Stillwater News Press

September 29, 2013

Stillwater taxidermist works to get the form right

By Chris Day
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Stillwater taxidermist Gary Gussert recently completed one of his most important projects — mounting the head of a bull destined for display in the American Angus Hall of Fame in Smithville, Mo.

Gussert operates Classic Creations Taxidermy, 7112 S. Washington St., 405-372-2559. Gussert said he had been a taxidermist for about 15 years.

Griswold Cattle of Stillwater called Gussert when bull, Just Right, sustained an injury and was going to have to be put down.

Gussert explains.

“The ranch foreman called me and said they had this famous bull. He was hurt and they were going to put him down. The American Angus Hall of Fame had contacted them saying they wanted to display him. I went out a week previous to them putting him down to take pictures — close up pictures.”

After Just Right was put down, a processor went to the ranch and removed the skin according to Gussert’s specifications. Gussert sent the skin to his tanners to be preserved.

Gussert said detailed measurements were also made which allowed him to make the form fit the cape. A form replaces the skeleton as the underlying structure for the skin. It can be made of wood, wool, wire or polyurethane. The cape is the preserved animal skin.

“A lot of taxidermists will make the cape fit the form. They might cut some off the cape to make it fit. It changes the whole anatomy of the animal,” Gussert said.

When the form is made to fit the cape, the mounted animal more accurately resembles the animal when it was alive, he said.

“Before I got it back from the tanner, I started making alterations to the form by taking my detailed measurements and transferring them to the form,” he said.

“So when the cape came in, all I had to do was rehydrate it and put it on.”

Taxidermists must be familiar with anatomy, sculpture and painting, Gussert said. Gussert had to set the eyes at the proper angle and used clay to form the outline of muscles. He also uses clay to form the ear buds where the animal’s ears will attach to the form.

“I put glue on the form, slide the cape on, sew it up and start positioning. You taxi the skin into the position it needs to be,” he said.

Gussert specializes in mammals. Deer comprise most of his work, but bovines provide the biggest challenges.

“This is the sixth bovine that I’ve done,” he said. “It’s more difficult to do bovines because they don’t make very many forms and they always take alterations,” he said.

American Angus Hall of Fame Sales Manager Jeremy Haag said the organization was excited to have Just Right into its Hall of Fame. The bull will join approximately 40 other female and male Angus cattle in the Hall.

The cattle in the Hall of Fame represent the best producers in the Angus breed, he said.

“They are the most prominent females and sires in Angus history,” he said. “Just Right was one of the breed leaders, one of the top producers.”

Thousands visit the American Angus Hall of Fame every year, Haag said.