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Taxidermists are busy creating works of art

December 15, 2018

APOLLO, Pa. (AP) — Making a prize trophy — be it a deer, bear, turkey, mountain lion, zebra or any other mammal, fish or fowl — look lifelike through taxidermy for hunter or fisherman is a real art form, area taxidermists say.

“I like to create art, and that is what this really is,” said Randy Kanner, owner of Fur, Feathers & Fins Taxidermy of Washington Township, Westmoreland County.

Kanner got into the taxidermy business 16 years ago. He finds that his current profession gives him opportunities to display different skills than when he was an electrical engineer, before losing his job in 2000.

“I get to express my artistic side,” Kanner said.

To be a good taxidermist, “you have to show artistic skills, craftsmanship and knowledge of the species you are working on,” said Joel Zimmerman, director of the Northwoods Institute of Taxidermy, a Stoystown school that offers a 13-week course to prospective taxidermists.

The artistic nature of the business is on display to anyone who visits Kent E. Stryker’s World Class Animal Artistry studio along Route 119 in Salem. Mounted on walls or standing amid “rocks” or a wilderness scene he has created, Stryker makes a bear, cape buffalo, deer, mountain lion, zebra and other animals look as though they still were in the wilderness.

“I love drawing,” said Stryker, who will design the display with the client.

“To me, if you don’t do a good job, you are doing the animal injustice,” said Stryker, a former construction superintendent who started in the business in 1990 and served as a teacher at the former Pennsylvania Institute of Taxidermy in Ebensburg. He devoted himself full time to his taxidermy business in 2000.

“God has blessed me with a talent to do this,” Stryker said.

Getting the eyes properly set, the proper shape of the ears, as well as the nose and nostril, are critical in taxidermy, Zimmerman said.

Stryker agrees about the importance of attention to details.

“The eyes, to me, are the soul of the animal,” Stryker said.

“The details are the stuff that separate the really good taxidermists from the mediocre (ones),” Zimmerman said.

Stryker pursued a taxidermy license as a result of a bad experience with a taxidermist who had a good reputation. After spending money to have his deer mounted, the animal’s hair was falling out and there was nothing that could be done, Stryker said.

Done properly, “this stuff will outlast me, outlast my children and outlast my kids’ kids,” Stryker said.

One way of determining a good taxidermist is how busy they are, said Greg Bosich, owner of Greg’s Quality Taxidermy in Salem. He had a dozen deer skulls on his workbench Nov. 27, the day after the opening day of deer season.

“A good taxidermist will have a year or more backlog because they are a good taxidermist,” Bosich said.

Taxidermy is a competitive business and no more so than in Westmoreland County, which has 57 of the state’s 1,173 taxidermists licensed by the state Department of Agriculture. No county in the state has more: Allegheny has 36, and Fayette and Somerset counties each have 29.

So tough, in fact, that Stryker estimates that maybe only half of the licensed taxidermists are successful.

“This is such a crazy business,” Stryker said, noting that hunters may spend thousands of dollars on a hunt out of state or out of country, “then shop for the cheapest price for their taxidermy.”

The majority of the 240 students he taught in six years at the taxidermy institute were essentially “hobby taxidermists” — those who do taxidermy on the weekends and evenings, said Stryker, who has no plans to follow that path.

“I don’t see any retirement in my future,” he said. “I am passionate about it, and as long as my health, my eyesight, my dexterity holds up, I will do it.”

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Online:

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Information from: Tribune-Review, http://triblive.com

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