ELKVIEW, W.Va. -- Variety is most definitely the spice of a taxidermist's life.
In a good year, a taxidermist in West Virginia can do more than 100 deer mounts -- almost all of them bucks, and almost all stereotypical neck or shoulder mounts. Profitable, but borrrri
Once in a while, though, a client comes along who wants something a little different. Or, better yet, a client comes along and says, "Have fun with this one. Surprise me."
A client like that makes a taxidermist's day.
"When someone gives me an opportunity to be creative, I'm a happy guy," said Chad Cole, owner and proprietor of Chad Cole Taxidermy in Elkview. "In a good year, I get about 8 to 10 clients who give me that kind of freedom."
One of the latest was Kerri Barger, a bear hunter from the Charleston area. Cole had done a standard mount for her before, and when she killed a particularly handsome bruin last September she decided to have Cole do a full-body mount. What's more, she gave him the latitude to get creative.
Cole dove headlong into the assignment. He decided to depict the bear leaning against a log, preparing to tear into a bee's nest to get at the honey.
Modern taxidermists don't "stuff" animals anymore. They order mass-manufactured rigid-foam forms the approximate size and shape of the animals, stretch the critters' tanned hides over the forms and stitch up all the seams.
For Barger's bear, Cole couldn't do that. No manufacturer makes a "bear seated and robbing a bee's nest" form. Cole had to cut the limbs off a standard form, articulate and rearrange them in the desired pose, reinforce them, cement them into place, and smooth out all the junctions with filler.
Before he started working on the mount, Cole had another creative brainstorm: He'd fashion a few artificial bees and have them crawling on the bear and trying to sting it.
To introduce some whimsy, he decided to put one of the bees on the bear's nose and depict the creature using its outstretched tongue to try to flick the bee away. No manufacturer makes an extended bear's tongue, so Cole made a latex mold of the bear's real tongue and cast an artificial tongue from that.