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I'm already super spoiled with great habitat dioramas and taxidermy at The Field Museum, but I had to jump at the chance to attend the 2017 World Taxidermy Championships to experience the latest innovations in taxidermy wildlife art for myself. 10/10 would attend again

The opening monologue in this video is a direct quote from the World Taxidermy Championships competition page: https://www.taxidermy.net/wtc/taxidermy/

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Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Camera:
Brandon Brungard

Producer, Editor, Camera:
Sheheryar Ahsan

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This episode is supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

And filmed on location at the World Taxidermy Championships in Peoria, Illinois.

(http://www.fieldmuseum.org)
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Emily: Imagine if all baseball players were allowed to play in the world series, If all golfers were invited to the masters. If every tennis player could make it to the clay courts of Wimbledon. In most human endeavors, only a tiny percentage of participants Are fortunate enough to complete directly for the highest honours. But in taxidermy, there are no barriers.

There are no semifinals, There's no club to join or dos to pay. Any person who has the desire can compete directly against The best taxidermists in the world. That's right, we're at the 2017 World Taxidermy and Fish Carving Championships!

Even before I started working at the Field Museum in Chicago, I had wanted to visit the World Taxidermy Championships. It was started in 1983, by the taxidermy magazine, Breakthrough. Which devotes itself to, quote, 'the serious wildlife artist'.

I'm so exited to be here! I was honoured to be invited by Larry Blomquist, The magazine's publisher, and producer and chairman of the World Taxidermy Championships.

Emily: How have you seen this field, and this competition change in the last 20 years, or 25 years, or so?

Larry: It's been a tremendous change, and a lot of it has to do with new technology that's come into the field. The other's been education in the industry. More taxidermists have the availability of good instruction.

Emily: When people think about taxidermy, they either think of bad taxidermy, 'cause they think its funny, Or they think about how taxidermy is like an old school thing, What are your thoughts about that? In terms of taxidermy being seen and appreciated as a form of contemporary art?

Larry: If you look at the pieces in here, and there's actually hundreds, That express artistic merit, composition and design, Not only the accuracy of replicating the animals, but the artistic thoughts that went into doing it. You can walk through this venue, and see taxidermy comparable to any museum you go into. If not better. Artists from all around the world bring in mounts they have been working on For the chance to place in different competitive categories, of various levels of expertise.

There are eight main divisions: master, professional, novice, youth, Collective artists, which goes to work that more than one taxidermist worked on, Interpretive taxidermy, which is the division that encourages new artistic approaches to taxidermy, Pre-sculpted taxidermy, for artists submitting a completed clay sculpture, And a live taxidermy sculpture, where various artists have 22 hours to sculpt original body forms, Layering foam bodies over skeletons and modelling them with clay. And each of these divisions breaks down into further categories, Like the masters division has sixteen different categories. Categories range from small, to large mammals, game animals like pheasants, And non-game animals like raptors, A category just for largemouth bass, and another for turkeys, One for warmwater fish, and another for coldwater fish, And there are also things like recreations.

This red panda is in the recreation category Which means that it's a red panda, but it's not a red panda. It's a fisher that has been made to look like a red panda. That's amazing!

The professional division even has a freeze-dry category, Even though there's no freeze-drying allowed in the masters category, Except for the use of turkey heads. There's prize money in this competition too, Sponsors donated around $36,000 to be given out to winners of each category. But, perhaps more important than the money, is the notoriety And being able to say you placed or won in the World Taxidermy Championships is huge.

Because the judging here is serious business. Wendy Christensen is one of the judges this year, She worked in Milwaukee Public Museum as a taxidermist for nearly 35 years.

Emily: What is it that we're looking at here?

Wendy: This is a Chinese ferret badger. It's an animal that obviously we do not see very often in the United States, so In today's modern world, we can look up and, you know, research an animal as we're working on it.

Emily: So is this part of the judging process, where you'll actually go to photo references, to learn more about the organism?

Wendy: Absolutely, What we're doing is we're trying to weigh ourselves and compare ourselves against nature. We're looking at technical aspects of the taxidermy, besides the anatomical accuracy of things like that. One of the other things I'm looking at right now too is Shrinkage, ear shape - they've rebuilt the inner ear anatomy up - there's drumming. That the hair patterns are straight, and that the attitude captures the essence of that animal.

Emily: That's so exiting, that something like this can be in World Taxidermy Championships.

Wendy: It's so cool that we have all these wonderful foreign competitors, That's what's beautiful and wonderful about the World Show, Is it truly is international.

Emily: I'm not going to lie to you guys, I spent most of the first day just running around the competition floor, Totally overwhelmed by all of the amazing taxidermy I was seeing. Look at this beautiful fish! That's amazing, this is in the professional reproduction category. It's swimming after all the other fish.

What is it doing? Where is it going? Who is he? *whispers* Who is he?

This is a freeze-dried fish! And they put it on a reef with lights and it's moving! *whispers* Oh my God! This king eider collection is beautiful, this guy's eating an octopus.

And, so you only see the surface here, And then you lean down and there's so much more going on underneath the water. You can see the division, you can see the movement of the feet changes, When they're underwater, versus when they're just going to land, And they this moment of impact. What I love about all of this is that they're a moment of time, like there's something happening.

Like, there's an activity, and that activity is captured. So well! Who says taxidermists don't have a sense of humour!

Nature. It's two wolverines, there're two wolverines, they're fighting wolverines. Look at it!

They're mounted in mid air! This is just totally mind blowing! These sculptures defy physics.

Look at 'im! Look at that little rascal. Rascally raccoon!

He's breaking into the chicken coop. God, they have like, yolk on the whiskers, it's like dripping off of the side. *whispering* Hey, we should get a shot of this. I overheard the judges were talking, I think this might be one of the winners.

You didn't hear it from me. I think what I love most about this is that it absolutely acknowledges human wildlife interaction. I've seen this in my life - I've walked in my backyard with a fire pit going.

It is bubbling. There's like bubbling grease in that pan. This is a taxidermy mount of worms.

They make the worms look so real.

Larry: I've been doing taxidermy for over 50 years. I've won a lot of national titles, and I get chills. And I think, "that is unbelievable." I know how difficult it is, how much effort and time it takes. To see some of the pieces I've seen in this exhibition, I'm very humbled about it.

I couldn't- I didn't- I had no idea what I was- I-I know I've hyped this up for myself for years, but this has completely blown all of my own expectations. I might actually start crying, I'm so overwhelmed by how awesome this is. I love, I love taxidermy.

It still has brains on it.