When We Met
I met John Stevens at his taxidermy business in Twin Falls. It’s a building one might drive by on Addison Avenue without realizing it. Besides an open sign on the front, the outside looks more like a home than a business.
Stevens said it wouldn’t be the first time. He’s had customers call him asking for his physical address after driving up and down the road.
“I’ve had people tell me I’m not here,” Stevens said.
On Jan. 2, Stevens was sitting at his computer checking email. Hanging across the window behind him were two rows of more than 50 blue and purple ribbons from taxidermy competitions. He said he has around 200 but ran out of space to display them. Surrounding his desk were turkeys frozen in mid-flight and shiny fish hovering over rocks.
One turkey on display, standing at my eye level, looked so lifelike that when I looked into its dark, glassy eyes — noticing the tiny hairs on its bright red waddle — I feared it might spring to life and peck my nose.
Stevens, 54, has worked as a licensed taxidermist for 20 years. But he has been dabbling in taxidermy as a hobby since he was 10.
Stevens is from Twin Falls but grew up in Ashton, just 15 minutes from Yellowstone National Park. Stevens said it was the proximity to this habitat and growing up fishing and hunting that inspired his career.
“I’d get out of school, drop my books and grab a shotgun and a fishing pole and I was gone,” he said.
His hobby was jump started when his father received information on taxidermy in the mail. Stevens read it and started to experiment with the art of re-animating the fish and birds he hunted.
How You Might Know Him
Stevens walked into his workshop and grabbed a Mallard lying on a table covered in newspapers. His faded navy blue apron was covered in faint streaks of white, yellow and tan. Stevens’ speciality is birds and fish; he doesn’t do anything bigger — though he said he has been asked to do a pet or two, which he declined.
Stevens has won several state and national taxidermy competitions. In 1999 he won the National Taxidermists’ National Championship for Waterfowl, with a Taverner’s Canada goose.
He hasn’t competed in the national competition for the past three years, but added: “You never know.”
What’s Next for Him
In the winter, Stevens usually taxidermies two to three ducks a day.
“After I get it mounted it takes a couple of weeks to dry,” he said.
Stevens usually paints the bird’s bill and feet. He showed me a duck’s head cast, which looked like a skull. Once the skin is applied to this, it replicates the animal’s bone and muscle structure. The duck head casts vary from species to species.
When taxidermying fish it takes longer — usually about four to six weeks to dry.
Today Stevens isn’t working on any fish, but instead has a Mallard and a Barrow’s goldeneye to bring to life again.
Tell Tetona Dunlap whom she should meet next for her weekly column: 735-3243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.