WTA Member Profiles
This section of my site, is devoted to the member profiles I have written the last three years for the WTA annual.
The WTA hosts it's Deer Classic every Feb. and after the show I get together with several members prior to the next Nov. and interview them for a profile in the WTA annual.
I have listed beside each members name, the year of the WTA annual that featured the member's profile.
Robert Blaschke (1999 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
After leaving law enforcement in 1989, I once again found time to hunt and fish and began attending the many Deer Shows in Wisconsin. After attending my first WTA Deer Classic in Green Bay, I knew that taxidermy would certainly be in my future.
My "first customer" mount, followed a few years later (1995). That same customer just dropped off a 44" pike. I consider myself a hobbyist, fitting
taxidermy in between my work schedule (respiratory therapist, at the Mauston
Hospital), my family, and my other hobbies (hunting, fishing, Hunter Education Instructor, and photography). I always enjoy my time spent, doing taxidermy and especially look forward to doing new pieces and the research that goes into them.
My family and I make Wisconsin Dells our home. I have been married to my
wife, Nancy, for 16 years and have two children, Danielle (14) and Bobby (7). Both of my kids help out in the shop, Danielle actually skinned her first Red Fox last winter and Bobby enjoys helping clean fish. Nancy helps out, by staying out of the shop. Actually she helps care for our growing community of live reference animals.
Since joining the WTA, I have attended many of the summer mini-shows, gaining invaluable information at their seminars and competitions. I certainly look forward to the return of the rendezvous and felt honored to give back to the WTA, by helping with this annual report and the member profiles I have written for this issue.
I want to thank Dean, Lonny, Brenda, and Cindi, for the privilege of allowing me to take some of their valuable time. I look forward to meeting other members and writing their profiles for future WTA reports. Maybe, if the response is high enough, we can add member profiles to our WTA newsletter. My email is email@example.com , drop my a line with any thoughts or suggestions.
My Resignation from WTA Annual
Over the past three years I have had the opportunity to meet, interview, and
write profiles on many fellow members of the Wisconsin Taxidermist Association. I have been privileged by the chance to serve the WTA in this manner.
Sadly my service for the WTA's annual has now come in direct conflict with my opposition to the 100% mandate, that the NTA is attempting to implement. It was recently brought to my attention (August 2001) that my opposition to the NTA mandate has resulted in a number of consequences to the WTA membership.
Without going into the details, I must submit my resignation and cease my duties with the WTA annual. I will of course complete the profiles I began for the 2001 annual. I am not resigning from the WTA and I certainly will not stop my opposition of the NTA's 100% mandate.
I however can not allow my opinions, to be considered to officially represent the WTA membership or it's board. Therefore I have no choice but to end my ties to the WTA annual.
I certainly encourage another member to come forward and volunteer to continue with these profiles. Meeting and writing about fellow WTA members is an enjoyable task, one that I will certainly miss.
Robert C. Blaschke Jr.
Cindi Christman (1999 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
I first met Cindi at the Mini Walleye Competition at the Fond du Lac WTA meeting in 1996. I was impressed with her from the start and have since continued to use her as a role model, to my daughter.
What so impressed me, was the way she handled the judge's score and critique, of her third place walleye. You have to understand, that this was the first time I saw an open discussion of a mount's score between the taxidermist and the judge(s). She so well, handled their criticism of her work and accepted the score. I thought the piece was much better, but of course, I wasn't the judge. I don't know that she remembers, but I told her that I thought the piece was better than it's score.
Great Walleye mount Cindi. Congratulations on the BLUE ribbon !
I was very happy for Cindi, to later attend the Duluth IGT and see how well
this piece (with a 2nd Walleye added) scored there (First Place).That 1997 IGT show, saw Cindi earn "Best International Taxidermist", "Best International Gamehead", and the "WASCO" award. Her list of awards and accomplishments just continues to grow. Space limits me from listing all of her awards, but she has received many both at the state and national level.
The two awards, that Cindi is most proud of, are "Best All-Around Taxidermist" (last earned at the 1999 WTA) and her First Place WTA Whitetail
ribbon (she considers deer heads one of her weakest areas). Cindi truly understands the merit of competing and what's actually at stake. It's not about bragging rights, but rather as Cindi puts it she looks "at the competitions like a final exam at the end of the school year -- how much did I learn this year?" Cindi knows how to study for those finals!
Along with her husband (Sam), Cindi operates Beartooth Taxidermy, in St.
Germain. Both Cindi and Sam work full-time in the shop. Cindi taught Sam how to do fish and he now does all the fish work and Cindi handles the rest. Cindi gives Sam all the credit, for teaching her, how to bowhunt. She now considers bowhunting her favorite hobby.
Cindi's road to excellence in taxidermy, may have taken a few turns, that many of us would have avoided. After receiving a BS in Geology and then going on to pursue a Master's in Vertebrate Paleontology, she took a course in mammalogy. There she had to prepare three museum skins. It was here that the taxidermy bug, bit her.
While teaching at the university level, working towards her tenure, Cindi
realized that the desert field work (collecting fossils), would be no life for her then, 6 year old daughter (Jessica). Realizing her best natural talents were her artwork, she decided to pursue a career in taxidermy, allowing her to be, both her own boss and primary care giver to Jessica.
Cindi and Jessica moved back to Wisconsin, where she then paid another
taxidermist, to teach her the basics. She feels her most valuable training has been received at the WTA seminars. She feels so strongly about the value of these seminars, that she can not understand why more state taxidermists fail to take advantage of the WTA and these seminars.
Cindi has been a WTA member for 10 of her 12 years in taxidermy. She has
served two terms (4 years) as a Board of Director member and chaired the Artistic Merit Award committee. She has also been setting up the WTA seminars these past few years.
After dividing her time up, between taxidermy, family, the WTA, and bowhunting, any extra, is her own. With this she enjoys other forms of hunting, hiking, 4-wheeling, her drawing, puzzles, counted cross-stitch, and her newest hobby - computers.
It goes without saying that this lady runs on high octane. Let's all as WTA
members, thank her for returning home to Wisconsin and giving our organization such a boost.
This piece was entered in the 2000 WTA Deer Classic and won
blue ribbons for both Cindi Christman and fellow WTA member
Brenda Duval. The piece was so large, it is difficult to tell, but those
two dark objects on either side of the pair of cubs, were the blue
ribbons the piece won.
Sam Christman (2000 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
Most of us enter the field of taxidermy as a result of our passion for the outdoors or our love for hunting of fishing. Many of us get introduced to taxidermy as youngsters. Some of us run with it from there but others go back to it later in life.
Sam also began his career in taxidermy, out of a passion... but his love was for his wife, Cindi Christman. Now don't get me wrong Sam lives for bowhunting and enjoys many outdoor hobbies. It is just that none of those things drew him to taxidermy.
Sam met Cindi, in Broadhead (Wis.) while she was first learning her craft. At that time Sam wasn't involved with taxidermy. Sam was in the home construction field. After the two married they wanted to move to Northern Wisconsin, where they both could fully enjoy all of the outdoor activities available. So in 1990 they relocated to St. Germain.
As Cindi began to do taxidermy in St. Germain, Sam built log homes. As
circumstances would evolve Sam had suffered an injury and Cindi's workload
increased to the point where she needed to hire an employee. The couple decided that Cindi could teach Sam how to do fish and the pair began to operate Beartooth Taxidermy together.
Sam is strictly a fish taxidermist, having been so for the past six years. Three years ago he began competing and took home a ribbon at the Duluth IGT in 1997, for a muskie. This last year, saw him win the "Best of Category" for 2-Sided Fish Group, with a smallmouth bass piece at our own WTA show. Prior to this years big award Sam has also picked up other blue ribbons in WTA fish competition.
Sam's pair of smallmouth, that impressed everyone !
In addition to his commercial fish work for his own customers, Sam has also began to offer wholesale fish work to other taxidermists. I do need to caution you, that Sam isn't soliciting wholesale work. He is only taking in a limited amount of wholesale fish based on his own workload.
Sam's phone number and address is available in the WTA member directory and I would encourage you to call him with any questions about his wholesale
fish service. Isn't it a great benefit of WTA membership to find other talented and credible members who can help your business ?
Brenda Duval (1999 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
Brenda with her Black Bear Cub
Following a phone call with John Bellucci, where he told me how impressed he was with the Black Bear Club, that Brenda had entered into competition at the World Show (Carl E. Akeley Award -3rd, and First Place in the Professional Division), I felt compelled to seek her out and arraign an interview, so that I could write a member profile and introduce her to the WTA membership.
I found Brenda at Bear's Taxidermy (Abbotsford), where she works full-time
for Robin Beran (14 yrs). Besides working for Robin, she also helps her husband, (Tim) operate the farm and is the mother of two young children (Nicole and Colten). As if her schedule is not busy enough, she also teaches Sunday School and does volunteer work at her children's school. Now toss in being a WIAA volleyball official and you all can certainly understand, how difficult it was for us to get this interview in.
I was amazed at the quality of her competition pieces, as she has so few, free hours to put into her own pieces. Brenda's specialty is young mammals (it's her passion), she has a very unique group of her pieces on display at Robin's shop.
Brenda's passion for young mammals is obvious here, with a pair of lion
cubs she did for a joint effort piece with Cindi Christman.
Brenda "loves" her job and feels that joining the WTA was "one of the best
things, I've ever done". She feels that "the knowledge and skills of some of the best taxidermists in the world are all packaged together", in the WTA. In fact she gives 100% credit for the Akley award, she just won at the World Show, to a group of people in the WTA for taking her into the organization so openly.
Brenda is now giving back to the WTA, having just become a Board of Directors member (North of HWY 10), in Feb. of 1999, for a two year term. Her love of taxidermy and her high regard of the WTA is going to benefit us all. This just feels like a fit, that can not go wrong. Good Luck Brenda.
Dean Ebert (1999 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
Dean at BEER! camp
I met Dean (46) in beer camp (those guys from Janesville, drank it for breakfast), while hunting bear in Cayuga, Wis. Dean had a successful hunt, taking a nice boar on the 4th day of the 1999 season. Like many others, Dean got his start in taxidermy through the mail courses offered by Northwestern. At the age of 15, Dean did his first mount (blackbird). He began doing work for others in the 1970's.
Dean with his bear. We skinned this fellow for a full body
mount, that Dean had at our 2001 Green Bay Deer Classic.
Dean operates Cool City Taxidermy, part-time, from his home in Two Rivers.
His wife, Diane (of 26 years), helps out with the customer contacts. Dean does all his own work, on the birds, fish, and mammals he takes in. Fish and gameheads, make up the bulk of his work.
Dean has been a WTA member for over 10 years, having competed at the Deer Classic for 6 years. Dean competes mostly in the waterfowl and fish divisions. Dean says that competing is "the best thing I ever did". This past year, Dean earned ribbons with both his fish and waterfowl.
In addition to his outdoor hobbies of hunting and fishing, Dean is a Harley man, always enjoying a ride on one of his hogs, whenever possible. I look forward to seeing Dean this coming year in Green Bay and encourage all of you, especially if you ride a Harley, to look Dean up.
Jim Fredrick (2001 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
Writing a profile on Jim Fredrick is certainly no easy task. As a member of the Wisconsin Taxidermists Association, since its inception, Jim is well known by most of the WTA members. Jim (58) has already spent 35 years, operating as a full-time taxidermist in Wisconsin.
In 1966 Jim first opened Evergreen Taxidermy in the Milwaukee area. Jim along with his wife (Sheila) live just west of Cambria (on Hwy. P), where the couple relocated their home and studio in 1971. To say that Jim has been a long time fixture in Wisconsin taxidermy, would certainly be an understatement.
The couple have two sons, Jeff (LaCrosse) and Dan (Grafton). Jeff is a graphic designer and Dan is a surveyor. Neither is active in taxidermy, though both enjoy hunting and fishing. Jeff even has a bit of a reputation as a turkey caller (having won 7 of the last 8 state championships).
As an avid outdoorsman (hunting, fishing, and bird watching), Jim turned his love for the outdoors into his full-time occupation. Originally responding to an advertisement for the Northwestern School of Taxidermy, Jim took the course work and received his diploma in 1960.
Jim’s training did not end there. He sought out still more training and went on to study with other taxidermists such as Dave Luke and Jim Beenken. Jim also credits seminars he has attended at NTA conventions with furthering his talents.
Jim especially wants to thank fellow WTA members; Mike Morley, Brian Olson, Mike Orthober, Pat Wagner, and Mike Yeska for seminars they have presented which Jim credits for even further improving his work.
Jim was very sincere in requesting that I give the above people credit for helping his work improve. In the same way, I believe that there are many of us (WTA members), who owe thanks to Jim Fredrick. Over the years, Jim has provided training to at least 17 apprentices within his shop. Even on my own visits to Jim’s, I always go away having learned some new tip or other useful technique.
Any WTA profile written about Jim Fredrick would not be complete, if it did not also include a few words about Sheila Fredrick. Sheila not only helps Jim out with his bookkeeping, but she also does the felting for his rugs. As much as Jim appreciates Sheila for her help, the WTA membership should appreciate her even more.
Like the wives of several other Wisconsin taxidermists, Sheila Fredrick has served the WTA for many years in many ways. She has spent eleven years as our association treasurer, many more years as a board member (presently still on our WTA Board) and of course she has been “The Ribbon Lady” since the early 80’s. In addition to her official WTA duties, Sheila has served the WTA in many other ways. She is a constant presence at WTA events and certainly spends her fair share of time, working the WTA booth at both the Green Bay Deer Classic and the Madison Deer and Turkey Expo.
In addition to being a long time member of the WTA, Jim also belongs to the NTA (having joined that organization during their second year of existence). Jim also belongs to many other groups, such as Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation (just to name a few).
Over the years, Jim has served the Wisconsin Taxidermists Association in many ways. Specifically he has been our Competition Chairman for nearly 20 years, and now also serves as seminar chairman for our summer Midwest Rendezvous.
Jim has been competing for 30 years, receiving his first ribbons in the 1971 “Taxidermy Review” held in Denver. In all Jim has competed at our WTA shows, the NTA conventions, the World Show, the IGT, and the Taxidermy Review.
He has won a showroom of awards, but perhaps the most important to Jim, are his Award of Excellence (NTA) and his Best of Show and Taxidermist's Choice awards won through WTA competition.
Every time I visit Jim's showroom, I am amazed at both the quality and the quantity of the work that he displays. My favorite piece, still remains that little black bear cub, that won Jim many awards.
Like most of us, Jim enjoys his hunting and fishing. Since our last get together (April), I know Jim headed out west (Colorado) for a successful turkey hunt. He already has a duck hunt planned for 2003 in Arkansas. When time allows, Jim also enjoys pursuing some of Wisconsin's inland trout.
If you are a new member to the Wisconsin Taxidermists Association, take it upon yourself to meet Jim and Sheila Fredrick. While you are at it, please thank them for all they have done for taxidermy in Wisconsin and the WTA.
Ron Grams (2000 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
At last year's award banquet no one was more surprised with the announcement of the "Best All-Around Taxidermist" than the winner of that award, Ron Grams. Only by chance I happened to be sitting next to Ron when the award was announced. He really had not expected to win. It was a pleasure to watch Ron's genuine reaction to having won this award.
A happy Ron Gram with his new "Best All-Around" trophy.
Ron owns and operates Grams Taxidermy located in Springbrook, on Hwy 63
about halfway between Hayward and Spooner. If you get the chance to get up
to that area to hunt or fish you owe it to yourself to stop in and meet Ron. Besides being a fellow WTA member, Ron has also now become a WTA Director (completing Cindi Christman's term).
Ron (36 years old) has been a full-time taxidermist for the past 3 years. He began doing work for customers back in the late 80's after having been exposed to taxidermy at a young age. As a teenager, Ron took mail order courses and in 1989, he attended the Rinehart Fish School. He has basically been self-taught on everything else.
Ron has been a WTA member for the last 3 years and has only been competing the past 2 years. Ron's approach to competition is that it's a learning experience. He admit's to being very hesitant to compete, due to a lack of confidence in his work. Yet still he wants to compete, to get the feedback from the judges. With this his work will continue to improve.
Ron has received the Wildlife Fed Upland Bird award in each of his first two years of competing. He received this year's "Best All-Around" award after entering a Fischer, Grouse, Antelope, and Smallmouth Bass. In addition he has taken home several other ribbons from WTA competitions.
Grams with "Best All-Around Taxidermist" entries and trophies
(photo courtesy of Ron Grams)
Originally from LaCrosse, Ron relocated to Springbrook after buying the
location for his shop and making that decision to go full-time. Besides bowhunting (traditional) Ron enjoys canoeing the nearby Namekogen river with
his girlfriend, Lisa.
Working to promote both Taxidermy and himself Ron has spoken to various
groups, to include local school children and the Safari Club. In addition Ron has mounted many protected birds for the local schools and the DNR. Ron has a real passion for these birds and I was very fortunate to see several pieces on my visit to Ron's shop. This relationship between the local schools, the DNR, and Ron to save these specimens for future students, may just spark one or more of these kids to enter taxidermy.
Ron with a finished mount (above) and another yet drying (below) that
he has donated his services for, to save for future generations of students.
Ron Grams may have been surprised when it was announced that he won Best
All-Around Taxidermist. But after visiting his shop and spending several hours talking with him, I can tell you honestly, that Ron is a hard working WTA member, who has a passion for his work and deserved to win last year's
"Best All-Around" title.
Barb Hoier (2001 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
Growing up as the daughter of a fisherman, instilled into Barb an interest in taxidermy that she began pursuing ten years ago when she attended a two night class on fish taxidermy. Three years later she began a new career path that has now led her to an occupation in taxidermy.
For the last three years Barb has operated her own full-time shop in New London, Wis., where she resides with her two teenage sons. Barb credits both
Steve (17) and Brian (15) with providing her many specimens to have honed
her skills on.
Like so many other WTA members, Barb's skills do not end with her work as
a taxidermist. Barb is also a flat artist, having competed several times in the annual Wisconsin Duck stamp contest. Barb currently sells her artwork both out of her taxidermy shop and out of a retail location in Appleton. She primarily paints animals and landscapes.
Barb joined the WTA seven years ago and has been competing for the last six years. She credits fellow WTA member, Mark Gonnering for his efforts to get her into the association and for the improvements in her work since she became a WTA member.
Barb has previously won a WTA Best of Category for a fawn she did in the
large lifesize mammal division, but her 2001 Whitetail was her first Blue Ribbon for a Whitetail Gamehead in the professional division. With only a handful of blue ribbon gameheads last year, Barb should always be very proud of her entry.
As we approach our 2002 Deer Classic, keep two things in mind about Barb
Hoier. First of all she certainly will not be satisfied with her accomplishments from past shows and secondly don't forget to turn your banquet tickets into Barb prior to the awards dinner.
Dennis Julius (2001 Annual)
By Bob Blaschke
As the 2001 Green Bay Deer Classic approached, I had the unique experience
of watching Dennis Julius (40) create his entry (swimming otter) in the Masters Division. During January and February I was making almost weekly trips to Pardeeville and tried to stop by and visit Dennis and his otter, whenever time permitted.
Dennis operates "Critters Taxidermy" from his home and studio (located along
the south shore of Pardeeville's Park lake). Dennis and his wife (Beth) moved to Pardeeville nearly five years ago, after relocating their family from DeForest. The couple's two teenage sons (Josh and Kyle) have already competed in WTA events.
During the weeks prior to our Deer Classic, I really began to doubt that Dennis would even finish the piece, in time to enter it into our Green Bay show. Along the way I often took digital pictures of the process as Dennis created the piece. As Dennis worked on the Otter, I began to visualize the story I would write and started to tease him that my story would be done, but that his otter would not.
The idea for Dennis' swimming otter entry, began at the 2000 Prairie du Chien Rendezvous, after he purchased an interesting piece of driftwood. On his drive home, he began to mentally go through his freezers, when he remembered an otter that he had purchased from a trapper.
The two made a perfect fit and he began working on his entry. When I first saw the piece, Dennis had the basic base work done (though he would later redo the bait fish that the otter was chasing) and the heavily altered otter form attached to the driftwood.
The only thing missing was the tanned otter hide. With 28 days left to go before the 2001 WTA Deer Classic, all Dennis needed to do, was to get the Otter hide on the form, let it dry, do the finish work and complete the base. Well he got it done, though the mammal judge did mention to me (after the judging) that he thought the otter felt damp.
Dennis had previously won "State Champion" in the Masters Division for large
life-size mammals in both 1999 and 2000. His 2001 swimming otter entry (in the Masters Division for a medium life-size mammal), was not only competed in time, but earned Julius his third straight "State Champion" title in the WTA Masters Division.
It also earned Dennis the WASCO award (for artistic merit), presented at our
2001 Green Bay Deer Classic. In addition to the success Dennis has achieved
at our own WTA events, he has also won awards from several other taxidermy
competitions, to include both the IGT and NTA.
Like so many of us, Dennis entered the field of taxidermy after having another taxidermist destroy a trophy he had harvested. Dennis decided that it was time to learn how to do it himself. After 15 years of learning his craft, he proudly gives credit to the WTA for the competition success he has achieved.
Along with the basics he received from a mail order course, and those tough lessons he learned on his own, from trial and error, Dennis still credits his membership in the WTA for elevating the level of his work. He appreciates all the fellow WTA members, to whom he made "lot's of long distance" phone calls (seeking their help and advice).
Dennis has been a full-time taxidermist for nearly seven years. He has been a WTA member for 10 of his 15 years in taxidermy and has been competing since joining. He has also recently served on the WTA board (as a south of Hwy 10 director).
In addition to being another fine example of the quality of taxidermists who reside in Wisconsin and belong to the WTA, Dennis is also an active members of the WTA who wants to see the art of taxidermy, both thrive and be protected.
He would like to see statewide licensing of all Wisconsin taxidermists. He feels this would help to keep all taxidermists on a level playing field. Though he isn't certain how best to implement this licensing requirement (he is against licensing by testing, as done in Pennsylvania), he strongly feels no one should be allowed to practice taxidermy without being licensed.
When discussing with Dennis how the WTA can best grow and attract new members, he honestly acknowledged how tough attracting new members to the
WTA is. He feels that the WTA already offers its members an outstanding value for the price of our membership. Dennis feels the key may be, in just getting non-members to see what we offer. He feels if we can attract them to a WTA event, where they can experience firsthand our seminars and benefits, they will gladly join the WTA.
When time permits Dennis enjoys hunting and fishing and recently went on his
first African Safari, with a fellow Pardeeville resident. The pair enjoyed success and Dennis is currently involved in mounting several of the trophies, that they returned home with.
In his free time, he enjoys working with wood, building projects such as cabinets. As he builds his own base work, this hobby certainly benefits his taxidermy and competition work. Prior to turning to taxidermy full-time Dennis was a salesman for a large lumberyard, so I suppose you can say that Dennis has sawdust running through his veins.
Mike Morely (2001 Insight)
By Bob Blaschke
While always trying to figure out who or what to write about for a future member profile or Insight article, one name came up several times. That name was Mike Morely. So last year at our Green Bay Deer Classic, I made it a mission to seek Mike out.
It wasn't hard to find him, he was at many of our seminars and WTA events over the weekend. To top it off, he entered a Turkey that did very well in our competition. When I sought Mike out, it was because of the services he offers fellow taxidermists. After he did so well at our show, I then had another reason to introduce him to you.
Mike has been doing taxidermy for 20 years. The last 18 years he has been
operating full-time as "Thunder Valley Taxidermy". Like so many other taxidermists, Mike entered the field, after receiving a lesser-quality mount back from another taxidermist. He felt he could do a better job that what he had received back on his trophy and set out to prove it. He certainly has, both within Wisconsin and on the national level.
Mike has been a WTA member for 16 years and also belongs to the NTA and the
IGT. In addition he belongs to many other groups such as DU, NWTF, NRA, and
Pheasants Forever just to name a few.
Mike lives in just outside of West Salem, Wi., where he operates his business from three buildings located on his property. The entire basement of his ranch-style home serves as his main work area. His four employees work in the two other free-standing buildings next to his home.
He has a showroom with it's own off-street entrance located in one corner of
the building. Though the size of Mike's showroom is modest compared to the rest of the square footage his shop occupies, it's contents certainly are not. On display he has a massive collection of fish, turkeys, and small to medium-sized mammals and reptiles.
Mike began competing in 1984 with the Midwest Regionals held in Milwaukee,
Wi. He has also competed in the NTA, IGT, and the World Show. At our 2001
Deer Classic Mike took home Taxidermist's Choice - Best of Show, as well as a 2nd in the Masters. He also received a 2nd at last year's World Show.
Though very humble while discussing his past achievements in various taxidermy competitions, Mike readily admitted that he was most proud of winning the Taxidermist's Choice award at our show last winter. Mike really appreciated this award, voted on by his peers.
Some of Mike's other major awards include a Best of Category at our 2000 Deer Classic and a 1st in our WTA Masters division. On the national level Mike has picked up many awards, which include "Best Freeze-Dried Entry" for a blue parakeet, that Mike just did for himself and took along to an IGT Show, more as an after thought because of the ease in transporting it there.
Having now introduced Mike to you, I would now like to concentrate on the
services Mike can offer to fellow WTA taxidermists. Maybe you have heard of
Mike as the turkey guy. Well his turkey entry at our 2001 Deer Classic certainly confirms his talents in the field of turkey taxidermy. The fact is, Mike does a lot of turkeys and I mean a huge number of turkeys.
However turkeys is only part of what Mike does. What he really does and what
makes his work stand out, is his use of freeze dryers and freeze drying techniques. Mike and his crew turn out over 500 pieces a year, with about 25% (125 pieces) as wholesale work he does for other taxidermists from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. Presently Mike is primarily doing wholesale freeze-drying work on Turkey heads, Panfish, and small mammals.
Now certainly other WTA members own and use freeze dryers, but few to the
extent of Mike. Mike doesn't just own a freeze dryer, he owns four large capacity industrial units (his crew of employees). Many of you may be familiar with the smaller units designed for the one man shop that cost in the range of $8000 to $10,000. The units Mike use sell for three to four times that amount.
The expense of Mike's crew doesn't end with their purchase price. According to Mike, his monthly electric bill exceeds $350. Repairs and maintenance are another thing, especially those after hour repair bills, when something goes wrong outside of the normal 9 to 5.
Mike is looking to add more wholesale freeze-drying services and is presently working on a price list. Mike isn't necessarily looking to take on more work, but rather to switch to a higher percentage of wholesale work as compared to his own commercial work.
It isn't so much that Mike doesn't want to deal with retail customers anymore, but we all know how time consuming they can be. Wholesale work is either shipped in and out or dropped off and picked up by other taxidermist who also value time and don't need to share the story of how the trophy was harvested.
Other than his crew of freeze-dryers Mike works mostly alone. The father of
three daughters (18 to 23 years old), Mike jokingly says "their only involvement with his taxidermy business is to spend it's income". With three daughters in college, it is no wonder why Mike turns out so much work each year. Mike actually would like to add a living and breathing employee to his business, but hasn't yet found a reliable person.
On my visit to Mike's shop, not only did the size of the freeze-dryers surprise me, but the necessary square building footage needed to house these four units was amazing. Mike is housing two units in each of his two garages located next to his house. And talk about normal freezers, they were everywhere.
Mike has six freezers filled with work and still others he uses to pose and freeze pieces before they actually go into one of his freeze-dryers. He showed me a large porcupine that was sitting in a freezer, already prepped and posed with wires for freeze-drying.
Mike showed me the steps involved with the freeze-drying process and the daily checks he makes on each of his four units. I won't go into the details, but will mention that Mike monitors the weight of each and every piece within these huge chambers as he tracks the drying process and moisture content. One striking thing about looking at these units was the temperature gauges that read as low as -61 degrees.
Mike offers many sorts of freeze-drying services you may need, including life-size mammals (lots of fawns in those units on my visit), turkey heads, birds, and fish. For price quotes on mammals or birds, give Mike a call at (608) 786-1397.
Mike is charging $35 for unpainted turkey heads and $50 painted. He is also offering fish services with two options. He will skin, carve the body, mount and freeze-dry fish for $3.50 per inch. All you need to do is the finish work and paint. Of course with freeze-drying there is very little rebuilding required. Panfish are $20 - $35 depending on size, rather than a per inch charge.
Mike also will basically rents out space in his units for you to freeze-dry your own mounted fish, (to reduce the excessive shrinkage that occurs with traditional fish drying methods). For this Mike charges $1.25 per inch with a $25 minimum. These fish need to be personally delivered to Mike all carded and ready to go into the units.
Mike will certainly accept shipments of frozen items for his services, but for fish to only be freeze-dried, he insists those be dropped off, to prevent any damage from being shipped. It is best to speak with Mike first before beginning to send him items. Find out how he wants items shipped to him, carded, etc.
I have now joined Mike's list of customers, after visiting him and dropping off some fish for his to do. As soon as I get through my freezers, he will get some more. I have never used any one else to do wholesale work for me, but after meeting Mike and seeing his operation I have the confidence that "my customers" will be well served by Mike.
Steve Niehaus (2001 Annual)
By Bob Blaschke
Seventeen years ago, while attending a deer hunting expo, Steve Niehaus was
once again bitten, by the taxidermy bug. He had attended the event, for the hunting information, but came away with a renewed interest for taxidermy.
Many years earlier Steve had picked up his father's old NorthWestern taxidermy books (from the 1950's) and worked his way through the old booklets by the time he was 14 years old. Then just as his father had done, Steve walked away from taxidermy.... that was until 1984 when he attended that hunting expo - actually the "First WTA Deer Classic" (held in Appleton in 1984).
Niehaus joined the Wisconsin Taxidermist Association while at the event and from there he has never looked back. Having joined the WTA, Steve then sought training and signed up for a six-week taxidermy course at a Wisconsin taxidermy school, specializing in gamehead and bird taxidermy. He later made arraignments to take private lessons for fish taxidermy.
Having belonged to the WTA for the past 17 years, Steve began competing 13
years ago. So far he has only competed in WTA events and does so to improve his work, Steve echoes every other WTA member I have ever interviewed, in
saying that the best thing about competing in WTA events is the improvement that competition brings to his work. He credits the WTA competition as a great learning tool.
For the past ten years, Steve has operated his taxidermy business (Northern
Lights Taxidermy) full-time. Niehaus operates from his home (located just outside of Marshfield) where he specializes in gameheads, life-size mammals
While Steve does his fair share of commercial work, wholesale taxidermy also
makes up a large percentage of his annual workload. Steve takes in wholesale
work both at his residence and will try to work with his wholesale customers to arraign pick up and delivery of large work orders.
Steve (44) and his wife Alice have been married 21 years and the couple have 3 children. Alice is a big help to Steve, doing the books for the business and helping out with advertising and promotion. She herself has recently opened her own business in Marshfield. Their daughter (Lisa) has no interest in taxidermy, but their sons (Ben and Chad) have both already competed and earned awards in WTA events.
Steve has won numerous WTA awards (since he began competing) and as if, to
prove his earlier comments about improving his work through competing, he has begun to win more and bigger awards in recent years. At last year's 2001 Green Bay Deer Classic, Steve added to his ribbon collection, when he brought home a blue ribbon and "Best of Category" award for the Turkey he entered.
He has won other previous WTA ribbons in the Professional Whitetail Gamehead
Division and Mixed Mammal Group. Steve still considers a 3rd place WTA ribbon, his most meaningful. In 1987 at the Madison WTA competition, he earned this ribbon with a LargeMouth Bass, it was his first competition ribbon.
Like many of us, Steve's hobbies involve hunting and fishing. He especially enjoys bowhunting and heads out west every 2-3 years to chase Elk with a bow. Another important hobby of Steve's, certainly separates him from the majority of the rest of us WTA members. Steve runs marathons. Let me repeat that - Steve runs MARATHONS ! Actually that shouldn't surprise anyone that has seen Steve at any WTA event. At least now we all know why he looks so da-- skinny. My hobbies beyond hunting and fishing, generally involve a couch and a remote control.
Whenever possible, Steve promotes the field of taxidermy, by speaking to groups such as the 4H and the Boy Scouts as well as both Marshfield schools. Steve also previously served the WTA membership, during his past 2-year term as a WTA Board Member.
When discussing our association with Steve, he feels that the openness of the WTA is the biggest benefit, members receive. He feels that it is very important to continue to welcome new members into our fold and to share with our membership the knowledge that formerly was a secret kept close to the vest. He would also like to see the average WTA member more involved, especially in terms of being active with WTA events.
Steve Niehaus is another fine example of a WTA member as well as another
example of a WTA benefit. From time to time we all could use a helping hand. It is nice to know a fellow WTA member like Steve, who we can turn to, when those freezers are a little too full. I recently used Steve to help out with some of my bird backlog and certainly plan to make use of his wholesale services in the future.
Brian Olson (2000 Annual)
Brian Olson, with a recently sculpted whitetail head.
by Bob Blaschke
We all became involved in taxidermy in many various ways, many of us through mail order classes. That's also how Brian Olson (35 years old) got his start. Well... sort of. When Brian was 18, he was trying to help his younger brother complete a project for the J.W. Elwood taxidermy course.Taxidermy wasn't in the cards for Brian's little brother (now a teacher), but it sure was a good fit for Brian. Judging by his success at both the state and national level, it's been a great fit.
Brian has been married for 11 years, to Michelle. The couple have two children, Curtis (7) and Emily (5) and reside outside of Platteville. Brian just recently completed his new shop complete with aviary, from where he does his taxidermy full-time. Brian really appreciates that Michelle (who works for Alliant Energy and commutes to Dubuque) helps him by doing his book keeping.
Brian has been a WTA member for 13 years and is also a life member of the NTA. He began competing in 1988 and has enjoyed success at each level of
competition. At last year's WTA, Brian took home a first in the masters division as well as winning the Best Habitat award. Brian has also won Best International Bird at the 1996 IGT. Brian also took home six Blue Ribbons in the professional division at the 1997 World Show. He also won Best in World (Masters) at the 1999 World Show.
Having spent the better part of a day interviewing Brian for this profile I feel that's it's my responsibility, to let you all in on a little secret. How many of you think of Brian, as a bird taxidermist? Go ahead nod your head or if you prefer raise your hand. So did I. What I knew of Brian was that he did very well competing with birds. I even sat in on a duck mounting class that he gave at the Waupaca Rendezvous. Honestly I was surprised when he did so well with that caribou. I was really impressed that a bird guy could do such a great job on a gamehead.
Well here's the secret, Brian isn't just a bird taxidermist. The fact is that of the 200 pcs. or so that Brian turns out each year, less than 10% of those are birds. He doesn't even do fish, unless it's for a good customer. Brian mounts gameheads and Brian does alot of them. Many come from clients that he never even meets face-to-face. The heads are sent to his shop and after he completes them they are crated and shipped back.As I mentioned earlier, I spent the better part of a day with Brian, to prepare this profile. He was kind enough to meet with me on a weekend and show me his new taxidermy facility. The word "shop" just doesn't apply to Brian's newly completed structure.
Brian has built the ultimate work place, to both create and display his form of taxidermy art. The building itself is 2400 sq. feet which includes a 1000 sq. foot showroom (complete with a 15' flat ceiling). That is big folks, my new shop is 32' x 32' and that is really only about the size of Brian's showroom. If you northern members are ever passing through or even driving within an hour of Brian's place, you need to call him and see if he can spare a few minutes to show you his operation.
Walking into his showroom is like entering a jewelry store. His tile floor just screams elegance. My only question was which case housed the affordable diamonds. Of course Brian doesn't display any jewelry within his store, just a few engravables. Most of those mention "World Show" and "Champion". The one noticeable thing absent from Brian's showroom, is his collection of award ribbons. Brian does have his ribbons on a wall, but these are in his work area out of the view of any customers. As Brian says "My customers don't read Breakthrough".
Brian really enjoys Duck hunting especially in open water and also has a large growing collection of arrowheads. He also enjoys doing projects with other taxidermists, from which his business venture with Mike Yeska and Pat Wagner began.
What I found most interesting about Brian, was his business savvy. This guy approaches the business side of taxidermy like no other taxidermist I have met. Brian understands the need for the small business owner to think on a grand scale. He has real concerns that the average taxidermist, even the full-timers, are not approaching their businesses practices in the same manner as other professionals.
Brian understands that our WTA seminars need to attract our members, to be successful. Still he feels that seminars on topics like retirement planning or how to compute overhead and determine proper pricing, could also lead to the success of WTA members, as small business owners. I would certainly cast a vote for Brian, should he ever decide to become active in the WTA or NTA. Hell I'd even join the NTA, just to vote for him.
Mike Peckman (2001 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
Mike Peckman with his Blue Ribbon Whitetail
Having just completed his term as President of the Wisconsin Taxidermists
Association, perhaps no one has served the WTA more faithfully than Michael
J. Peckman. With the conclusion of his second term as WTA President, Mike
has already spent 13 years working for the WTA membership.
Mike has served the WTA, as a board member (five years), as our vice-president (four years), and as our president (four years). He will now continue to serve the WTA with a board seat (as our past president), throughout the term of our recently elected new WTA president.
In today's day and age, leaders are often remembered for the controversies that affected their terms in office. While I have only been a WTA member since 1995, I certainly can not recall any turbulence, while Mike has served our organization and certainly none over the last four years of his presidency.
Mike (56) and his wife (Mary) reside in West Allis, where Mike also operates his taxidermy business (Mike's Taxidermy Shop). Mike actually owns and operates two businesses. In addition to his taxidermy business, Mike employs two full-time employees as a commercial painting contractor. Mike spends his mornings setting up his painters, then returns home to his studio to work on his taxidermy.
On my visits to the studios of WTA members, I am always somewhat surprised upon seeing their showrooms and work areas. Visiting Mike's setup was no different. After driving into Mike's subdivision, I just did not expect to see such a grand showroom. As a child I often visited both sets of my grandparents in neighborhoods (Milwaukee) much like Mike's. Maybe that is why such a tasteful display of taxidermy seemed so out of place in Mike's neighborhood.
Mike and his wonderful wife (Mary) welcomed my family into their home for
this interview. Luckily for me, I had already began the construction on my new shop. You see I had already successfully explained the need to my wife, for the new space I was getting. If we had visited Mike's shop before my concrete slab was poured, my wife may have challenged the square footage of my project.
If you have ever seen that cable show, based on living in small spaces, it obviously was modeled on Mike's work area. I mean if Mike wants to work with a scalpel, he has to put away another tool first. All kidding aside, Mike works very efficiently within a very small work area. He has mastered his available space and his storage. He has designed his shop, much like one of those rotating workshop tables (the kind that rotate between your grinder, router, and orbital sander). The ingenuity of our WTA members, never fails to amaze me.
Though his work space is limited, Mike's talent is not. He turns out fantastic work. At our 2001 Deer Classic, Mike received one of only a handful of the blue ribbons given out for Whitetails in the professional division. Mike has been competing in WTA events for 12 years. In addition to last years blue ribbon for his Whitetail, Mike has also taken home blue ribbons for his small mammals and fish. Mike is also a long time NTA member and competed in their Green Bay convention, having earned a 2nd place ribbon with a small mammal.
Now that his term as WTA President is over, Mike is looking forward to some well earned hunting and fishing on his lake property (near Rhinelander). In addition to his work on behalf of the WTA, Mike also donates more of his time by giving seminars to hunters education classes (on the proper field care of their specimens to insure the best possible mounts). When he finds some free time, Mike also enjoys metal detecting (especially beach combing).
Another strong interest to Mike is his hogs (we are not talking bacon). Mike seriously enjoys his Harley motorcycles, having owned several over the years. Mike proudly belongs to the #1 Hog chapter. Though his current ride is a new Electric Guide Ultra Classic (1340 CC), he has also owned a Pan Head and a Shovel Head, before getting his new Evolution.
Though no one can predict the future, I certainly feel the Wisconsin Taxidermists Association will continue to be one of the strongest taxidermy
organizations in the United States, thanks in a large part to the fellow in the leather vest, riding that northbound hog. Thanks again Mike !
Tim Perkins (2001 Annual)
2001 Best All Around Taxidermist
By Bob Blaschke
When Tim Perkins won the 2001 Best All Around title at the Wisconsin Taxidermist Association's annual Green Bay Deer Classic, he once again
demonstrated how hard work and determination can pay off.
Perkins (42) has spent the past 14 years in taxidermy, having left his job in a chemical plant after seeing a sign advertising private taxidermy instruction. He took those lessons in 1988 and after moving to Neilsville in 1990 hung up his shingle and began doing taxidermy part time. By 1994 he was a full-time taxidermist.
Then five years later, his wife Edna (of 22 years) had a career change bringing about the family's move to Cornell (northeast of Chippewa Falls). After nine years of taxidermy in the Neilsville area, Tim packed up his shop and made the move to Cornell.
The couple have one son (Tim Jr. - "TJ") who is a sophomore at Liberty Christian. Edna helps out with the book work and TJ with the grunt work, though he does taxidermy and has competed.
Like so many other WTA members, Tim is always looking to improve his work
and training. He competes to learn and in fact his first taxidermy competition (1989) led to his meeting Joe Meder and then travelling to Iowa for a 5-day workshop with Meder.
Tim also continues to be self taught and uses his large collection of instructional manuals and taxidermy books to continue to hone his craft. He also credits the Breakthrough magazines for the wealth of information they provide to taxidermists.
Of course he also gives a large amount of credit for the improvement in his work to the WTA and its seminars and fellow members. He feels the insight he has learned from fellow WTA members like; Mike Orthober, Brian Olson, Pat Wagner, Mike Yeska, John Luczak, and Gary Zehner has been invaluable and
In winning the 2001 "Best All Around" WTA title, Tim entered two of his required four competition pieces into the Masters Division and the other two in the Professional Division. His Grouse (bird) earned him a 3rd place finish in the Masters, while his Whitetail (gamehead) earned him a State Champion title in the Masters. His Trout (fish) earned a 2nd-place ribbon in the Professional Division, while his Otter (life-size mammal) locked up the "Best All Around" title, as it received a 1st place ribbon and as a bonus was named "Best of Category".
Since he began competing, Tim has done so in WTA events, as well as in NTA
shows and in Iowa's State Show. He has certainly won his share of awards, having earned ribbons in both the 1996 and 1999 NTA competitions for his Whitetail work, as well as taking home Iowa's Ruffed Grouse Award and the Wildlife Federation Award from Wisconsin. He has added numerous blue ribbons from both Wisconsin and Iowa for his work. Prior to his awards at last year's (2001) WTA Deer Classic, Tim had also won "Best of Category" awards in WTA events.
Tim joined the WTA in 1988 and also belongs to the NTA, Whitetails Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Trout Unlimited and is the Chairman of his local Ducks Unlimited Chapter. He is currently a WTA Board Member (presently serving north of Hwy 10 for a 2-year term).
As a WTA member, Perkins, believes the WTA Rendezvous is a fantastic way to
continue to attract new members into our association. As a current NTA member, he hopes that something can be worked with the NTA and the various state associations, that benefits everyone involved, without harming or dividing state groups.
Tim enjoys hunting and fishing, especially grouse hunting with his prized bird dogs. He also enjoys trips to North Dakota to chase ducks. Whenever possible he promotes the field of taxidermy, by speaking on career days at the local schools and talks to the Boy Scouts. I just hope for Tim's sake that for those chats, he doesn't leave any needed materials back at the shop (I just had to get that in, so as to not disappoint Tim).
For those of you who missed Tim's last seminar at the 2001 Rendezvous, Tim was going to give a seminar on mounting a walleye.He brought along everything he needed (tools, glue, carding stock, needle, thread, the preserved fish skin, etc.) ..... EXCEPT THE CARVED BODY.
Of course with all the suppliers out in the exhibit area, no one and I mean no one had a Walleye body with them or any carving foam. After searching everywhere (even the local golf course), Tim could not find his walleye body. But proving to everyone there, why he deserved the 2001 "Best All Around" title, he did what any talented taxidermist would do.
He created another body, by transforming an old largemouth bass body that Jim
Fredrick had, into a smallmouth body and proceeded to mount the smallmouth
skin, that was in his preservative bucket with his walleye.
It was certainly one of the most entertaining and informative seminars, those in attendance have ever witnessed. Tim did a wonderful job, straight off the cuff (some would have simply canceled their seminar) and shared with us several great tips and techniques, while frequently asking us.... "Are you guys warm?".
Though it was the middle of August, the morning temps were fairly mild, only Tim looked to be sweating!
Lonny Schumann (1999 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
Lonny operates L.S. Taxidermy, part-time, from his home in DeForest. A friend first introduced Lonny to taxidermy (10 years ago) and he learned the
craft, by working with other taxidermists. Lonny has been a WTA member for the past 4 years and has been competing in Green Bay for the last 3 years, with some great success.
Lonny earned a First place for his pitch fork buck, in the Whitetail division, at the 1998 Wisconsin Deer Classic and at the 1999 WTA show, he captured another First and Best of Category with a fox mount.
Lonny's 1st Place Pitchfork Buck
The quick success Lonny has enjoyed at the WTA, speaks volumes for his
abilities and his work ethics. Lonny has been able to balance his full-time job, his taxidermy business, his family life (husband and father of three), and still find the time to create competition pieces among the best at the WTA's annual Deer Classic. Lonny is certainly another example of the growing number of artistic taxidermists that Wisconsin has to offer.
Pat Wagner (2000 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
Pat Wagner with a few of the sculpted Whitetails for his
business venture, with Brian Olson and Mike Yeska.
It's hard to write a profile on someone like Pat without having the main point of the article focusing on the success that he has enjoyed competing both at the state and national level. It goes without saying that Pat has proven himself as one of the finest Whitetail taxidermists in North America.
In addition to his many WTA awards, Pat has also received several national awards. These include the 1992 NTA Best All-Around Taxidermist and the 1992 NTA Distinguished Taxidermist Award, as well as the 1996 NTA National Champion Whitetail Award. More recently he won the 1999 Best In World Whitetail, the NTA North American Champion Whitetail, and the Bruchac Award.
Having made arrangements for an interview, I drove to Pat's home located
in rural Black Creek. Two things stood out upon arriving at Pat's shop... well actually three things, if you count that BLUE is the primary color found in Pat's showroom.
Seriously, two things really do stand out upon a visit to Pat's shop. The first thing is that Pat has absolutely no sign identifying his location. His last name isn't even on his mailbox. He had given me only a fire number, and that was found attached to his home, not near the road. My point is that here is a successful taxidermist, located in a rural area, not even on a State or County highway who has no sign promoting his location or business. When you think about that, it certainly speaks volumes for the quality of Pat's work and of Pat himself.
Another oustanding Wagner Whitetail Mount !
The second thing that struck me on my visit to Pat's was how neat this guy is. I had to ask him, if he cleaned his shop just for my visit. I'm not pulling your chain here. This guy is so neat, it's scary. I've worked in hospitals that were not as clean as Pat's shop. Every tool or piece of equipment had its place and if the tool wasn't in use, it was where it belonged. I can really understand how being so well organized can certainly add to your productivity, but I guess I'm just green with envy that Pat makes it look so easy to pull off. The worst thing was that he kept
apologizing for the mess. Even the next night, when we spoke again, he managed to apologize one more time. Pat (41) has been doing taxidermy for 22 years, the last 14 full-time. As a teenager who enjoyed hunting and fishing, he began to notice a lack of "good taxidermy". So with just a few books, he began to teach himself and has now become one of the countries leading self-taught taxidermists.
With the exception of a few summers spent working for the US Forest Service in the Eagle River area where he was involved with surveying logging roads in the Nicolet National Forest, Pat's only other employment has been his taxidermy. Currently he works alone, though from time to time, he has employed some part-time help.
Pat has been married to his wife, Mary, for 11 years and the couple has 2
daughters, Leah (5) and Kendra (3). At this time none of the three ladies in his life help him with his business. But as the saying goes about the apple and the tree, don't be too surprised if one day down the road one of Daddy's little girls follows his lead and becomes a second generation champion taxidermist.
Pat is currently serving his first term as WTA Vice-President. He also has served 8 years on the WTA Board of Directors. Pat's desired direction for the WTA and taxidermy is to make it a more viable occupation. He feels that too many taxidermists are just "surviving, when we should be thriving !" He also feels that one of the hidden benefits of the WTA is found in the name itself.... ASSOCIATION.
Pat feels that the biggest benefit he has received from his 11 years of WTA membership is the connections and friendships that he has made as a result of being a WTA member. Pat also enjoys sharing both ideas and problems with fellow WTA taxidermists.
Thinking about Pat's view on friendships made because of belonging to the WTA does make sense. Most of us working in taxidermy put in long hours, often working alone, so it only makes sense that an organization like the WTA could lead to close friendships with others in this field. I know that I certainly enjoy meeting and talking to other WTA members.
I want to thank Pat for his time and wish him good luck with his new venture, along with his friends and fellow WTA members, Brian Olson and Mike Yeska. With Pat, as a true perfectionist, I don't see how Competitor's Choice Whitetail Mannikins won't be the best deer forms on the market.
Mike Yeska (2000 Annual)
by Bob Blaschke
Though he hides it well, Mike is very excited about his new venture with fellow WTA members and friends, Pat Wagner and Brian Olson
A couple of years back, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the WTA summer meeting in Port Washington. One of the seminars during that event was given by Mike Yeska. At the time I didn't know anything about Mike, but I came away from that class with two important things, a notebook full of valuable tips and an appreciation of Mike's teaching abilities. At last year's Green Bay show I again sat in on a seminar given by Mike. I was just as impressed the second time. I am certainly looking forward to his next WTA class. His knowledge of taxidermy and his desire to share it are only surpassed by his ability to teach.
Even the best teachers, continue to learn. Here I believe mammal judge (John Matthews) was teaching Mike on the proper use of a flashlight while scoring.
Mike (44) lives in Neshkoro, where he operates his full-time taxidermy
business (White River Taxidermy). His wife of 18 years, Wanda, is a state
employee. The couple has two sons - Michael Jr (18) and Drew (15). Around his schooling Michael Jr helps out, mainly working on bases and prepping capes. Wanda helps out during the whitetail rush, caping out deer heads.
Mike has been a longtime WTA member, joining back in 1982. During the 90's he served as a WTA Board Member. Mike has spent the past 24 years active in taxidermy working one year for another taxidermist, before going in business for himself.
In addition to running a successful home-based shop, Mike also finds the time to act as the Capt. of the Neshkoro Fire Dept. He is also a member of the 1st responders. Working at home has also allowed Mike that special opportunity to be more involved in the raising of his two sons.
Mike has enjoyed his share of success at both the WTA level and the national level. Mike received a 1st place in the Masters division at last years WTA Green Bay show for his Dall Sheep gamehead. Besides his WTA awards, Mike earned three 1st place ribbons at the 1996 NTA show for the open division gameheads. Mike also received Best International Gamehead at the 1995 IGT convention.
Prior to the Wisconsin deer rush, bowhunting occupies most of Mike's free time in the fall. Unlike most Wisconsin bowhunters, Mike prefers stalking instead of just stand hunting. Mike enjoys the western style of spot and stalk hunting for Mule Deer. Mike also enjoys hunting out of state whenever possible, especially Alaska and Canada.On the day of my visit with Mike, I had just left Pat Wagner's shop. Upon entering Mike's showroom I felt as though I was walking into a wing at the Milwaukee Museum. Mike's showroom is first class all the way. On my visit, Mike's new shop was still under construction. He has added a large addition onto his showroom enabling him to move out of his current shop, that utilizes the full basement of his home.
Here's Mike in just one corner of his huge showroom
I did get a tour of Mike's current shop and came away from it feeling better about myself. Remember that I had just came from Pat Wagner's shop, where every tool had it's own place and was always put away, if not in use. This is where the difference between Pat and Mike becomes apparent. You see, Mike is like me. Tools have an area and as long as they end up laying somewhere near their normal resting place (oh say 20 feet or so), that's ok.
Now you know that I am just picking on Mike, but after starting out my visit by seeing his first-class showroom, it really did pleasure me, to see that his workshop was just that, HIS workshop. It really made me feel at home (not that my house is messy, but my shop mostly looks like Mike's).
The other thing about Mike's shop that really stood out to me, was something that I should have suspected. In the two seminars that I have attended which Mike taught, he both times made strong statements about the need for reference materials. Walking about Mike's shop it quickly becomes obvious that Mike takes the need for reference to heart. There were shelf upon shelf of books, photos, casts, and of course skulls.
I would certainly encourage all WTA members to meet Mike at any of our events. You will quickly find that Mike is more than willing to discuss just about any topic with you, be it about taxidermy or not. The best thing about a discussion with Mike, is that he holds nothing back. If he doesn't agree with you, he will explain his position and do his best to have you understand why he doesn't agree. He's not just going to argue with you, but he will debate you with the expertise of a presidential candidate.
My discussions with Mike have convinced me even more, that our WTA
membership includes many talented and intelligent individuals. After meeting or speaking with members like Mike Yeska, I feel that my annual dues are worth every penny. Its a priveledge, just to associate with people of this character within our state association.