Aberdeen taxidermist strives to perfect art

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) -- Like many taxidermists, Roger Heintzman's business started small. Upon graduating from the North American Institute of Taxidermy in Minneapolis in 1987, he began doing part-time taxidermy work in a tiny room in the basement of his Aberdeen home.

That hard work has paid off. In June 2000, Heintzman left his job as an electrician and made the jump from part-time to full-time taxidermist. His work space also has expanded from a single room in his basement to a separate shop behind his home.

And last month things got even better when Heintzman received his biggest taxidermy honors to date. In the North Dakota Taxidermy Association's annual competition, he earned first place and best in category in the professional division for his display featuring two mounted perch. He joined the NDTA because South Dakota no longer has its own state taxidermy association.

''This is the first time I've taken first place at that event,'' Heintzman said. ''I've taken second place numerous times, so this is pretty exciting. Getting best-in-category just makes it that much better.''

However, with the best-of-category win under his belt, Heintzman knows the pressure is on to take his talent to another level.

''If you win best of category in the professional division, you are generally expected to jump to the masters division,'' Heintzman said. ''That's really exciting, but it also means more pressure. The judging at that level is pretty strict. They are looking for flawless mounts. They are looking for perfection.''

Heintzman takes pride in his work, but like a true artist, he knows there is always room for improvement. He lists perfecting the fine details on his mounts and investing more money in top-grade competition materials as ways to produce better work for future competitions.

''Even though they are called competitions, we don't look at it as competing against each other,'' Heintzman said. ''It's more like you are competing against yourself and trying to get better. We have what I like to call continuing education seminars at the competitions. The seminars give taxidermists a chance to share what they've learned so others can get better.''

In addition to reaping awards and honors in competitions, Heintzman also takes great pride in making sure his customers are satisfied.

''I've always strived to produce top-quality work,'' Heintzman said. ''To do that, you have to spend a lot of time working on a mount. My motto is 'Not the cheapest; just the best.'''

Heintzman added that when people shop around for a taxidermist who will do the best job of preserving their hunting and fishing trophies, they often get discouraged by the prices. Heintzman said he charges $160 for a pheasant mounted on a display board or piece of driftwood and $395 for a head mount of a deer. When mounting fish, he said he charges by the inch. A 14-inch perch mount costs $95.

''The prices scare a lot of people away,'' he said. ''That's why I invite people to my shop. I show them exactly what will be done so they will understand why they are being charged a certain amount. It helps them understand why top-notch taxidermy is expensive.''

Heintzman specializes in a number of areas as a taxidermist. He said his specialty is African and North American big game and fish mounts. Heintzman lists waterfowl and upland birds as the toughest to mount.

''The birds are tough just because of the time involved,'' he said. ''But I can do fish and deer relatively quick.''

Heintzman's desire to become a taxidermist was fueled at an early age. When he was 12, he began thinking about pursuing that line of work, mainly because of his love of the outdoors.

''That's about the time I started hunting,'' he said. ''That had a lot to do with it.''

Of course, spending a minimum of 50 hours a week working on mounts leaves little time for hunting or fishing trips these days, thanks to increased business since going full-time. But Heintzman also said he gets his work completed while taking advantage of South Dakota's outdoors.

''It gets pretty busy starting in the fall until the end of the year,'' he said. ''It can get busy during the spring and early summer, too, because more people are going out and fishing. But I still find ways to do a lot of hunting.''

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