They Killed’em, He Filled’em, I Helped
What it was like to work for a Taxidermist; I got to see a lot of animals from the inside out.
For about a year I was an assistant to a taxidermist. That was as long as my heart and soul were mesmerized by the process of helping to make taxidermy mounts. It was a given that over time the indignity of what was being done to these noble creatures with souls and presence would outweigh my fascination.
“Arms straight out and stiff, hands grasping the neck of closed pillow cases; it was not unusual for grown men to come into the shop with live rattlesnakes….”
NOTE: This is not an anti-hunting piece, nor is it meant to disrespect hunters or taxidermists. I got to see and handle hundreds of native animals up close. The work done by the taxidermist was almost always respectful and done to preserve the dignity and inherent beauty of the animal.
How I Began Working with the Taxidermist and Learned to Paint Fish
I worked for a taxidermist when I was a much younger person, during the second half of many years spent in private art colleges.
He found me.
He needed someone who could mix colors accurately to paint the beaks of ducks. He also needed someone to paint around the eyes and in some cases inside the mouths of his mounts. These parts of the deceased animals lost their vibrant color in death. Initially the taxidermist would point to a color in a picture in a book and say, “that orange, can you mix that color to paint this part of the duck’s beak?” I got the hang of it pretty quickly. In a short time I taught myself how to paint with an airbrush and it became a big part of my job, to airbrush the fish he mounted.
He had a very successful taxidermy shop which was located a few blocks east of the Mississippi River and across the street from a large hunting supply store. Both the taxidermy shop and the hunting store were the only ones of their kind around for hundreds of miles. Business was very brisk at both places.