in the same fashion. Once both ears are cut at the butts, keep skinning forward, towards the eye.
Here again you should place your finger inside the eyelid, and pull forward as you skin. You will feel the eyelid with your finger so you`ll know where “NOT” to cut. Slice through the membrane on the back of the eye, and work with caution until the skin around the eye is free from the carcass.
Now move your finger down into the corner of his mouth, behind his actual lip, and pull out and forward. Slowly cut through the back of the membrane until you can see inside his mouth. At this point look for the slice you made inside his mouth, and cut along this point until you get about halfway to his nose, then flip the bobcat over and skin the other eye and mouth area as you did before.
Your lower jaw skin should now be free from the carcass, so continue freeing the skin along the upper jaw line until you get to the nose area. You will see the cartilage of the nose as you work forward. Make a cut down through the cartilage and remove the skin down to the lip. At this point take your length and circumference measurements off the skinned carcass.
Now it`s time to finish skinning the legs and feet. Take a paper towel and wrap around the leg of the carcass and pull the leg away from the paw. Continue skinning the leg down to the foot pads. Keep skinning through the foot pads until you reach the toe digits. On the front paw you will have to cut the dew claw off before you reach the foot pad. A good pair of dikes is handy for cutting the claw from the last digit joint. Skin the two outside toes first, clear to where the claw hooks to the last digit joint, then use the dikes and free the claw. The skin on the hind feet will be fairly tight as you work your way down to the paw. Just take your time and it will invert like the front feet.
Now that the bobcat is completely skinned from the carcass, you can prepare to turn the ears, and split the lips and split the eyelids in preparation for salting.
Starting with the lips, just above the whisker area, pull the lip back with your thumb as you split the lips. Keep separating the lip until you`ve completely split it to the very edge.
For the eyes, place yourindex finger inside the eye and use your thumb to keep pressure on the skin as you start cutting. Keep splitting the eyelid until you see faint yellow eyelash butts. Getting fast at splitting eyes and lips takes time and experience, so just be patient and take your time.
Turning the ears is basically the same principle...put your fingers inside the ear, and use your thumb to help separate the skin from the cartilage. Keep working the skin away from the cartilage until you're to the very edge, and tip of the ear.
The nose is fairly simple. Put pressure under the nose with your index finger and cut down through the center of the cartilage until it opens up completely. Then pull the cartilage back with your thumb and keep separating it from the nose pad... pretty much leave the nose just like this until the tanning process is complete.
At this point, flesh as much fat and red meat off the pelt as you can. You can use a fleshing horn to clean the excess meat off the anal area, then use non-iodized salt and cover the fleshside of the skin with about a half inch of salt. Rub the salt in the lips, eyes, and ear location and then cover the head in salt.
Don`t forget to salt the inside of the tail where we didn`t make the incision...use a Q-tip with the cotton cut off one end to push the salt down into the tail. Don`t pack the salt in the tail, just work the Q-tip back and forth until you see salt coming out the end of the tail.
Leave the skin salted overnight, then shake off the salt and re-salt for another 12 hours. After the second salting, hang the skin to dry in a low humidity environment until it is dry.
The dorsal incision: The dorsal incision is probably the most popular choice for most taxidermists.
The cut starts just below the skull, and continues down the center of the back until you reach the tail. You will have to continue to cut onto the tail for about an inch so you can remove the tailbone, and don`t forget to put a 3/8`s inch slice on the end of the tail (bottom side) for the tanning liquids to pass through the tail.
The rest of the skinning is basically covered under the “ventral incision”. The feet, and facial features are the same as stated above.
This is a Fox Squirrel...not so common. It's a fine example; it's coat is thick and black. Here I have it mounted the way it is in it's natural setting.

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This is a grey fox...another beautiful animal. Many people think that it's illegal to mount foxes; but that's a misconception. It's perfectly legal, and they make for great mounts.

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Here's a Wild Boar...difficult to bag, but another cool mount for anyone's trophy wall.

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Here is a Caribou that I've's an awesome animal. Note the intricacy of it's rack.

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These are some examples of White Tail Deer...very common kill in these parts. (The Caribou is among these on my display wall)

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And here's an example of the creative...a White Tail posed as if grooming himself. This made for a very unique and interesting mount. (Note the rack is still covered in it's felt...)

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Whitetail Mounting Tips
by Mark McLain

Whitetail Deer are the number one game animal harvested in the United States, and therefore, the most mounted species as well. Just like human beings are all different, whitetail also have differences in facial features such as head width, muzzle width, and length of head.

When you are measuring the skull to find the proper size mannikin, do yourself a big favor: don’t just measure the eye to nose and neck. Take an eye width measurement also. Measure the distance between the front corners of each eye and the distance between the rear corners of the eye sockets. This is the bone width not the skin of the eye opening.

Most taxidermist do not consider this as a vital measurement, but from experience of fighting different mannikins on the market to get the face and head skin to fit properly, I find it to be very valuable.

Remember that once the bone is dry it will lose a small amount of width from shrinkage, sometimes up to 3/16th of an inch. So measure your skull right away when you get it in. When you get your mannikin take the same eye width measurements on the form and compare with your skull measurements. If they are substantially different, now is the time to alter your form.

You will find that if you alter this distance to compensate for the unique face of each whitetail you will have better success in fitting your skin on your mount. It is a simple procedure, which, if done, will improve your mount and save you time from fighting to fit the face later.

To alter the eye width of your mannikin, cut the head from the mannikin. Make the cut from the throat latch up to the back of the head, just missing the head block in the mannikin. Next, determine the difference of the width of your deer from the width of the mannikin to find how much you need to add or remove.

To lessen the width, find the center point between the eyes on the top of the head, split the difference from left to right and mark those points. For example, if the difference is one inch from bone width to mannikin width (from front corner to front corner), your marks left and right of center point will be 1/2 inch on each side of center.

Now, take the distance between the rear corners and compare that with your mannikin. Mark this difference as you did with the front corner measurement.
Lay a straight edge on the top of the head, line up your two marks and draw a line from the back of the head through both rear and front corner hash marks. Do this through both left and right sides.

Next, you will use the band saw to cut out the wedge you have just drawn, it will be pie shaped. After you remove this piece, clean the rough cut foam of all dust, then epoxy the head back together.

Have some duct tape handy. Mix up your epoxy and apply it in the void. Squeeze head together and wrap with duct tape. After the epoxy has set up, epoxy the head back onto the mannikin. You may have to rasp the juncture of the head and neck to have a smooth transition.

Whenever you take a piece of foam out of a mannikin save it! You will probably need it in the future. Chunks of foam always come in handy when you really start observing the different shapes and widths of the specimens that come into your shop.

If you find that your mannikin eye width is too narrow simply follow the steps above to draw your hash marks. This tells you the size of foam wedge you need to insert. Instead of cutting out a pie wedge from the mannikin, simply slice the head through the center line, stopping about 1/2 inch behind the nostril openings. Take a piece of foam and force it into the slice you made until you have forced the head apart the desired amount. Pour foam into the rest of the void to fill and epoxy the head back together as before.

You will find that if you make these measurements and alter your forms accordingly, life will be much easier in your studio. The eye skin will fall into place and the problem of fighting those mannikins will be gone.

Use this technique on any of the popular whitetail forms for easier mounting, or start with a First Honest Whitetail and avoid having to make these kinds of alterations in most cases. Mike Frazier has sculpted the First Honest Whitetail in such as way that the face fits much more easily than other brands.