Shop owner preserves hunting and fishing memories with artful skill
When you enter Bass Taxidermy in downtown Texas City, the impression is that of an artist studio, with more paint and powder than blood and guts.
There are the anticipated mounted birds, fish, reptiles and wildlife heads, plus the less expected 5-foot-long warthog, full-sized cinnamon bear and huge coyote. Farther back are the requisite large freezers and work tables with scalpels and hemostats. But the real surprises are the hundreds of bottles of artist paints, airbrushes of several different sizes, gardening soil, salt, laundry detergent, a large container of baby powder and various pieces of kitchen equipment, including a cake spatula.
“Good taxidermy is an art, not a process,” the shop’s owner, Randy Turner, said, explaining his eclectic collection of supplies. “It requires an acute perception of nature and a creative imagination to know how to capture the correct physical appearance, expression and pose for each particular animal being mounted.”
Such an endeavor may take an unusual combination of equipment, and taxidermists are known for their improvisation, Turner said.
His father, the late Bob Turner, who founded the shop in the family’s garage in 1970, introduced his son to nature and encouraged imagination at an early age. Bob Turner as a young boy had spent many hours exploring the mysteries of the outdoors and knew its importance.
“As a child, my father loved everything about nature,” Randy Turner said. “Even then, he was mounting bugs and butterflies. Later, when fishing became a passion, he decided to try mounting a largemouth bass from his catch. Of course, it was then just a matter of time until his buddies began asking him to mount their fish, too, and thus Bass Taxidermy Inc. was born.”
The elder Turner soon taught himself how to work with other wildlife, including water fowl and quadrupeds, with his son pitching in on the more mundane tasks, such as tanning hides.
One weekend when Randy Turner was about 16, however, he was left alone while his parents went out of town. When the weekend was over, the teen had mounted a complete duck, and everyone realized it had turned out better than the ones his father was doing.
Taxidermy soon became a family affair. The business grew to include the manufacture of taxidermy supplies for others and both parents and son have served as officers with the Texas Taxidermy Association. They also traveled to shows and competitions, including the World Taxidermy Championships, where their shop’s work often garnered top honors.
Excellence is important to Turner. Just as there’s good and bad art, there’s good and bad taxidermy, he said.
“These are not just trophies,” Turner said. “We are in the memory business, and a mounted piece is a three-dimensional memory. It could be the first fish a young person ever caught or a duck from someone’s last hunt with a favorite retriever, but there is always a story and we have been entrusted with its preservation.”
The importance of honoring these memories for others was brought home more clearly to Turner when his father died this past spring.
“I realized how widespread his legacy was in that he had brought so much happiness to so many,” he said. “Although he is no longer here, his work is displayed in homes and offices across the nation. Through the memories he preserved for others, he also is now being remembered.”