Business & Development

faux-real

Brittney Morlan, Josh Wedmore, Josh Knoebel and Curran Munzer are the team behind Curran’s Custom Taxidermy in Springfield. The shop opened in 2008. Aliya Hall

One of the biggest misconceptions that Curran Munzer hears about taxidermy is that the process involves ”stuffing” an animal.
”These are not stuffed, they’re mounted,” he explained. ”The term ‘stuffed’ comes from before we had forms. They would literally, after it was all skinned out, they would sew the mouth and nose shut, and stuff it full of sawdust.” This practice hasn’t been used since the 1970s.
Every industry has changed over the years, whether through new technology or techniques, and taxidermy is no exception. Munzer originally entered the field when two friends suggested it, and he opened his shop, Curran’s Custom Taxidermy, in 2008.
Although little is known about the real beginnings of taxidermy, authors have placed the beginning in Egypt because of its embalming methods, according to the paper, ”The History of Taxidermy: Clues for Preservation,” written by Amandine Péquignot. Mummification, however, was created in a religious context while taxidermy first developed from a curiosity about nature.
”True taxidermy attempts to capture forms, expressions and animal attitudes in a lifelike manner,” Péquignot said.
Curran’s shop works with clients as well as other taxidermists. Munzer said that yearly they have around 600 to 650 projects from customers and 400 to 600 projects from other taxidermists. The crew is made up of six people, and Munzer said that it is ”teamwork on everything.”
Over the years, Munzer has mounted his share of unique animals. He said that 99% of the time he taxidermies a pet – usually either a cat or a dog – but he has mounted a six-foot monitor lizard, a four-foot iguana and a three-foot python. The python had died while its owners were at a wedding, and the snake died under a lamp where its body ”cooked”; Munzer said it was the ”foulest smell ever.”
”I have a pretty good stomach,” he said. ”I’ve had people tell me something is bad and it’s like ‘Oh, I could eat lunch next to this,’” he laughingly boasted. But the snake? ”It was the worst one ever.”
Two of his favorite mountings ever were antelopes – specifically because of the stories behind them. One was shot by a 92-year-old man after receiving his first antelope tag. Another was a father-and-son team; the father was blind and was able to kill the animal because the gun had a scope on the side that the son could look through and help guide the father to where he needed to shoot.
”It’s one of my favorite ones; it wasn’t freaky, it wasn’t huge, but it’s the story that goes along with it,” he said. ”Absolutely amazing.”
Smaller creatures are the biggest struggle, Munzer said, because it’s more tedious and the skins are thinner and more fragile. The same goes for old skins; if a hide hasn’t been kept in the freezer for a few years, rehydrating the skin will make it swell and give it a rubbery texture that is easier to rip.
It’s especially challenging when a smaller mount is also a pet.
”(Pets) are the hardest and my least favorite to do,” Munzer said. ”When someone brings in deer, elk or an antelope, they’re excited and happy; it’s a trophy. When they come with a pet, it’s a lifelong friend and they’re an emotional wreck. Trying to ask some of the questions we have to ask is trying on people.”
Those questions can include: ”How did he look at you? What position do you want him in? We have to take his eyes out and replace them, so I need a photo of how the eyes look.” Munzer said some customers want to know details of the process, which can be graphic.
”Some people understand, and some can’t handle it,” he said.
An important part of Munzer’s job is trying to give educated suggestions without telling customers what they should do, whether it’s how to pose the animal or deciding on a bear rug versus a mounting. But the most rewarding part of his job is seeing the customers pick up their mount.
”The kids and old people are my favorite ones,” he said. ”Somebody who truly enjoys and appreciates it. Probably a lot of people think of taxidermy as, ‘They’re only getting it mounted because it’s huge.’ I don’t like doing those; the ones I really enjoy are the people who really put in the effort and there’s more of a story.”

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