December 2015 Feature Story: Patterson’s Taxidermy

A mounting success

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At age 45, Maxwell J. Patterson, owner of Patterson’s Taxidermy, 144 Church St., Alexandria Bay, decided to turn his passion for taxidermy into a full-time business. “My grandfather taught me when I was about 12 years old,” he said. Photo by Anthony Machia, NNY Business.

Taxidermist turns passion into business

By Norah Machia, NNY Business

On the first day of Canada goose hunting season in New York State, 12-year-old Aurelia Davidson showed up at Patterson’s Taxidermy in Alexandria Bay with a prized catch — the first goose that she ever shot. Coincidentally, it was taken in Goose Bay.

The young girl wanted to bring it back to her home in Montana, and the only way to do that was to have it preserved
by a taxidermist.

Her parents, Tim and Kelli Davidson, are Alexandria Bay natives and have used have used the services of
Patterson’s Taxidermy, 144 Church St., for many years.

After completing high school, Mr. Davidson joined the Air Force, and the family has been traveling and living in a variety of locations, with their present home located in Montana. But they come back as often as possible to visit family
in the north country.

Aurelia recently started hunting with her father after completing a hunter safety education course. She was excited about the prospect of having her goose displayed next to some of her father’s prized catches, including four preserved ducks, a deer head and a largemouth bass.

“I can’t wait to have it hung up on the wall next to my father’s collection,” she said.

Owner Maxwell J. Patterson, 56, is a third-generation taxidermist. His great-grandfather, Edward D. Patterson, and his grandfather, Theron O. Patterson, also practiced the craft.

His father, Maxwell I. Patterson, was one of three boys born to Theron Patterson, but none of the sons developed an interest in taxidermy. So the craft skipped a generation, but was picked up by Mr. Patterson, who showed a keen interest as a young child.

“My grandfather taught me when I was about 12 years old,” he said.

Taxidermy is typically described as the traditional method of preserving and mounting the skins and/or horns of an animal for display. It can be done on all vertebrate species of animals, including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and even amphibians.

Mr. Patterson’s grandfather taught him the many different aspects of the business, which first required learning about the anatomy of animals, he said.

During the early years of taxidermy, animals were typically stuffed with materials such as straw or cotton. But by the 1970s, the process changed and for the most part, animals were no longer stuffed.

Instead, taxidermists have the skin of the animal preserved or tanned, and then the skin is stretched over a mold, often made of a special type of Styrofoam. That’s why Mr. Patterson and most other taxidermists will refer to an animal as “mounted” and not “stuffed.”

He orders the Styrofoam figures from a catalog after taking careful measurements of the animal to ensure the skin will fit well when it’s stretched. He can also order other items, such as glass eyes for fish.

But the real antlers from a deer, for example, are usually reattached to the actual mount along with its skin.

Sometimes customers request a “European Mount” style, which involves preserving the actual skull and horns of the animal, and mounting those alone without skin, he said.

Mr. Patterson started a taxidermy business at age 18, but then decided to take a break from it. He worked a variety of jobs for many years, including building, finishing concrete and painting.

At age 45, he decided to turn his passion for taxidermy into a full-time business.

Since that time, Mr. Patterson, now 56, has worked with numerous hunters and fishermen wanting to display their animals. He has mounted deer, moose, elk, caribou, turkey, bobcat, fox and coyote, along with waterfowl such as ducks and geese.

Mr. Patterson has also mounted numerous fish, including bass, walleye, Northern pike, muskellunge, trout and salmon.

His most interesting animal? A 9-foot grizzly bear caught by a local resident on a hunting expedition in Russia, he said. Any animals brought into the United States from other countries are first subject to FDA inspection, and then find their way to a taxidermist through a special broker service, he said.

Depending on the size of the animal, Mr. Patterson may tan the hide himself, or have it shipped to a commercial tannery. He typically uses the Wildlife Gallery, Michigan, which completes the process and then sends the tanned hide back to his Alexandria Bay business. The tanning process involves treating skins of the animals to produce leather, which makes the skins more durable and less likely to decompose.

Prices for taxidermy services vary depending on the type, size and condition of the animal, and how the customer wants to have the animal displayed, Mr. Patterson said.

Game fish can range from $11 to $15 per inch, depending on the mounting. Game birds such as pheasant, quail or wild turkey range from $200 to $650, also dependent on the mounting.

Waterfowl range between $250 and $350, and game heads, such as deer, caribou, elk, moose, black bear, coyote and fox, can range from $325 to $1,225. For life-size mounts of animals, the prices range from $200 to $3,200.

Visit Mr. Patterson’s website, pattersonstaxidermy.com, to learn more.

If you are looking for a taxidermist close to your home, there is a listing of New York State taxidermists online at taxidermy.net.

You can click on a map for New York State, and a complete listing will appear, including a range in the north country and the Adirondacks.

Norah Machia is a freelance writer who lives in Watertown. She is a 20-year veteran journalist and former Watertown Daily Times reporter. Contact her at norahmachia@gmail.com.