In a region known for its hunting and fishing, taxidermy services are in great demand.
Strangely enough, the opportunities to learn the skill are limited. Rend Lake College is stepping into the void, offering a taxidermy course through its community education program.
“We think this is something unique we can offer our students,” said ReAnne Palmer, a public information specialist at the college. “There are a lot of hunters in the area. It’s an opportunity to bring them to campus. We’ll continue to offer it as long as we have interest in the community.”
Palmer believes the class is a unique offering at Rend Lake.
The 2018 spring class was recently completed. All eight students enrolled in the class finished a mount. The class meets three hours per night, two times a week, through January and part of February. It is a compressed time frame to complete a mount.
“When I come into the class, I push them from the minute they come in,” said Fred Lawrence of Herrin, who has taught the class for eight years. “We need to start right now. You have to work on this at home. This was the first class in six years that everyone got something mounted. People aren’t prepared for the time commitment.”
Lawrence got interested in the craft by watching his cousin. As he became more interested, he took the class offered by Rend Lake and eventually became the instructor.
The biggest surprise most students face is the amount of prep work required to complete an artistic mount.
“What it takes to prepare the specimen to get to the point of mounting, it’s overwhelming,” Lawrence said. “Skinning and fleshing a hide, even a bird versus a deer, there is a lot of work there. You spend a lot of time there.
“(It takes) A very artistic person, patient. You have to have a lot of patience. You also have to be persistent. When you’re doing your first animal versus your eighth, it’s like a painting. You learn so much. You really have to have an eye for seeing little details that people don’t see.”
And, when students finish a mount …
“It’s a good feeling of accomplishment,” Lawrence said. “I enjoy helping people and getting them to recognize a good mount. When I’m done with the class, they understand the difference I get a good feeling teaching people and showing them things.”
Bill Wren of Carterville completed the course recently. An avid deer hunter, Wren took the class in order to save money on mounts.
“It’s kind of affordable if you can do it yourself,” he said. “I had a couple deer I wanted done. I’ve been pretty fortunate the last couple years.
“It’s brand new to me. I learned a lot, the proper steps and things like that. I just didn’t want to mess it up. What you learn pretty quick is you can make a few mistakes and make it up. I’ve always been interested in it.”
As Lawrence suggested, Wren was surprised at the amount of prep work required.
“It’s all in the preparation ahead of time, get things tanned to the point where you don’t start losing the hair and feathers,” he said. “It wasn’t a great big surprise to me, other the amount of work you have to do to get it tanned.”
For now, Wren will be content to mount animals for himself, family and friends. However, in the future it may become more than a hobby.
“I’m less than 10 years from retirement,” he said. “When I retire I wouldn’t mind doing a few. It would be something I’d be interested in doing a little later. Right now, it’s just for me and my family.”