George Bowers Sr.: The skill of a taxidermist
This weekend has been designated Youth and Apprentice Deer Hunting Weekend by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. This is a special day for parents and grandparents to take their youngsters into the woods to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors and to experience the thrill of the hunt. Although my grandson is still too young, I look forward to taking Noah out just as soon as he’s old enough!
The advent of fall hunting seasons brings back many fond memories of my father’s taxidermy shop. About this time of year, customers would be picking up their trophies from last fall and eagerly anticipating the upcoming season. Tales of sightings and signs fueled the flames of many hopeful conversations.
As I’ve reflected on my father’s trade, I’m increasingly impressed with his skill and giftedness. He humbly said that taxidermy only required a strong back and a weak mind, but having done a little myself, I can say unequivocally that there is an immense amount of artistic talent involved as well. While anyone can go through the motions, it takes a true artist to make it look right. And dad was such an artist, though he never admitted it.
Taxidermy actually requires a combination of many skills. Dad was right in naming the need for a strong back for there is much physical labor in skinning animals, fleshing hides, wrestling moose antlers, carrying salt bags, and hoisting heads up and down during the mounting process. Skills of sewing and mending are also needed to fasten the tanned skins to the manikins and patch up holes cut by careless or excited hunters. Sculpting is important in forming the clay that holds the glass eyes and cosmetology even comes into play to properly arrange the hair.
Once the bull work is done, it is then necessary to carefully arrange the eyelashes, lips, ears, and nose and attend to details. Weeks later, after a drying period, finishing touches can be added as pins, staples, and nails are removed and paints and finishes applied. It is no small fete to make a dead animal look alive. This is where the real artistry comes in. The craftsman must envision a living deer, fox, turkey, or trout and then replicate that animal’s personality in his work.
Only after all this time, labor, and creativity is the trophy ready for the customer to return and claim that which he will proudly hang in his living room, den, or office. The real desire for every taxidermist is to hear his customer say, “It looks just like it did in the woods!” or “when I pulled it out of the water!”
Imagine how insulting it would be for a client to say, “Wow, that really looks great. It’s amazing how that animal mounted itself!” Such a statement would dismiss all the time and personal skill of the one who labored hard and long to get it exactly right.
And yet, that’s what we do every time we attribute our world to random forces of chance and evolution. To believe that all that we are and all that we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell came to be without any skill, effort or design is the height of insult to its creator who carefully and wisely engineered every aspect of his creation.
Even the best taxidermist still returns lifeless products to his customers. Each mount is infinitely inferior to living squirrels, bass, or grouse with billions of cells, processes, and neurons, all of which must work perfectly to keep them alive. To somehow believe all of that just randomly came together not only ignores the laws of probability but it also is an affront to our designer who used both infinite skill and artistry to create all that exists.
As we marvel at the created world of autumn around us, may we give credit and glory not to taxidermists who recreate lifelike replicas, but to the all wise creator who made it all from nothing.
George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books including his devotional collection, “Blessings.” He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.