Ranchos taxidermist creates wildlife art in all sizes
Nevada Appeal News Service
Taxidermy requires a skillful blend of artistry and science, said Gardnerville resident Richard Herb.
“There’s the certain art aspect, and then there’s the anatomical part,” he said. “You have to have knowledge of what the animal looks like. Unless you study the animals, you won’t know how to recreate them.”
Herb is the owner of Desert Pines Taxidermy, which is located in a workshop next to his home in the Gardnerville Ranchos. A lifelong hunter and angler, the 1990 Douglas High graduate knows how to recreate game animals of the Great Basin. But what about the kudu antelope from South Africa he has in his shop? Or the gemsbok, the bushbuck, or some other creature from a remote corner of the world?
“It takes a lot of studying,” he said. “CDs, pictures, books – I have thousands of them on different animals.”
On Thursday, Herb was in his shop with employees Cory Baird and Sam Huff. Herb explained how he had been raised in the high desert game country of Nevada, how he had become fascinated with taxidermy and eventually attended school for it in Missoula, Mont.
“I always liked to hunt and fish and had an interest in science, so it made sense for me,” he said.
Herb started Desert Pines Taxidermy 15 years ago. He’s been in his present location for 11 years.
“We do everything. We’re a full-service shop,” he said. “Fish, birds, mammals, you name it – from life-size to shoulder mounts.”
Herb said about 50 percent of the animals he works on come from North America, with the rest coming from various locations around the world. The interior of his shop is a testament to that diversity. In the entrance, visitors will find elk, black bear, alligator, among other quadrupeds, not to mention duck, chukar, sage grouse and a host of trophy fish including a 49-pound king salmon Herb caught himself in the Feather River.
“I like doing all of it,” Herb said. “What’s cool about this is that everything provides a challenge. With mammals, it’s different than with fish, and those are both different than birds. The most-time consuming is fish because they need to be totally painted.”
Summarizing the process, Herb said it starts with getting the animal from the field into his shop as quickly as possible.
“If they’re not taken care of in the field, then it makes our job tough,” he said.
Next is tanning of the skins, not just preserving the skins, but measuring them to the exact dimensions of the animal in the field. Then comes the mannequin, made of polyurethane foam, the same material surfboards are made of, which is sculpted and shaped down to fit the specimen perfectly. Glass eyes are used for the face, and the final touches of paint and finish are applied.
“There’s a lot of anatomical stuff I left out that’s essential to it,” Herb said. “Some of the animals I’ve never seen before, and I don’t get the whole animal, just the skin.”
Herb’s clients are surprisingly diverse as well. Besides local customers, he works with several organizations and governmental agencies, including Nevada Bighorns Unlimited, the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Coral Academy of Science in Reno and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The company is currently working on a project for the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Partnering with NDOW, Nevada Bighorns Unlimited and the Carson Valley Chukar Club, Desert Pines has a contract to provide three species of bighorn sheep and a bobcat chasing a covey of chukar – all part of the redesign of the airport terminal.
“We hope to have it done by the end of July, before hunting season starts,” Herb said.
When it comes to his own trophies, Herb said he hunts, “Where I can and when I can.”
Herb’s not the only outdoorsman in the workshop either. Baird is a big game and duck hunter, and Huff is a pro angler who competes in the bass tournament circuit in California.
Herb himself recently took first place for a desert bighorn, best in category, at a regional taxidermy competition in Sacramento.
“In five years, I want to be right in the same place,” Herb said. “I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing.”
Located at 787 Lyell Way, Desert Pines Taxidermy also offers Safari Club International scoring. For more information, contact 265-1219 or www.