axidermy actually doesnít
involve a lot of blood and guts, Johnson says. It is merely
fitting the animalsí hides to a foam mannequin, and there is
a mannequin for just about anything that walks the earth ó
including this North American alligator.
OF OCONOMOWOC - The moments that spark a lifeís passion
are sometimes subtle.
Taxidermist Dan Johnson had hooked a fish before, but it
was when he brought his catch to a taxidermist in North
Prairie as a 20-year-old that he himself became hooked.
down with the Enterprise to share his experiences from
that point, as well as his thoughts on his profession.
ENTERPRISE: How did you get started in
JOHNSON: When I took that fish to the taxidermist, I had
a lot of questions. The taxidermist noticed my interest
and asked if I wanted to come in and help him. I jumped
at the chance. I had a job at the time, but didnít know
what I wanted to do. This was a hobby that turned into a
career. Iíve been doing this for 28 years.
ENTERPRISE: What actually goes into
stuffing an animal?
JOHNSON: There is a foam mannequin inside. You are
fitting the hide over that mannequin and using an
adhesive to attach it. There is a foam mannequin for
pretty much anything that walks this earth.
Dan Johnson says a taxidermist
needs to have a healthy appreciation and reverence for
animals in order to immortalize them. He notes that the
profession has also taught him how to work with wood,
plaster, fiberglass and composite materials. His favorite
part of the job is creating a scene frozen in time, complete
with rocks, brush and other items.
ENTERPRISE: How have things changed in
the nearly 30 years of business? And what has remained
absolutely the same?
JOHNSON: It used to be that we had to make what went
inside out of papier-m‚chť and hand-carve foam. The
mannequins for nearly every animal have changed things.
craft remains very labor-intensive and time-consuming.
Itís something that you canít speed up.
ENTERPRISE: Is this as much about
reverence for the animal as it is a memory for the
JOHNSON: You have to love the outdoors and nature, to
have a passion for wildlife. Itís not just like painting
a house. You have to know what the animal looks like and
how it behaves while alive. You have to research it.
are beautiful creatures. Where else can you get as close
to this animal as here?
hunters are getting animals taxidermied, it is supposed
to be a piece of art that immortalizes the moment. They
decide the positioning of the animal and the scene can
be tailored to recreate the setting - with trees, rocks,
logs and other parts of the scene.
Johnson says that many people
would be surprised by the amount of people in their
community that travel abroad to hunt big game animals, such
as this lioness.
ENTERPRISE: What kind of animals do you
see come through your door?
JOHNSON: My customers are everything from safari hunters
to fishermen to the average Wisconsin hunter with his or
her deer and birds.
have been animals from all over the world, including
lions, elk, cougars, ducks, foxes and bears. Some of the
more unique animals have been alpacas, alligators and
average person doesnít realize the amount of people that
travel abroad to hunt.
ENTERPRISE: Would you ever stuff a family
JOHNSON: Iíve been asked to, but I wonít do pets. Iím an
animal lover. Cats and dogs are personal; theyíre family
most of the time. Though I respect the animals I do
taxidermy, thereís not that personal connection. Thereís
no way I could cut a pet. I couldnít even give someone a
ENTERPRISE: What are some common
misconceptions people have about taxidermy?
JOHNSON: They think itís a morbid profession, with lots
of blood and guts. Aside from cleaning the fish and
birds, thereís not a lot of blood and guts. We are
working with tanned pieces of leather. The bear hide
that comes back to us is as clean as someoneís fur coat.
Itís been shampooed, conditioned and brushed.
ENTERPRISE: What are some of the common
misconceptions people have when they see animal
JOHNSON: They see the African animals and think that
being hunted is bad for the future of the species. The
economy of regulated big game hunting has actually added
value to the African animals and generated money that
can be funneled back into the stewardship of these
animals, increasing their numbers. Otherwise, they would
still be hunted, but without the stewardship efforts.
ENTERPRISE: What is your favorite part
about being a taxidermist?
JOHNSON: With animals Iíve never worked on before, itís
the challenge of something new. I like being creative,
and I really get into it when I get to re-create that
whole scene. Making the habitat is what I enjoy; it
changes the whole aspect of it.
like Iíve frozen a moment in time, like Iíve frozen that
whole environment to be put into a household.
Johnson operates out of
W359-N5828 Brown St. in the Town of Oconomowoc and
may be reached at