Becky Dick here, and welcome to my report of the UK Guild of Taxidermist 2019 Conference.
I arrived particularly early, helping label all the specimens for judging, including lending a hand to Mike Gadd with photographing the specimens. A variety of different specimens came into the judging room, from large African game mounts to small garden birds.
After dinner, Jack Fishwick did a very interesting talk about his trip to Russia, seeing large brown bears and flying in helicopters. It was very entertaining. The quality of taxidermy that was shown on the slides was amazing. After the talk we had the classic £2.50 gin and tonics at the bar and caught up with friends old and new.
The following morning, we had the welcome speech for the 2019 Conference by our chair Laurence Dowson.
Peter Scott gave a presentation on how to make effective habitats. He showed us what inspired him, creating realistic dioramas and what would be accurate habitats for the birds he mounted. He also brought in different types of materials of what he uses for rocks and bases for the inside of his cases. We were encouraged to look at the different stages of how he created his rocks and pieces of habitat, including showing us how he created his own taxidermy cases. What was really good is that he brought in his own taxidermy pieces that demonstrated the same techniques he showed us in the presentation.
After Peter's presentation we had a look around the trade stands. It was a little different this year. We were all encouraged to bring taxidermy supplies, books, artefacts, casts, surplus materials and specimens for auction and raffle prizes. There was a huge variety of different materials. There was a lot of Guild merchandise - clocks, mugs, past journals. The older journals really interested me as I have only been a member of the Guild for nearly 2 years. It's great to see how the Guild has developed over the years.
After looking around at the trade stands and a cup of tea, we had a historical taxidermy presentation by Dr Pat Morris. This presentation was about the Van lngen Factory in Mysore visit between 2003 and 2007.
It was fascinating to hear about this once huge taxidermy factory in India mounting mainly tigers but also leopards, elephants, bison and many other game mammals.
Pat also had some artefacts to show us, a mounted leopard by Van lngen, the manakins they used and the concrete moulds they use to create them. Pat also presented very detailed slides about the logbooks Van lngen kept, going way back to the late Victorian era. He illustrated his talk with graphs and tables he had created using data from the log books. What was sad about the factory is that it ended up derelict with nature taking over the buildings and even elephant skulls left outside in the yard - very surreal.
After Pat's presentation we gathered for a group photo and had lunch. This was also time for the judges to have a look at the specimens entered into competitions.
At 2pm Steve Toher gave a demonstration on casting heads with alginate. Personally, I have never done this, so it was very fascinating to watch. Steve explained the process and described the materials he used while showing us how he sculpted the head of a pine marten. He also explained how it is vitally important to reference the animal you are working on.
We were passing round the different types of mammal heads that Steve had already sculpted using this technique. After Steve's demonstration the trade stands were open again and we had a quick break.
We then dived straight into Derek Frampton's demonstration on how to create taxidermy eyes. Looking at the different arrays of taxidermy eyes Derek had was unbelievable - there were so many!
It was mesmerising watching how the eyes were created. Derek had fabricated a machine especially for making the eyes, using a motor from an old gramophone encased within a wooden box. Enamel paint is used to colour the eyes. He also took out a European birds ID book that was well weathered but lovely to have a look through - it had additional clippings and feathers that correspond to many species within the pages.
After Derek's demonstration, the judges had completed their critique on everyone's work. We were then welcomed into the specimen room to check our feedback and were encouraged to ask the judges for more feedback and advice.
The AGM soon followed, discussing matters about the future of the Guild, membership fees and voting new members onto the Committee.
After dinner we had the results of the competitions, raffle prizes etc. It was great to watch more recent newcomers receive a certificate of achievement for their work. As always, Laurence Dowson was very entertaining when conducting the raffle.
On Sunday morning we had a flurry of snow which was a pleasant surprise, even though it was March.
At 9.30am we had an update from our legal team Kim McDonald and Drew Bain. There was a lot of Q & A, especially because of Brexit looming ahead of us, and the ever-changing laws and rules in taxidermy - undoubtedly an invaluable session.
After the legal update, Mike Gadd presented the mammal challenge. We were given a photo of a squirrel earlier in the year in the Journal. I submitted a squirrel, at the very last minute, with pins still in as it hadn't completely dried yet.
Mike went through the pose of the squirrel itself, using his taxidermy mammal manual as reference. It was great to learn more about anatomy and how to position the squirrel as accurately as possible.
Mike then focused his attention on the squirrels that had been submitted for the challenge, going through each one and giving positive, constructive and valuable feedback.
He then chose a winner for the mammal challenge. In the end it was a tie between myself (Becky Dick) and Andi Probert - we both shook hands to congratulate each other.
We had a small break and swiftly moved onto the interactive bind-up workshop by Mike Gadd and George Jamieson.
First, Mike gave a demonstration on how to create a wood wool form for a squirrel with a plaster cast head, and then George gave a demonstration on how to create a wood wool form for a bird. I was surprised how tightly you need to bind the wood wool. We split into two groups, with one creating a squirrel form and the other a bird form. This is so we didn't run out of time.
Since I had created a squirrel for the mammal challenge, I thought I would create a wood wool form for a squirrel. This was the first time I had created an actual form for taxidermy with a group of people. Taxidermy can naturally be quite an isolating craft, so it was great to have a collaborative session, especially having Mike and George give guidance on creating the wood wool forms.
We had our lunch and it was time for the close of the Conference. We had one last look at the trade stands - I had been eyeing up a fox form head all weekend. What I found interesting is that it has all the signatures of the founders of the Guild, including Don Sharp's, though some slightly faded. It came home with me.
I am torn as to whether to keep it as it is or use it to mount an actual fox head, and have a 'before and after' photograph of it. However, many Guild members said it wasn't anatomically correct, so for now it sits proudly on my shelf at home next to my first ever piece of taxidermy - Steve the squirrel.
I want to say a special thank you to the Committee, the speakers, organisers and members who brought in bits and pieces for the raffle and trade stand. There is a lot that goes on in the background that the majority of the Guild don't see, and without them the Guild wouldn't be possible. Also, a big thank you to The Hayes Conference Centre for having us again. See you at next year's Conference!
If you would like to find out more about the UK Guild of Taxidermist please go to www.taxidermy.org.uk