By Julie Gerke
BLOOMINGTON — When Chris Duncan caught a bluegill last summer, he knew it would stay with him for a long time.
Forever, in fact, because Duncan, 16, of Robinson, used the fish for his first taxidermy project.
On Saturday, it was adorned with two blue ribbons after youth division judging at the Illinois Taxidermist Association convention and competition at DoubleTree by Hilton.
"It was my very first one," said Duncan, whose grandmother is a professional taxidermist.
His two-week project involved gutting the fish, then soaking it in a solution before stretching it over a plaster form.
Duncan's work was among dozens of pieces entered into the ITA competition for youth, master's and professional categories.
In the vendor room, Dan Hudzik of Ohio Taxidermy Supply of Mount Vernon, used a spatula-like tool to smooth deer hide over the "neck" of a polyurethane form.
The animal's chin hung limply, waiting to be stretched over a plastic jawbone from among dozens on a table that held forms for ears and jawbones.
Vendors also offered a variety of solutions and coatings all designed to make the finished product appear lifelike.
Making the waterfowl, whitetail deer, fish, reptiles, mammals and game heads look natural — including, in some cases, with precise habitat — is the goal of the taxidermist.
Watching Hudzik was David Schmidt of Palmyra, Wis., who works only with bears. His diorama of two playful cubs, shown in the competition room, was strewn with ribbons.
That piece — because of the work, detail and time — is out of most people's price range. If he were to work on a full-size bear for a customer, the price would start at $2,400.
Mick Underhill of Marseilles was one of the 17 founders of ITA when it was created 35 years ago. The work, done worldwide, draws young and old, male and female, he said.
"It's kind of our first love," he said. "When you find what you love, you stick with it."
The science of taxidermy involves a great deal of art, minute detail and time. Underhill recently completely a full-sized wolf that took almost six months to finish.
The otter he showed in competition Saturday was one trapped by his nephew in Wisconsin. Such cross-state commerce requires legal banding and paperwork before the animal can be transferred to the taxidermist for work, Underhill said.
The show continues Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $3 for those age 13 and older.