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Beginnings: Taxidermist's work preserves animals

Monday, November 30, 2009 | 4:21 p.m. CST; updated 4:37 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Curt Shahan has been a taxidermist for over twenty years and has turned his hobby into a full-time job. "It's a lot more involved than a lot of people can even realize," he said. "When you get finished, each one is like a picture you might paint."

COLUMBIA — Stare at the walls of Curt Shahan’s Woodland Wonders Taxidermy studio and more than 100 pairs of beady eyes will stare right back at you. Bass fish and bobcats, badgers and black bears, Shahan gives new life to creatures of all shapes and sizes.

“You never know, people bring in some odd stuff,” Shahan says with a grin. 

Shahan mainly works on mounting white tailed deer, but he occasionally sees other members of the animal kingdom. Albino deer, horses and a pet iguana have been brought back to their lifelike forms in Shahan’s studio.    

“After the animal is harvested, we are bringing it back to its natural beginnings again,” Shahan says. “We are trying to put it back into its lifelike and natural surroundings.”

Through a unique combination of sculpting and painting, Shahan is able to bring an animal from forest floor to living room wall.

“When you get finished, each one is like a picture you might paint,” he says. “Any competent taxidermist can mount a fish, but the painting of it is what separates the average (taxidermist) from the better ones.”

Always an avid outdoorsman, Shahan wanted to combine his love for hunting with his artistic side and decided take up taxidermy as a hobby. Now, 20 years later, his hobby has blossomed into a full-time job. 

Mounting an animal is only one part of Shahan’s job, though. He must also work with another animal — the customer. Just as important as his intricate work on the animal is the relationship he builds with his clientele. That requires recognizing the significance each animal has to the customer.

“The biggest deer to the smallest deer, one is just as important as the other one to that customer,” Shahan says.

Shahan has plenty of work on his hands as the fall hunting seasons start to wrap up. He estimates that about 80 percent of his business comes during the prime hunting seasons between October and January. 

In a given year, he will mount between 100 and 150 deer, each requiring about 15 hours of work. “It’s a lot more involved than a lot of people can even realize,” Shahan says.


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