Modern taxidermy: An art form that’s come a long way _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG Professional taxidermist David Cavaretta is surrounded by samples of his work at his office in Denham Springs.

Editor’s note: David Cavaretta, owner of Bayou Taxidermy and Hunting Inc., is a 30-year-plus professional taxidermist and big-game guide. His work can be found in trophy rooms and museums around the world.

Today’s professional taxidermist requires many skills in the methods of reproducing raw animal skins and products into works of art for display in museums and trophy rooms.

Taxidermy, from the Greek words “taxi” (to move) and “derma” (skin), involves crafts and art forms like molding, casting, woodworking and sculpting. It requires a degree of hands-on artistic talent, including air-brush painting and a knowledge of an animal’s anatomy.

Thousands of years ago, North American natives discovered raw skins and animal parts could be preserved by using natural elements, then using the skins and animals parts for clothing, shelter and decoy-making for hunting and use in ceremonies.

In the mid-1800s, upholstery shops used tanned skins for furniture and feathers for pillows and bedding.

The advent of modern chemicals turned taxidermy into a million-dollar industry at the turn of the century. Modern taxidermy evolved into a professional art form with the help of American craftsmen like William Hornaday (1854-1937) and Carl E. Akeley (1864-1926), who paved the way toward the modernization of accurate and anatomically correct manikins on a commercial level.

Louisiana has been on the forefront of great taxidermy, with modern-day pioneers like the late Dan Chase of Baton Rouge pioneering the technique of mass producing lifelike manikins and head forms using two-part urethane foam from premade, highly detailed molds.

Today, publications like “Breakthrough,” published by Hammond’s Larry Bloomquist, contain educational articles and photography and have elevated the work of the serious taxidermy artist on the world stage.

Louisiana has a long history of world-class taxidermists, but the poor economic growth and slow cash flow inherent with taxidermy has deterred many from learning taxidermy as a professional trade. Taxidermy, like any other service-oriented business has its ups and downs; today’s taxidermist must learn self-promotion and marketing skills to succeed in a highly competitive and limited market.