At a very early age, I began to travel the world to hunt big game. In spite of the criticism from family and adults in my life who felt that my behavior was irresponsible and would cost me as I got older in terms of education and buying a home, I persisted. I traveled the world, hunting from the Artic to Africa to Asia. And what I didn’t realize at the time was how this personal experience would shape my future career as a taxidermist. In wildlife art, you see, there is no substitute for actually being there.
Traveling to these remote locales and seeing animals in their natural habitat was a profound experience. I wasn’t just viewing and observing wildlife — I was absorbing all of the subtlety of the actual moment. It was becoming part of my DNA, and I remember it clearly to this day.
I have countless memories from these experiences, but one in particular stands out. I was in Yellowstone one winter, when the temperature was below zero. I saw a bison bull bedded in the snow, and it appeared to me he wasn’t breathing or moving. I thought there was something wrong, so I decided to investigate.
I got within 20 yards of him before he became aware of my presence. I vividly remember his massive head swinging from the snow towards me, and instantly, he was on his feet. He then started towards me, and I realized that if he continued, there was no way I could outmaneuver him. Just as quickly, he turned on a dime and danced away. I stood there, motionless, but the impression is still in my mind—of both the size and mass and yet the fluid gracefulness with which he moved.
I think these kinds of in-person experiences have a huge impression on any wildlife artist, be it taxidermist, painter, or sculptor. I realize it’s harder and harder to spend time in the wild, but the other problem is that we feel we don’t need to because of the proliferation of photographs and videos. The truth is, it’s not the same. Any of the great wildlife artists will attest to spending a huge amount of time personally observing the creature. Think of it in terms of falling in love with a woman based upon a picture. That only gives you an indicator. It’s not until you’re in her presence that you truly begin to know who she is.
Being there, in all aspects of life, is the essence we strive to capture at Animal Artistry. There is no substitute to actually being there, and observing the animals is the foundation of Animal Artistry. The subtle gestures and the way the animals integrate with their habitat is what drew me to this profession and what continues to fuel me to this day.