Advanced Taxidermy

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Taxidermy is an ancient custom that has its origins in the preservation of skins, horns, and skulls as hunting trophies. In the eighteenth century, the introduction of chemical poisons to protect skins and leathers from insects led to the accumulation of large collections of birds and mammals by royalty, and private collectors who used them for parlor ornaments and trophies of the chase.

Today there are laws to prohibit animals from being stuffed, other than by licensed institutions like museums, which preserve them for educational purposes. Only those animals, including birds, which can be legally hunted, may be preserved.

Sports fishing remain one of the last areas of taxidermy still available to the average individual. However, as angling increases in popularity, large trophy fish are harder to come by. Current trends in conservation, especially catch-and-release fishing, have created the need for making replica fish mounts. This is in art form new to taxidermy but embraced by anglers. They know large fish are the best genetic source for future generations of large fish. Releasing a fish to go and spawn more fish is good conservation. It also gives someone else the thrill of catching a big one.

Another reason replica fish mounts are gaining in popularity is due to the work of two outstanding artists, James McGregor and Sean Galea of Advanced Taxidermy of Toronto. , who are pioneers in this art form. Although these two young men are just in their twenties, they have been masters in their field for more than a decade. They have won more first place awards than any other taxidermy studio in the country, and many believe the quality and realism of their work is unmatched anywhere in the world. They have been the subject of articles in most of the popular game and outdoor magazines and have been featured on numerous fishing programs.

McGregor and Galea specialize in fiberglass fish reproductions as well as conventional skin mounts. Their medium of choice is polyester fiberglass, although they have done all forms of wildlife art in wood, metal, clay, and plaster, and stuff fur-bearing species.

The partners were born in Toronto and have been friends since childhood. Both have backgrounds in fine art and became involved in taxidermy in their teens. To recreate an exact replica, they combine their artistic and scientific skills. The angler must measure the catch from the tip of the tail to the tip of the snout and take a girth measurement before releasing the fish. A photo for color detail is desirable but not absolutely necessary, nor is a weight measurement. The men will be able to figure out the weight of the fish to within a fraction of accuracy with the two measurements. They also rely on a considerable library collection of photographs, books, and other materials, and observe and study sports fish in a 909-liter (200-gallon) aquarium.

Each project begins with long hours at the drafting table. Innumerable sketches, including thumbnail drawings of scales and eye details, are done. The pose and position of the fish is determined from every angle, and if a custom display is required, an artistic diorama is designed to incorporate the fish in a lifelike setting that exudes natural balance and motion.

Reproductions can be much more complex than skin mounts. Galea's replica of a largemouth bass he caught on Stony Lake in the Kawarthas is reproduced in an open-mouth, gill position. There is a high degree of difficulty, in such a pose, due to the exposure of gills and mouth parts. This particular model required a throat mold and molds for 21 separate mouth parts which had to be assembled afterwards. Details are exacting down to the transparent tissue between the maxillary and pre-operculum, veining in the skin tissues of the lip areas and inside operculum. Every item is made from scratch, including the eyes, rocks, weeds, and imitation-marble base.

Replicas are so lifelike that you want to reach out and touch them. They have the sheen of a fish that has just been pulled from the water. The scale detail and placement is actually more accurate than on a stretched mount, and there are never any flaws like broken fins. What's more, replicas will last longer than a skin mount, up to 100 years compared to 10. Skin mounts tend to dry out and crack. Some species of fish, like salmon and trout, discolor from oil spots which bead out. The work of Advanced Taxidermy is so spectacular, it's guaranteed for a lifetime.

Clients of the company include such fishing luminaries as Bob Izumi, Darryl Cronzy, Charlie Wray, Henry Waszchuck, Italo Labignan, and Dave Kraisosky. Advanced Taxidermy is the official taxidermist for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters who register record-breaking catches. Galea and McGregor have also made replicas for several Walt Disney productions and were commissioned by the Royal Ontario Museum to reproduce the world's largest fish, a 5-million-year-old, and 97 kilogram (215 pound) coelacanth.

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