Obviously as we learned from Mitford's article, embalming can be quite an ugly art form but morticians must have a lot of skill to do it properly. Another little known skill that resembles embalming is taxidermy and surprisingly enough it to requires a lot of expertise as well. Taxidermy is a skill that is perfected through practice. There are no universities or schools that give degrees in taxidermy thus making it a coveted skill that is learned through practice and unfortunately grotesque mishap. Most taxidermists are art science students with an appreciation of nature, and a business oriented mind. There are many taxidermists such as myself however who simply mount animals in their garage as a hobby for themselves and companions.
Different animals require different procedures dependent upon their size, stature and the positioning the customer wishes the animal to be displayed as. A bear on his hind legs with his claw in the air is going to be a longer mounting process then a moose head mounted only from the shoulders or even a pheasant mounted in a position of flying with the wings spread out. It is important to remember that an animal is stuffed with an entire new set of insides with only skin remaining from the original animal. It is not a process of embalming the veins and arteries with fluid such as the case with humans. Taxidermy is an art that must be appreciated; perfection is a must especially when dealing with high paying clients. If indeed ready, then let us move onto the taxidermist's table and start the artistic process.
The actual process of mounting an animal is quite captivating. The animal is not laid out on a nice table, as is the case with a human body, instead the animal is hung from the ceiling preferably by its back limbs. The taxidermist will then use a scalpel like knife to remove all the skin from the animal. During this process the taxidermist takes his time and makes very accurate measurements on each section that is removed, and the incision marks are kept to a minimum. After removing all the skin they are sent off to the tannery. The tannery is a process that dries the skins. They are literally in an intense dryer for 3 months. In the case of a bird; i.e. pheasant or duck this process is much more gruesome, but a lot easier. A small incision is made from the rectum down toward the stomach of the bird. The inside of the bird is then squeezed downward from the neck excreting all of the insides of the bird. The bird is then flayed open and the cleaned out further. This skin can then be set aside until later use, however in my experiences it has proven much better outcomes when it is placed into a freezer.
While the skin of the animal is tanning, the real work begins for the taxidermist. The taxidermists must now use skills in drawing, anatomy, natural history and sculpture. A sketch of how the final product will look is drawn, then using everything from wire, wood chips, plaster or paper mache' and even polyurethane molds that are accurate to the inch, a model is constructed. This model is what the skin will eventually be stretched back over to create the final product. Some historical books on the matter have early records of the first taxidermists using simple substances such as straw to simply stuff into the dead animals. Some researches such as Carl E. Ackeley proved that mountain men even used rocks to fill a dead animals body and make it appear lifelike. While many of these uses were ritual driven and used by tribes for celebrations or mourning they were the start of the modern art form of taxidermy, and makes it easy to see how far taxidermy has come to the polyurethane molds that are used today. After completing this relatively easy task of forming a base mold, the real work begins. The taxidermist next incorporates the ribs, muscles and hollows into the sculpture. Since the taxidermist will not be able to see how it will look for sure until the skin is put in place they must...
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