Here's my report on the annual conference of the UK Guild of Taxidermists 2018
I have been doing taxidermy since 2014 and I have waited till now to go to the annual conference. I have been putting it off going for a long time, and now I plucked up the courage to take a two pieces of work to be judged. One was entered into the aviary challenge. This is where you have a photograph of a bird and try to replicate the pose of the bird as close as possible. It then gets entered for judging by Peter Sunesen. I also brought along another Jay that was mounted on a piece of driftwood.
It was great chatting to likeminded individuals about taxidermy, there were even a small number of newcomers like myself. I was watching around the room as more specimens arrived and being set up in the judging room. I could already see such a variety of different pieces. I took a sneak peek into the judging room and I was in awe, taking photos of the pieces.
Before dinner I went to go find my room where I would be staying. I realised there were many other conferences taking place, and finding that the building itself has lots of other rooms and other smaller buildings. My room I stayed in ended up in a completely different building on the third floor.
In the evening everybody was socialising and having a drink at the bar. This was a good opportunity before the talks and demonstrations would take place throughout the weekend to get to know more people.
On Saturday morning, Steven Heyes demonstrated how to mount an open mouth fox. This was really interesting to watch as every taxidermists has their own techniques they use to create their own mounts. Steven also passed round the fox skin and the jaws to the audience before mounting it on the manikin. He also took short breathers for people to come up close and personal to the fox mount whilst answering questions. I wrote down many useful tips, tricks and materials which I haven’t heard of before.
Apoxie sculpt was definitely a highlight for me as there is so much versatility to it.
After the demonstration, JHT was open to stock up on essentials. John who runs JHT was very helpful and it was great to meet the guy in person as I have phoned him many times to get help and tips.
This was then followed on by Dr Pat Morris who gave a great talk on the history of taxidermy, I was particularly interested on the x-rays of the mounts as it gave insight how the taxidermists of the past mounted their specimens. This particular taxidermist created their own wooden branches using different materials. Also the trademarks of different taxidermists are so vastly different, with some putting them on the bottoms of their bases to scribing on pebbles inside glass cases. Pat also brought in some of his personal collection of this particular taxidermist, it was great to see them in real life.
Pat is very knowledgeable and certainly knows his stuff. A great learning experience.
After Pat’s presentation we then went outside to have the annual group photo taken.
After lunch Peter Sunesen showed us how he used acrylic paste to give the required feather positioning on birds. In October 2017 I went on a bird taxidermy course with Carl Church and showed me how to use decorators chaulk on birds. I am yet to master the technique. It was great to see how Peter used something similar but in a slightly different way. He spoke about how looking at live birds is the best reference tool. He also went through on how to make the manikin for a bird, from mimicking the neck flexibility of a live bird to achieving balance in the legs using the femurs. I learnt so much and couldn’t put my pen down.
Peter then swiftly went onto the aviary challenge and I already was starting to get nervous about the mount I submitted. After seeing everybody else’s I was ready for the worst.
Peter went to each mount and was very insightful and constructive about each piece. If you are interested, my piece is the one with the white box slightly to the left. Peter’s comments about my mount gave me confidence and motivation to do better. The legs needed to be in the bird more and the feathering needed more work. I was in total agreement.
Well done to Sarah Keen who went onto do the mastery bird taxidermy course with Peter. I thought it was great we were given champagne. (Or was it prosecco? I can’t remember!)
After the aviary challenge there was another break to have a look at the submissions for judging as well as buying more supplies from the trade stands.
At 4pm Drew Bain did a presentation on skull preparation. This is something I was not familiar with. It was interesting to see the difference between skulls that have and haven’t been degreased. I wrote down many different chemicals such as using acetone to degrease bones. Finding out that carnivores and primates are very greasy. Seeing his own collection of skulls was fantastic.
There was then a discussion about where the guild is going followed by the AGM, this was interesting to hear about as this was my first time, listening to the members that have been here for a long time to newbies like myself. Seeing how the taxidermy industry has changed over the decades and how there has been an increase of women taking on the craft of taxidermy.
After the AGM, dinner was followed then the results of the rest of the competitions, credits and raffles. This was great fun and all the money that is raised in the raffle is get put back into the guild.
I was also pleasantly surprised I got third place for my other jay I entered for Best Amateur bird mount. I was not expecting that!
On Sunday morning Kim gave us the legal updates on taxidermy. It can be such a mine-field, with conflicting information from different sources. Kim was great an explaining this often mind-boggling topic.
After Kim’s update, Emilie Woodford showed us how to make a death mask of an animal. It was astounding to see such a difference in specimens that has freeze dry to recently deceased. See photo on the left to see the difference.
I also volunteered to have my hand casted, Emilie used alginate to mould around my hand then used plaster to cast inside. My plaster hand now has pride of place in my tiny taxidermy studio.
Emilie then went onto to discuss the ETC (European Taxidermy Championships). Emilie herself went to the ETC and submitted her own mounts for judging. This was an excellent insight into how they judge the mounts as well as how other taxidermists around Europe and the world (anyone can come to the ETC) do taxidermy.
Emilie also showed us her fish replica she painted while at the ETC. I was very impressed.
After the ETC review we had another break. I went into JHT’s shop again to get myself the ingredients to create a pickle for tanning mammals. I also had a discussion with the judges on how to improve my mounts for the future, they were very encouraging and gave me some great tips on how to colour birds feet and positioning.
As a newcomer to the Guild, I can confidently say that I will be coming again. It has been such a fantastic experience and I strongly recommend anyone wanting to give taxidermy a go or even has an interest in it to come along. I have made many new friends, and the rumours and pretences of what people have said to me about the guild didn’t put me off going. I made my own mind up and I think the guild is a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. I hope people do not get put off going by what other people might say. Try it and find out for yourself, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Thank you to the Committee, the speakers, organisers, John (JHT), the members and The Hayes Conference Centre who make this conference possible and keep the Guild going. See you next year.