The lesson for the
day is snot — specifically, the mucus that coats a deer’s
nose and hangs off its whiskers. It’s the last week of a four-week
class at the Missouri Taxidermy Institute and students are putting final
touches on their mounts. As two men watch intently, Chip Stamper carefully
applies a milky white compound to the eyes and nose of a deer head.
Stamper, owner and instructor at the Missouri Taxidermy Institute,
shows students Roy Moorhead and Tom Gooden how to add lifelike details
to a deer head mount. Students are shown techniques and expected
to repeat them on their own projects.
Chip explains that
the material will dry clear and appear as wetness around the eyes and
as mucus dripping off the nose. Details such as these, he says, create
the illusion that the deer is alive.
art of taxidermy is bringing it back to life,” Chip says. “It
really, truly has to look alive. If it looks like a mount I don’t
think it’s very good.”
After the brief
demonstration the students recreate the effect on their own mounts.
By the time they complete the course the two men will have mounted seven
animals and will be prepared to apply the skills they’ve learned
in their own taxidermy shops.
Located north of
Linn Creek near the Lake of the Ozarks, Chip and Carrie Stamper’s
Missouri Taxidermy Institute offers practical instruction aimed at launching new careers. It’s
a goal Chip understands well.
prepares a foam mold before covering it with fur. A generic bobcat
form has been modified with modeling clay to provide a more accurate
depiction of a lynx. The students learn that proper preparation
of an animal’s eyes is key to lifelike presentation.
A professional educator,
Chip taught high school art for 14 years before deciding he was ready
for a change. Taxidermy seemed like the ideal way to combine his artistic
talents with his lifelong love of wildlife and hunting. Although he
had dabbled in the craft as a youth Chip knew he needed expert instruction
and traveled to Montana to study under a master.
Even while still
learning the trade Chip says he knew he wanted to teach taxidermy to
others. Following his training he returned home and hung out his shingle,
mounting deer heads, wild turkeys, fish and other game part time from
a home-based shop. Occasionally he helped would-be taxidermists with
one-on-one instruction. In August of 2002 Chip and Carrie built a new
shop along Highway 54 and formally opened their school.
many taxidermy schools,” Chip says. “There’s a lot
of guys who do private lessons but as far as actual schools I don’t
think there’s 15 or 20 schools in the whole nation. And we’re
the only one in Missouri.”
offers four-week and eight-week courses. Both focus on hands-on instruction
rather than bookwork.
Gooden, a bricklayer from Illinois, airbrushes the body of a mounted
bass. The only thing remaining of the actual fish is its skin and
head. The rest is a creation of the taxidermist.
“I teach the
way I learn. I have to do it myself. I don’t think you can learn
by reading it or watching it,” says Chip, who also volunteers
as a hunter safety educator for the Department of Conservation.
Students in the
four-week class mount a waterfowl, an upland game bird, a whitetail
deer head, a full-body pose of a small mammal such as a bobcat or fox,
two fish and an antler plaque. The $2,600 fee for the class includes
a set of basic tools and all materials, including antlers, fur “capes”
and the Styrofoam forms to mount them. Besides gaining experience the
students go home with examples of their work to display in their own
here with a set of really good mounts,” Chip says. “That’s
really important — to have a good showroom.”
The eight-week course
costs $3,800, including tools but not the fins, feathers, fur and horns
the students use for their projects. Otherwise, this class differs only
in length and the size and complexity of projects..
class is for people who have more time and more money to spend,”
Carrie says. “They can mount whatever they want but they have
to pay for it.”
Stamper designs a Web page for a graduate of the school. Each
student receives a Web page they can use to promote their business.
In addition to finding
and buying the materials the students mount, Carrie maintains the school’s
Web site — the primary means of attracting students — and
creates a Web site for each graduate to use when they open their own
business. She also assists students in obtaining necessary state and
To date 51 students
from as far away as Maine, New York, Florida and Colorado have attended
the institute. Classes are small, usually seven people or less. Students
have included a teenager, fresh out of high school, and retired people.
Six women, including Bridgette Crank of Marble Hill, have completed
first day I skinned out a bird. The next day I mounted it,” says
Bridgette, who enrolled in Chip’s first class and opened Crooked
Creek Taxidermy Shop when she finished.
“I left here
in August. My first customer came in September and business has been
very, very good. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”
in the eight-week school learn to mount a wild turkey, like this
one on display in the institute’s showroom.
Bridgette says she
had no prior experience and little artistic or crafts background before
enrolling in the course. Even using basic tools was a new experience,
she says. Still, with Chip’s help she was able to master the skills
necessary for taxidermy.
Students learn basic
skills of the trade — how to skin animals, prepare hides, mount
antlers, carve fish bodies, airbrush turkey heads and create natural
looking displays. They also study materials available to taxidermists,
sound business practices and the intricacies of wildlife regulations.
you everything you need to know,” Bridgette says. “No matter
how long it takes for you to get something he will sit there until you
get it. He’s just a very patient man. He’s wonderful.”
Chip is a bit more
modest. He says the work is not difficult and that almost anyone —
given a degree of patience and the desire to succeed — can learn
the basics of taxidermy.
never sent anyone out there that can’t do it,” he says.
“Can I say that everybody is at exactly the same level? No. Some
people just have an eye for it. But everybody who leaves here can be
So far, every one
of Chip’s students has finished the course and more than two-thirds
have launched businesses. Of those who did not, a few never intended
to and others decided there are easier ways to make a living. Typically,
though, his students are looking for a new career.
of Camdenton prepares a full-body mount of a lynx while Tom Gooden
of Pittsburg, Ill., works on his own project. Students at the
Missouri Taxidermy Institute near Linn Creek produce seven mounts
during a four-week class. An eight-week class involves twice as
Roy Moorhead, a
local construction worker, enrolled in a recent eight-week class after
a particularly taxing season building houses. He says he hopes to begin
offering taxidermy part time and, as his business grows, eventually
give up construction work altogether.
Since Roy lives
in the Camdenton area his business will likely compete with Chip’s
shop. Despite this, Chip encourages the student and welcomes him to
plenty of work to go around,” Chip says. “Every taxidermist
I know has more work than they can do. Taxidermists are anywhere from
six months to two years behind.”
does not end when his students graduate. Often, he says, he fields calls
from students who need a refresher on some technique or who face a project
more difficult than the ones they tackled at school.
loaded up 14 fish customers had dropped off at her Marble Hill shop
and drove up to Linn Creek for a refresher in the fine art of fish painting.
gives former student Bridgette Crank a refresher lesson on air-brushing
a turkey head. After completing Chip's class Crank opened her own
taxidermy shop in Marble Hill.
“I think it’s
important to have a little support when you leave,” Chip says.
“I want people to be successful. And maybe that’s not even
as a business because I have no control over that when they leave. But
when they leave here they’ll know how to do this and they will
think they got a good value for their money.”
But those students,
like Bridgette, who leave the school and open their own businesses are
especially gratifying, Chip says.
“I take a
lot of pride in that Bridgette, for example, has a business that’s
working for her,” Chip says. “I had a small part in that.
It’s her business, her work, her work ethic but, yeah, I’m
pretty proud of that.”
For more information
about the Missouri Taxidermy Institute log onto www.taxidermy-schools.com
or call (573) 346-6871.