If taxidermy brings to mind those ubiquitous deer heads on fireplace mantels and hunting lodges, meet Dennis Smith.He creates amazing, unique pieces, often of exotic animals. He calls himself an “artistic craftsman,” and his long career is distinguished for the quality of his extraordinary pieces.Actually, it was those deer heads on the wall that first piqued Smith’s interest in taxidermy. As a child he wondered, “How do they do that?” Add that to his curiosity and interest in the outdoors, hunting and fishing, and Smith figured taxidermy could be a perfect career.Unlike today, there were no technical schools or college courses where one could learn taxidermy in the early 1970s, when Smith began. He enrolled in a correspondence course through the Northwestern School of Taxidermy in Omaha, Neb., which, he said, provided a very basic introduction to taxidermy. He started out working with small game, deer and fish, doing any kind of work to hone his skills. Smith said he learned from practice, trial and error and, eventually, from mini-courses with specialists, which really helped him improve.His patience and hard work paid off. In 1976 Smith built his shop, Game Trail Taxidermy in Georgeville, in southern Cabarrus County, and in 1978 he made his growing business a full-time career. By the early 1980s, word of Smith’s ability got to some folks who travel the world hunting big game, and they began to supply him with all the work he could handle.In 1988 Smith was the first person to be awarded the title of Master Taxidermist by the N.C. Taxidermists Association. The title is awarded to taxidermists who have accumulated points by competing at state, national and world shows. Though Smith had not competed in years, and in fact has had more experience judging competitions in recent years, this year he returned to competition because he had something unusual to show.When his client requested an action piece for a lioness and impala, Smith came up with a plan for the lioness leaping on one leg, trying to seize her prey. Her pads are touching the impala, but her claws are not in its flesh, leaving viewers to wonder whether the impala will escape. Smith said it took two or three weeks to construct the piece, a feat of engineering and ingenuity, with the help of Wayne Barbee and Justin Hinson, who work with him.At last month’s state competition in Clemmons, it won several awards, including Best Overall Lifesize Mount and People’s Choice. But for Smith, the best reward was hearing the compliments of his fellow taxidermists for his unique creation.Over the years, Smith’s worked with some very unusual animals and odd requests, but his goal has always been to make his pieces “look like it’s looking at you, like it’s alive.” Early in his career, he said, his goal was to be the best taxidermist in the state. Has he achieved that goal?“Oh, no,” he quickly answered. He said he’s always trying to be better.
Friday, Sep. 13, 2013
Georgeville man’s taxidermy wins state awards
Marcia Morris is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marcia? Email her at EasternCabarrusWriter@gmail.com.
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