Thursday, February 11, 2016

Preserving The Memory Of A Hunt

© Othmar Vohringer

© Copyright Steven Beckley
Preserving the memories of a hunt is a long standing tradition among hunters that can be traced back to the famous cave drawings of Lascaux in France, estimated to be about 18 thousand years old. The drawings depict, among accurate animal profiles, hunting scenes and images of hunters posing with game animals they’ve killed. As time went on the memories of the hunt included preserving the skin of the animal and we see the first head and full body preservation of animals in ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt. In Egypt it was not uncommon to kill and mummify the favourite pet or the prized war horse, of a deceased individual. Diseased Pharaohs were given whole menageries of carefully mummified animals to entertain and serve the King in the afterlife. Some of these mummified animals displayed in museums today look as lifelike as they did two-thousand years ago.

In many early cultures hunters would prepare the skin of an animal they hunted and wear it because they believed that the spirit of the animal would give them strength and wisdom, but also as a memorial of sorts to honour the animal whose life they took, and as a way to thank the Gods for providing them with important sustenance.

Throughout the times and in various cultures the skill to preserve the skin of an animal or bring it “back to life” was a highly respected craft in the hands of priests or shamans. The ancient Greeks called these skilled professionals “Taxidermists”, a title still in use today. The word “taxidermy” is made up of the Latin word “taxis” (arrange, arranging the order of things) and the word “derma” (skin).

Modern taxidermy is a multi-faceted practice that involves a great many skills and crafts ranging from carpentry, molding and sculpting to painting and drawing which requires an intimate knowledge of animal anatomy and movement. All these talents combined are required to create a replica of an animal that looks so real and natural you wouldn’t know the difference at a cursory glance. Good taxidermy work is expensive but the memory of that special animal you took will last with minimal care for many generations to come.

It is common for many hunters to point out that a particular mount on their walls was “shot by my grandfather.” Often there is a handwritten note attached to the back of the mount telling the story of the hunt. Memories don’t get better than that.

I always have been a great admirer of good taxidermy and continually marvel at the skill that it takes to create a replica of a live animal that is the perfect likeness down to the minutest detail. Seven years ago when Heidi and I moved to Merritt I was surprised to learn that this city, with its long and lively hunting tradition, didn’t have a taxidermist in town.

Well the good news is that this has changed. Two years ago Steven Beckley, a very talented taxidermist from Mckenzie, B.C moved to Merritt. Steven began his taxidermist career mainly for the reason of preserving the animals he has taken in North America and Africa and because he was fascinated by the art of taxidermy. Steven loves perfection and that is another reason why he chose to mount his own trophies. A phrase that kept coming up during our conversation was: “It has to look real.” How dedicated Steven is to his work becomes evident when you see the many certificates of excellence and awards hanging on the wall and of course there are the finished mounts and works-in-progress in his garage that look so real that you’re inclined to touch them to convince yourself that they are not alive.

Steven Beckley has learned his trade from the best in the business: Brian Dobson who operates Artistic Taxidermy in Alberta. Brian Dobson is considered the dean of North American taxidermy artistry with a long list of prizes and awards for his outstanding work and craftsmanship. Steven is destined to follow his tutor’s and mentor’s footsteps; his work is an outstanding testament to this fact. To see Steven’s taxidermy, go online to Facebook and see “Beckley’s Wilderness Taxidermy Studio”. I am glad we finally have a good taxidermist in Merritt, it was a long time coming and in this case well worth waiting for. I know who will preserve the memories of my future hunts- welcome to Merritt Steven Beckley.

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