Taxidermy is a unique and specialized industry, however there are unfortunately many taxidermists out there who should have spent more time studying anatomy and artistic methods before opening business to the public. The fox used in this demonstration is one of those "disaster" mounts that was sent back to a customer, looking more like a flattened roadkill than a living fox. While it can be difficult to bring a pre-mounted animal back to a proper lively position, it can certainly be done if you put enough time, effort, and attention to detail into it.
Step 1: Inspect the Damages
Before taking the mount apart, examine it thoroughly to determine exactly what needs to be fixed. In this case, it was the entire face since it was just to be a head mount. Here is everything that was wrong with this piece:
- Ears were loose and improperly positioned, and the plastic ear liner was protruding from one side of the head.
- Major glue-staining on the backs of the ears, glue matted up badly in the fur.
- Eyes were angled all wrong, facing upwards rather than straight forward.
- The face skin was wrinkled and shifted. Notice the white line in the middle of the fox's face, between the eyes. It should be straight, rather than curved.
- Nose was crooked
- Lips were crooked, and skin was separating from the form at the corners of the mouth.
Now that the problems with this mount were determined, the next step is taking it apart and redoing everything that the first taxidermist did wrong.
Step 2: Begin Dis-assembly
To remove the skin from the mount, it needs to be moistened enough to loosen it off the form. This step requires careful handling, especially on older aged mounts. As tanned leather ages, it can become delicate and will tear easily if pulled too hard or soaked too deeply. Therefore, to stay on the side of caution I moistened this mount slowly by spritzing it with water around the eyes and mouth and gently prying these sections off the form with a small screwdriver.
It came off fairly easily after this, especially since the taxidermist had used absolutely no paste of any kind on the form itself. If you do have a mount that was glued to the form, extra soaking may be required to help pry it off. Again, use extreme caution in your handling to avoid damaging the pelt.
The poor quality of this piece became more evident once the form was out of the skin. There was a lot of cracked, dried up clay falling out everywhere and the eyes, which were not only mis-positioned, had virtually no clay around them, which is likely what added to this fox's "flat-headed" appearance. Also, the nose and lips were carved out very crookedly, and much too widely. This poor fox needed lots of work!
Step 3: Re-Mount
After removing the skin entirely from the old form, I removed the plastic liners from the ears and trimmed them to the proper size since they were a bit too large. I sewed up the hole in the side of the ear that one of them had caused by sticking through. I coated the liners in hide paste and slid them back into the ears. (I could not find my photos of this step, but you can see the same general process in my other Instructable here: https://www.instructables.com/id/Taxidermy-Fox-Head... )
After redoing the ears, I coated the entire, clean form in hide paste and slid the skin onto it. I set the ears into a more natural position on the head, seating them down in clay for sturdiness. The ears still had a lot of glue stuck to the backs of them, however I did not want to risk trying to clean this off just yet while the skin was still wet, else it might risk tearing them. So for now I went on to the next step, which was redoing the eyes.
Leaving the mouth laid back over the head, I then inserted the eyes in the proper, straight-forward position and sculpted the "eyelids" over them with air-drying clay. All canines have eyes that stare forward across their muzzle - not upwards toward the sky like the old mount had! The nose was filled with clay and also reshaped. I then positioned the face skin over the form, smoothing it down over the paste so it all laid evenly and the fur patterns were symmetrical. I tucked the lips and eyelids into their proper positions on the form, and added pins in the eye corners and lower edges of the lips to help keep these delicate areas from shifting or shrinking out of position as the skin dried out again.
Now all that's left to do is allow the skin to dry!
Step 4: Finish!
The skin and clay work took only a few days to dry out. After that, it was time to put the finishing touches on this mount to make him look like the fox he was meant to be! I started off by cleaning the glue off the ear fur. I couldn't tell what kind of glue it was, so I used Acetone which dissolves nearly any kind of adhesive. However I didn't want it to soak through and damage the adhesion of the proper glue inside the ear, so I lightly brushed it into the fur with an old toothbrush. Then I used a small flea comb to brush out the clumps of mostly-dissolved glue. It took a while since the staining was so bad, but the end result turned out beautifully, and the ears were smooth and soft in back, as they should be.
Once the ears were done, I painted the nose, eyelids and front of the lips with natural color tones and glossed these areas with Polyurethane finish. Then I combed the fur out for a realistic, lively appearance, and he was done - This finished piece now looks so much more natural and pleasing to the eye, and resulted in a very happy customer, too!
Thanks for reading this tutorial, and be sure to check out my other work at Frontier Furs!