Ae
Ten years ago I was overcome with the urge to craft, so I found a book on crochet and began making hats. When Mike Nizich got the urge to craft, he didn't pick up a crochet hook. He picked up five different refined skills, a hobby, a second job, three garages and an art form that would make him a name in the world of Alaskan crafts. I became a crochetier; he became a taxidermist.
From den to den: The journey of an Alaskan crafted rug 072909 AE 1 Alaska Crafter Ten years ago I was overcome with the urge to craft, so I found a book on crochet and began making hats. When Mike Nizich got the urge to craft, he didn't pick up a crochet hook. He picked up five different refined skills, a hobby, a second job, three garages and an art form that would make him a name in the world of Alaskan crafts. I became a crochetier; he became a taxidermist.

Photos By Tanna Peters

Assorted projects in progress at Mike Nizich's taxidermy shop bear a similar resemblance to a crafter's workshop.


Photos By Tanna Peters

Assorted projects in progress at Mike Nizich's taxidermy shop bear a similar resemblance to a crafter's workshop.


Photos By Tanna Peters

Assorted projects in progress at Mike Nizich's taxidermy shop bear a similar resemblance to a crafter's workshop.


Photos By Tanna Peters

Assorted projects in progress at Mike Nizich's taxidermy shop bear a similar resemblance to a crafter's workshop.


Photos By Tanna Peters

Assorted projects in progress at Mike Nizich's taxidermy shop bear a similar resemblance to a crafter's workshop.

Click Thumbnails to View
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Story last updated at 7/29/2009 - 11:18 am

From den to den: The journey of an Alaskan crafted rug

Ten years ago I was overcome with the urge to craft, so I found a book on crochet and began making hats. When Mike Nizich got the urge to craft, he didn't pick up a crochet hook. He picked up five different refined skills, a hobby, a second job, three garages and an art form that would make him a name in the world of Alaskan crafts. I became a crochetier; he became a taxidermist.

Taxidermy is not the first skill that comes to mind when I think of "crafts." But Alaskans are nothing if not adventurous, even in crafting. That's why I put the word out that I was looking for a taxidermist, and the word came back with Mike Nizich.

As I walked into Rug N' Rack Taxidermy for the first time, I was engulfed in a sea of fur. Near the back Nizich was doing the daily duty of any crafter, organizing his tools. Amidst the chaos of hanging bear hides, mounted deer heads, and musk ox horns, a familiar organizational pattern emerged, that of a crafter's workshop.

My initial research on taxidermy revealed the history that tanned animals were once stuffed with rags and cotton and sewn up-hence the name "stuffed animals." Very crafty. Today, professional taxidermists scoff at this practice; instead ,they use a frame on which to mount the hides. Nizich immediately introduced me to the "poor man's mount," named so because the full mount is, well, spendy. The expansive bear rug gazed up at me with gnarling teeth. This was certainly no stuffed animal.

With three garages, the journey of this rug began in the first space, designed for skinning, fleshing, and drying. An angled wooden timber acts as a temporary mount for the hide to be placed and then fleshed using a two-handled blade. Afterwards, the hide is salted and dried. During the spring the bears pour in and Nizich works late prepping the animals for shipment to be tanned. All Rug N' Racks hides are tanned in Anchorage through a process of curing which involves stripping the natural oils through an acid bath and tumbling the hides through a large dryer-like machine filled with hard wood or corn husks. When the fur returns to Juneau it is clean and soft, perfect for a cozy rug.

At this point the craft really ramps up. The hide is stretched right side (fur side) down on a gridded table in the second garage. To maintain symmetry in the rug, the animal is stretched evenly on both sides of a snapped centerline. Sound familiar, crafters? The stretched hide gets nailed in place while the head mount is prepped in the third garage. Today's mounts are made from high-density foam. They are easily carved and puttied, making the former paper mache mounts difficult and obsolete. Eyes are set in the foam, taking care to look realistic and intentional.

The head mount is fitted and glued into the hide and pinned with t-pins. The neck and top of the head are then stitched. The bear's armpits are pleated and stitched out flat. Yes, seamstresses, there is pleating in taxidermy. If the bear is uneven, or the cuts were made wrong when originally skinned, there may be a lot more sewing involved to create a symmetrical rug.

Using a two-part epoxy, the mouth is sealed and smoothed. Then, with a delicate airbrush, the mouth and nose are painted to create a realistic set of gleaming teeth. Once the rug is stretched and flipped, bald patches in the hide are dyed darker to match the rest. This can be especially difficult for fall bears who have been out of the den, losing their hair and rubbing trees. For loft, a thick layer of batting is placed between the hide and the two-layered felt border stitched on next. And yes, it is exactly the same kind of batting quilters use. The final backing is stitched on with two mounting rings, and voila, a rug/wall hanging/masterpiece is complete.

For the huntsman, this piece of craft is a proud reward for a difficult journey. For the craftsman like Mike Nizich, this piece of art is a 30-year commitment to skinning, carving, sewing, painting, dying and crafting his legacy.

Tanna Peters is a crafter and designer from wonderful, rainy Southeast Alaska. View her latest creations at suiteliving.blogspot.com and her shared crafting site at craftaddicts.blogspot.com. Send local craft inquiries and info to tanna.craft@gmail.com.


Loading...