Washburn student Joe Wayner sees taxidermy as a dying art, but to him it’s even more.
“It’s all about the beauty of nature,” said Wayner.
Wayner first became interested in taxidermy when he was in the fifth grade on a field trip to the Kansas River. On the field trip, he saw a display by taxidermist Larry Longhofer. Later, when Wayner was in high school, he took his first lessons in taxidermy from Longhofer, learning how to mount pheasant and a fish.
“Joe just has a real love for wildlife,” said Longhofer. “He enjoys each specimen he works on and when he finishes it, he’s proud of it. Rightfully so.”
Wayner has kept in contact with Longhofer over the years, but much of what he has learned has been self taught. He enjoys the process of seeing what can be done through practicing, like trying to perfect mounting a deer.
Wayner loves all things outdoors and has grown up around hunting and fishing.
“Ever since I could walk, I remember going out with my dad and seeing what it was all about,” said Wayner.
Wayner has been hunting and fishing seriously since about age 11. He looks at hunting as a chance to get away and enjoy some peace and quiet.
“When ever I get a spare moment pretty much, from school and stuff, I find myself in the woods,” said Wayner. “I just love it out there, wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
In addition to wildlife, Wayner’s other love is art, so taxidermy is a natural extension of both. He views taxidermy as a way of not only preserving the animal, but memories of the hunter.
“I’m just trying to preserve and make a memory last a lifetime for people,” said Wayner. “Everything that’s mounted is going to have some significance to somebody and there’s going to be a story behind it.”
Wayner said fish and deer are the most popular specimens for preservation, usually “trophy bucks” or a “big whopper” of a fish.
“Those are definitely more popular because people are looking to say, ‘See what I caught,'” said Wayner.
For Wayner, taxidermy is somewhere between a hobby and a business. He preserves animal for other hunters, but only as time allows, which isn’t much as a college student.
The process of preserving an animal involves gutting it, drying the skin, putting it on a foam mannequin, using clay to give form to some parts of the animal, and creating epoxy eyes. Additionally, fish must be painted, because they lose their color during the drying process. For this, Wayner takes pictures before drying the fish, to recreate the fish’s true color. Everything is done with the goal of making the animal look as it did in nature.
“The best compliment a taxidermist can have is when people say, ‘Hey, that looks like it’s alive,'” said Longhofer. “That really makes you feel good.”
Wayner is currently a sophomore at Washburn pursuing a bachelor of fine arts in painting, an art not far removed from taxidermy.
“Everything about taxidermy is pretty much art,” said Wayner. “All the molding and painting and attention to detail.”
Wayner paints mostly wildlife scenes, which are influenced by his experience with animals. Studying the anatomy of the animal has allowed him to see how animals move and what they look like in nature, allowing him to make his painting more realistic.
“Studying these will help me get a better understanding of the structure and how they’re supposed to look,” said Wayner. “That helps me when I finally put the brush to the canvas.”
After graduation, Wayner hopes to work in commercial arts or graphic design while continuing to paint taxidermy animals. It’s a life long hobby that he hopes to share with others someday.
“I really respect the animals that I mount,” said Wayner. “I think part of the reason for mounting is to show how beautiful they are to people that don’t go out in the woods and see them in their natural state.”