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Illinois hunting and fishing

Levi Gresham, 12, mounted this raccoon just as it might have been discovered lounging in a gardener’s flower box. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.

Preserving the outdoor experience

March 27, 2010 at 08:19 AM


Want to go?

What: 30th anniversary Illinois Taxidermist Association Convention

Where: Northfield Inn Suites and Conference Center, 3280 Northfield Drive, Springfield

When: Showroom open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $3 adults, free for children 12 and under


Taxidermist Jake Phillips wants his work to elicit an emotional response from a viewer — as would any fine artist.

Phillips and many other accomplished taxidermists are coming together this weekend for the 30th year to compare their work, pick up tips and compete to see which artists capture the outdoor experience in a unique and realistic way.

As part of the Illinois Taxidermist Association Convention in Springfield, the public may view displays today and Sunday at Northfield Inn Suites and Conference Center.

“In some places you will see a dead animal on a wall,” Phillips says. “But if you come to a show like this, you can see a story. To me, you are going to see a live mount.”

Phillips, of Pana, was putting the finishing touches on his mount Thursday night at the conference center, while other taxidermists were arriving and setting up for the show.

Phillips’ mount is a white-tailed buck he killed on his farm. The buck appears to be coming through a grassy fencerow toward the viewer. The mount is seen on a tabletop, not hanging on the wall.

“Everything pretty much came from his environment on my farm — the hedge post, grass and shed antlers,” he says.

‘It is an art’
Peter Sweitzer of Lerna, president of the taxidermist association, has been a fulltime taxidermist since 1989.

He says he was drawn to taxidermy because of his love of the outdoors, wildlife and hunting and fishing.

And he thinks taxidermy has a proper place in the outdoors experience.

“I don’t promote killing animals just for the mount,” he says. “But if you are going to hunt and eat the meat, taxidermy is one way to preserve the memory of the hunt.”

He responded to an Outdoor Life Magazine ad in the 1970s that offered a way to learn taxidermy at home.

“In 1989, I had enough work in my freezer to last me four to six months,” Sweitzer says. “And I thought, ‘I’m going to try it,’ and I’ve never been caught up since.”

Taxidermists have to be observant in order to be accurate. They have to understand an animal’s natural history and behavior.

Eyes are important to the animal’s expression and the mount’s believability.

“Eyes are the windows to the soul,” Sweitzer says.

A good taxidermist, he says, becomes in control of his or her art in the same way an painter learns to control a brush.

“But we take it further and work in three dimensions,” Sweitzer says. “It is an art.”

Mounts are judged by taxidermists with an impressive list of championships under their collective belts.

Sweitzer says judges will even peer into noses and ear canals with flashlights, looking for details and attention to accuracy that will set one mount apart from the others.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Life stories

And while some taxidermists like Sweitzer have decades of experience, others are just starting out.

One mount, created by Levi Gresham, 12, son of taxidermist Justin Gresham, shows a raccoon sprawled out in a window flower box, just as a surprised gardener might have discovered it.

“And everybody wonders how their flowers get mashed,” Justin says with a laugh.

The Greshams live in Pawnee and the elder Gresham works in Springfield for City, Water, Light and Power.

In the adjoining room, Phillips was grooming his mount, getting it ready for judging.

And if all goes as planned, the mount will be realistic enough the viewer — or hopefully the competition judge — to wonder what the animal was thinking, Phillips says.

“When you are able to move the emotion of the viewer, then you’ve done what the art of taxidermy means to do.”


Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

My Buddy is down there!

Posted by HawgNSonsTV on 03/27 at 02:55 PM

Looks like I’ll miss that convention….again.

Posted by Marc Anthony on 03/27 at 07:36 PM

sure was nice those two days…

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/31 at 09:04 AM

I have had Phillip’s Taxidermy do four of my deer and a couple of turkeys—he does a good job.  I think he got third place, which is pretty good!!!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/09 at 02:45 PM

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