by Bob Bahr
Dubois taxidermist Lynn Stewart easily explains the usefulness of mounted animals for artists: “You can look at them and paint them without having to resort to photographs or counting on an animal standing still for you.” An artist can paint, draw or sculpt a wild animal from any vantage point with a stuffed mount.
But the artist is dependent on the quality of the taxidermist. Ask any hunter or experienced wildlife artist their opinion on a mount, and you will get one. You’ll hear comments such as, “That coyote would have the muscles in the front of his leg tensed in that pose, not the muscles in the back,” or “That animal jumps with its legs together, not apart” or similar. To some extent, a taxidermist relies on the forms that they order from specialty companies. These polyurethane forms dictate the pose of an animal, and they look like flayed specimens when they arrive from the company. Additional musculature and other details are added by the taxidermist. At the recent SKB workshop in Dubois, Wyoming, Stewart demonstrated his art by working on the head of a Dall sheep that was harvested in Alaska. SKBers watched as Stewart added bits of clay to fill in the face of the mount, fashioning the nose and securing the glass eyes. The skin and horns of the Dall sheep came to life in his hands. “Of course, there is good and bad taxidermy. We try to do competition-quality work that is very lifelike,” he says.
Stewart has brought his mounts and demonstrated his process at previous SKB workshops. This year, he seemed to draw a bigger crowd than usual in the Sun Room by the kitchen at Headwaters Arts & Conference Center. “I’m here partly to help artists get an understanding of our art,” says Stewart. “Taxidermy is just another art medium. And, having the mounts here lets artists work from an animal at different angles and lighting.”
Indeed, many drawings and more than a few paintings of Stewart’s wolf, antelope, mountain lion, and sheep were done during the week, some of which will undoubtedly inform future artwork by SKBers. Ω