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BOWMAN: Taxidermy is all in the details

Cheyanne Williams 14 stands by her muskrmount during setup Friday for Illinois Taxidermist AssociatiConventiCompetitiSpringfield. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

Cheyanne Williams, 14, stands by her muskrat mount during setup Friday for the Illinois Taxidermist Association Convention and Competition in Springfield. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 11, 2013 6:47AM

SPRINGFIELD — Dave Emken was shining a small flashlight up the nostril of a mounted deer head when Frank Williams introduced us.


I roamed Friday with Emken during the setup for the 33rd Illinois Taxidermist Association Convention and Competition at Northfield Inn in Springfield. It was open to the public Saturday and Sunday.

Emken and his wife, Claudia, were two original members when the ITA was formed in 1980. He favors deer heads, while she loves working with the colors of fish.

The competition was divided into whitetails (judged by Mark Gonnering), fish and reptiles (Tim Perkins), mammals and game heads (Shawn Dawson) and birds (Brett DeFreitas) in commercial, professional and advanced or master categories.

Whitetails dominated, but there were turkeys, moose, bison, musk ox, eiders, wood ducks, muskies, smallmouth bass, wildebeests, mallards, grizzly bears, black bears, kudus and dozens of muskrats.

‘‘They are supposed to look lifelike,’’ Emken said.

That’s basic, which builds from details. Emken was happy to show how to look at details with his flashlight. He used a deer head he expected to do well, done by Jack Emery, a taxidermist from Downstate Carmi.

Emken showed the light on the eyelids and up the nostril and checked the blending of the skin to the inside of the nostril. He checked the inside of the ears, how the hair was done and the coloring.

Scoring starts with 100, then deductions are made. In rare
cases, judges give bonus points for the base.

Emken said judges generally will walk a room to pick out the top four or five, score them, then work from there. After the individual judging, the four judges go around and pick best of show.

‘‘Judges will go over and tell you what you did wrong and how you can fix it,’’ Emken said.

‘‘Main thing: You come in this room, you’re here to learn,’’ said Williams, the ITA president. ‘‘It’s a learning experience and a family one.’’

There’s a reason behind all the muskrats. A few years ago, a challenge started in which members did a special mount with the public selecting its choice. Two years ago, it was raccoons; last year, it was groundhogs. The winner picks the challenge for the next year.

Cheyanne Williams, Frank’s daughter, has dominated in recent years. The 14-year-old showed why she is a rising star in taxidermy. She paid compulsive attention to detail on her ‘‘Close Call.’’ And I mean detail down to scat (with a
fly on it) mounted on a log.

Members who don’t bring a muskrat mount for the challenge must put $50 in the scholarship fund. Two $500 scholarships are given each year to members’ children or grandchildren.

Frank Williams’ entry was a fox squirrel gnawing on a shed antlers. Emken pointed out key details: The squirrel was gnawing a shed antler, a winter scene, and the squirrel correctly had a winter coat.

A wildebeest, not a gaudy mount, drew much attention from others, who pondered the details. They talked about the way it was set up with two hidden rods the way sportswriters used to talk about how Frank Deford worked
a story.

One detailed entry was a bison, a collaboration by Steve Bollini of Godfrey, who did the base, and brothers Louie and Mike Pearse of Kane, who did the bison. Bollini’s base told the story of the past several centuries in North America, with a transition from stone arrowheads and axes to glass bottles and a broken wagon wheel.

Emken and Williams stressed the most important thing is the actual object of the taxidermy.

As Emken put it, ‘‘When it is done, it has to look like a raccoon.’’

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