Cory Foth of Peabody got into taxidermy the same way he suspects most taxidermists started: He bagged a trophy deer in 1995 and wanted it mounted on his wall. Trying to save some money, he decided to do it himself.
He bought some videos and supplies, and soon he had his own mount. He estimates it probably cost him two or three times as much as hiring someone to mount it, he said.
He was pleased enough with his work that he entered it in the Kansas Association of Taxidermists competition, but he came away empty handed.
At the time, Foth couldn’t recognize the differences between his work and prize winners.
“If you’re a competitive individual, you want to win,” Foth said.
So he kept at it, always looking to improve. Competitions helped him, because judges could tell him ways to improve his art.
To Foth, the difference between good taxidermy and ordinary taxidermy — between a specimen looking like an animal and looking like a stuffed animal — is understanding its anatomy and posture. That requires studying live animals, whether in pictures, videos, or in person.
“Reference is the key to good taxidermy,” Foth said.
After four or five years, he improved his taxidermy enough to consistently score 87 or 88 points in competitions — just short of earning a blue ribbon. He finally got over that hump by studying with world champions, including flying to New Hampshire to work with a world champion whitetail deer taxidermist.
“Taxidermy has taken me places I never would have thought of before,” Foth said.
The advice and tips the champions gave him helped him improve his art enough to compete for championships of his own. He won best-in-show at the 2008 Kansas Association of Taxidermists convention for a small bullhead catfish he mounted.
In the 15 years he has been involved in it, Foth has seen the culture of taxidermy change dramatically. He sought an apprenticeship with an experienced taxidermist when he began, but nobody wanted to share their knowledge. Now there are schools and seminars for aspiring taxidermists, and the craft has evolved into an art, he said.
Foth said he thinks his early years struggling helped him in the long run. If he had studied with the champions when he began, most of their advice would have been over his head.
“I am glad I did four or five years of taxidermy before I saw someone,” he said.
Foth aspires to compete nationally and internationally. He plans to enter the 2012 world championships, which will be his first international competition.
Whitetail deer are the specimens Foth stuffs most frequently, at 25 to 30 per year. He has also worked with elk, mule deer, birds, small mammals, and various fish. He keeps a largemouth bass in an aquarium to reference.
Salmon and trout are more difficult to mount for two reasons, he said. They aren’t common in Kansas, so experience is limited, and their scales are more delicate than most local fish.
The most exotic animal Foth has mounted was a gemsbok — an African antelope. That project was a special exercise for Foth, because he had no familiarity with the specimen and reference photos were more difficult to find than for deer. But he carefully studied the references he found, and produced a finished mount he could be satisfied with.
Foth said anyone interested in hiring a taxidermist should inspect the taxidermist’s work. The world champions he studied alongside worked in modest shops, he said.
Anyone interested in seeing some of the best taxidermy in Kansas should attend the Kansas Association of Taxidermists convention March 28 at Hotel at Old Town in Wichita. The convention will be open to the public that day, and award winners will be on display.
Foth’s business is Doyle Creek Taxidermy in Peabody. His Web site is www.dctaxidermy.com.