TAXIDERMY has come out from behind closed doors, writes SARAH HUDSON
Pet owners do it, hunters and collectors as well, and most museums.
Yet when it comes to taxidermy, you either love or loathe it.
According to three rural Victorian taxidermists who spoke to Country Living, there's no denying the appeal of taxidermy.
Gippsland taxidermist David Luxford, from Stratford, says stuffing animals has come a long way.
What was once considered a cottage industry, discussed in hushed tones, is now mainstream and even popular among highly successful artists.
"About 20 years ago there were anti-fur and anti-hunting people who were against it, but these days it's much more socially acceptable and you can find deer antlers in David Jones or Myers," says David, who is a bow hunter of everything from camels to pigs, but focuses his taxidermy on deer.
"It has been escalated to fashion and art. I have worked with many artists - one who had an exhibition in New York and another who has had national success - who have created hybrid animals, like a deer head morphed into a goat body."
Sam Cervinski, a taxidermist at Lara, near Geelong, is one of only a couple of women around the nation in what is a male-dominated industry.
She says since she started in 1995, attitudes have changed.
"I didn't have the same phone number for the business as home, because I did have a problem with animal rights people. But not any more," says Sam, who mounts mammals only, not birds or fish.
"When I first started most of my work came from hunters, but now it's collectors. People ring me and ask for something like a coyote - I import the skin from the US. They're not hunters, they just want it as a decoration."
For nearly 30 years, Ted Wohlers, a sheep farmer at Ararat, has been a taxidermist, mounting animals from across the globe - from lions to moose, camels and roosters.
He says taxidermy is as popular as ever. With demand high - he has a waiting list of 18 months - he has narrowed his clientele down to about 80 dedicated customers, and focuses purely on deer.
"I see this as preserving the animal after its life. It's respecting the animal to have it on the wall," says Ted, a hunter and animal photographer himself.
While attitudes may have changed to make taxidermy more mainstream, the three also agree the skills involved to be a taxidermist have also changed.
Techniques differ for various animals and between taxidermists, but generally the process for a head mount takes at least a month and begins when a client sends in an animal's skull, along with the head skin to the shoulders.
For instance, with a deer the meat has been taken off by the hunter to avoid it going rotten, while the skin has also been salted.
Using chemicals, the skin is relaxed to make it soft, washed, degreased and pickled, before being shaved to the hair line and measured so a mould can be made.
It is then soaked in a tanning solution for about 16 hours - some taxidermists send skins to a commercial tannery, while others do it themselves.
Following this, the skin is washed and rubbed with tanning oil and mounted on a mould or mannequin made from polyurethane or styrofoam.
Ears are plastic and glass eyes are imported, as Australia has no manufacturers in this field.
The final touch sees the hide glued to the mould and hand sewn to fit.
David xsays improved methods have raised quality and reduced toxicity.
"You can find books in libraries that talk about the use of asbestos and arsenic," he says.
David taught himself to mount animals as a young boy, after being fascinated by the mummified Phar Lap, before later opening a successful taxidermy supply shop, which he ran for 25 years and sold about two years ago.
David says taxidermy is an art, requiring ancient skills of anatomy, carpentry, sculpture, fine art work and painting, as well as tanning, to create a life-like result.
Self-taught Sam Cervinski is so skilled in the profession she won a second place for a mounted coyote at the 2009 World Taxidermy Championships.
She finessed her skills doing a voluntary stint at the Australian Museum, where she learnt how to mould dinosaur bones and cadavers of zoo animals.
Because she stuffs all kinds of creatures, she studies books and videos to understand how it moves and holds itself.