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Taxidermists Give Animals A Slice Of Life

Thu., July 27, 1995

If you’re a baby boomer like me, you probably grew up wondering what the deal was between Roy Rogers and his trusty steed, Trigger.

On television in the ‘50s, the cowboy superstar always paid much more attention to his horse than he did to his wholesome wife, Dale Evans.

Then when Trigger galloped off to that big Pasture in the Sky, Roy had the big palomino’s corpse stuffed and put on permanent display. What Roy might do with Dale if and when the time comes is anybody’s guess.

Which brings us to today’s topic: taxidermists. The city’s crawling with them.

For the first time, Spokane is the site of the annual gathering of the National Taxidermists Association.

This is a bigger deal than many of you might suspect. The convention - which began Wednesday at the Sheraton-Spokane Hotel and concludes with an awards banquet Saturday night - boasts 1,400 delegates who are expected to pump some $812,000 into the local economy.

The convention features seminars, a trade show and a national competition for members. The public can browse among some elaborate animal displays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

I, for one, am amazed to learn there are so many taxidermists, perhaps 75,000 of them scattered across the country.

Everything I knew about this subject came from the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Psycho,” in which mild-mannered motelier/taxidermist Norman Bates stuffs his mother.

“We don’t claim him,” says Greg Crain, with a nervous laugh. “I don’t think he learned that from any school.”

Crain is the association’s affable executive director. He is a Southerner who turned his boyhood hobby into a prosperous taxidermy studio outside New Orleans.

I met Crain the other night in a Sheraton banquet room. Taxidermy honchos were being dined by a New York booster who hopes the lucrative convention will shuffle off to Buffalo in 1997.

That Buffalo is named after a huge hairy creature should give the New Yorkers a leg up on the competition.

The dinner featured roast beef and recorded buzzing and chirping sounds of the wild. In this eerie setting, Crain explained a few of the nuances of his craft and his association.

There is a bit of macabre irony, I suppose, in killing a perfectly good animal and then paying somebody big bucks to make the remains look more lifelike.

But for hunters, fishermen and the less squeamish, taxidermy is an impressive and artistic way to dress up the old rec room.

The word “stuff” is no longer accurate, says Crain. Modern taxidermists use only the skin of a departed animal, which is painstakingly fitted over forms. Many of the critters are also displayed in their natural settings, which calls for an excruciating attention to detail.

“You’ll never see a seam in this show,” vows Crain, who one year won a national championship for work he did on a bird.

Crain’s taxidermy credits range from an African lion to alligators. He balks, however, at preserving someone’s beloved poodle or collie.

“We recommend you have it freeze-dried so the finished product retains your pet’s very distinct personality,” he explains. “With freeze-drying, the only thing that isn’t used are the eyes.”

Before I met Crain, the only mental image I had when someone said “freeze-dried” was Taster’s Choice coffee.

What a taxidermist charges varies with the reputation and location of the artist.

Eight to 10 bucks an inch is probably average for a fish. Figure on a bit more if you’re looking to preserve a pachyderm.

“I want $44,000,” says Crain. He’s never actually done an elephant, but that’s the price he put on his brochure.

The taxidermist smiles. “If you don’t advertise,” he explains, “you may never get an elephant.”

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Doug Clark The Spokesman-Review

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