It seems the deeper and deeper you go into taxidermy, the more you find out it seems to be highly addicting.
Some common personality traits that seem to be common amongst all taxidermists are the drive for perfection, and knowledge. No matter where you go, if there is a high end taxidermist giving a seminar, most likely, they will at some point in time refer you to your states’ taxidermy association; mostly for education and the ability that occurs within the phenomenon, “strength in numbers”.
I’m not sure where a lot of you got your start in taxidermy or where it seems to be leading you, but if you strive to get better; your states taxidermy association is a good place to start. Out of this comes my “out of the box” article on what to expect when attending your first state show and what may or may not occur there. It seems everywhere you look people are telling you to go to the show, but not how.
First off I must say, it’s not rocket science, or for that fact, taxidermy science. It has been said that the three most important things in business are location, location, and location. With that being said, before you enter your first competition, three things that will help you out in a competition room are positive attitude, positive attitude, and positive attitude.
1. As you may have already figured out, you will need to contact your states’ association. There are many easy ways to accomplish this feat. The best way would seem to be via internet. The website, taxidermy.net, probably has all of the information you need to accomplish this task. Along with names and numbers, you may also run into fellow patrons who would be glad to have you come to the show. Do not be afraid to call the number provided and ask questions, if it is your first show you probably have a lot of questions. You will generally run into someone who is willing to put forth their time and energy to help you along.
2. Once you have figured out if your state has an association and how to get in contact with them, the next item would be to figure out when they hold their annual convention.
Most states only hold a taxidermy convention one time a year, although some states hold a deer classic along with a taxidermy convention. If you are wanting to learn about taxidermy alone, the taxidermy convention is the one you would be interested in. Don’t get discouraged if they don’t have all of the available information ready when you ask for it, as shows take a great deal of effort to put together, and depending on how close to the expected show date it is, will depend on how fast you will get the show brochure.
Most states send out the brochure any where from six to four weeks ahead of time. Common sense reasoning seems to be that if I notify you with the brochure in January and the show isn’t until June, you may lose the packet or just plain forget. Humans are funny, aren’t we? In the packet will be information on location, judges, fees, seminars and all kinds of other stuff. If you don’t see the answer to the question you are looking for, or have a question on something else, don’t be afraid to call your contact number listed in the brochure. If the person you contact cannot answer your question, they will forward you to someone who can. Try and get a room registered with the hotel as soon as possible, the rooms fill up quick and most hotels give a special rate for the competitors of the convention.
3. The next step also might fall under common sense, but if I don’t mention it, and someone has trouble, I don’t want to feel blamed. Make sure you can attend. Most shows will not let you refund your money because work told you on Thursday you had to work through the weekend. Take vacation or do whatever you have to be able to get the weekend off.
4. GO!! Once you have made all of the plans, GO!! I know this seems like a simple statement and one that should be self explanatory, but if you are like me, you will have plenty of butterflies going somewhere you have never been, and around people you have never seen before. Let me ease your worries. You are going to a convention where everyone there has somewhat the same interests. You would be surprised at how often even the other members have the same likes as yours outside of taxidermy.
I have been to several states and have found out one thing to be true, 99.99% of everyone you meet there will be nice, gracious and willing to help. I would put this number at 100% but I personally don’t believe in absolutes.
5. Remember why you decided to attend the show. Education. With this being said, most shows have high end taxidermists put on seminars, these commonly are put on by the judges of the show. One thing to remember is to have an open mind.
It seems funny that everyone has heard the statement “there’s a hundred ways to skin a cat”, but you don’t fully appreciate it until you are a taxidermist. In the seminars you will be taught the techniques used by the various taxidermists. You will always find something valuable to use out of these seminars. If the judge/seminarian says or does something you don’t fully believe in, file it in the back of your mind for later reference. You may never use the technique, or you may find yourself figuring out exactly what was meant or said, and evolving the technique into your everyday taxidermy. That is the beauty of taxidermy. There really is no right or wrong way, as long as the techniques you use work for you and lead you down the path of good taxidermy. As in the end, this is what all convention goers are looking for.
After several years of conventions and competitions, you will find yourself using bits and pieces of a vast majority of knowledge you have gained, to mold into your own individual form of taxidermy.
6. This next step is the hardest one to accomplish. Compete. It doesn’t seem like a very big deal at all, but putting what you consider to be your best works in front of another person to have him tell you what you did wrong seems tough. Let’s look at this from another perspective. If you re-read the last sentence, and phrase it differently, you immediately incorporate education into the system.
Let’s phrase differently; we are going to put work in front of a judge, not so he can tell us what we have done wrong, but so he can tell us what we can do to make our mounts better and more lifelike. This should be our main goal as a taxidermist, with the ribbons and awards following. To make my point, at my very first competition, I believe my first whitetail scored a 56, not even an honorable mention ribbon. Heartbreak. But, looking back, I probably learned more from that first competition, than many others afterward.
How can anyone who knows it all, learn? Having an open minded attitude will let you exceed faster, no matter what you are doing in life, let alone taxidermy. After you have competed, there is normally a banquet with an auction following. Then the good part, the education. You will be able to see how you have done if you have entered a competition piece. This allows you to talk to the judge one on one, don’t be afraid to do so. Remember, he is not going to tell you what you have done wrong (although it may seem like this), but he is going to describe to you ways to make your mounts more lifelike, through techniques and comparing them to live picture of the specimen you have mounted. Be open minded and the sky is the limit to how much you can learn.
7. Even after you have talked to the judge, search out other competitors. Commonly they will be able to talk to you and give you pointers as well. Remember that all pointers should be taken by you, and compared to your reference. Sometimes it’s as simple as someone seeing something you didn’t. This starts a “relationship” with the members of your association and will also help you learn along the way. Remember, you can’t learn if you don’t ask.
8. Another way to learn even after these last two tasks have been followed is even simpler. Follow the judge you want to learn from the most, around, listen to him/her critique all of the mounts at the show. You will undoubtedly get more information along with the information you have already gotten. Stay open minded, take notes if you need to, and ask questions if you don’t understand. These shows are held for your education and enjoyment.
9. At the end of the show, you will be a better, more educated taxidermist than when you walked in the door. If you feel the need to thank the other members feel free to do so. Become active in the association and you will go further quicker, it is almost a guarantee.
10. The hardest part of all of these steps is this one. Go to the next years show. It would be easy to skip, say you learned a lot, or just don’t have the time to go. But remember this phrase, “The day you stop learning, you are probably dead”. At that point learning stops. During a recent convention I remember hearing the remarks of a taxidermist who had been doing taxidermy for over 40 years. He stated, “I don’t believe I have ever come to a show and not learned my entry fees worth of knowledge”. If you look a the price of the top end taxidermy schools across the United States, the small fee to go to your state show will seem very minimal, especially if you weigh all of the learning you can receive in a weekend, from some of the nations top taxidermists who have “been there, done that!”.
I know not all taxidermists will heed these instructions; they are only a guideline after all. But if you want your work to become the best it can be with your capabilities, state shows are a terrific way to get going, not to mention they are a lot of fun! And as I have stated with the above outline, take what you want out of what I have said, and use it if it will help you. If you don’t think it will help you in any way, store it in the back of your mind, you may decide to use it later. So go to a show, enjoy, have fun, meet new friends, and above all, leave a better taxidermist than when you went. Enjoy!