By Wes Johnson
In death they hope to capture a moment in life.
•Two African lions, ripping and clawing each other in battle.
•A monster striped bass surging through a school of terrified baitfish.
•A hunk of wood transformed into a gleaming rainbow trout so realistic you'd swear it was just scooped out of Lake Taneycomo.
That's the goal of about 1,000 taxidermists and fish carvers who are in Springfield this week for the World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championships at the Springfield Expo Center downtown. They represent all 50 states and 25 countries, including a contingent of about 20 taxidermists from China.
"This goes way beyond a deer head hanging on the wall," said Larry Blomquist, who with wife Kathy, owns Breakthrough Magazine, a taxidermy trade journal that produces the yearly competition.
Much of the week will be devoted to taxidermy-related seminars, where practitioners of the art of creatively stuffing dead animals will learn the newest techniques. Larry Blomquist said many of those participants will be taxidermists who work for major museums.
Then there's the competition side of this event.
So far close to 300 taxidermists have entered their works in the show. A grand champion mount can win cash prizes in several categories and earn up to $10,000 for its creator, he said. The competition is offering more than $42,000 in cash and awards, according to the event's Web site.
Animal species can range from the tiniest sparrow captured in a pensive pose to grizzly bears, elk, lions and lizards. Previous events have even had a competitive category for extinct animal species.
On Wednesday, many entrants were busy preparing their mounts for judging, carefully combing fur into place, polishing eyeballs to make them look real, dusting off feathers and fins.
"Last year's grand champion, Brian Moody from Garden City, New York, won with a large striped bass chasing a school of bait fish," he said. "That was the first time in a long time that a fish mount won best of show."
A team of 28 judges rate a mount on how lifelike it looks, how anatomically correct it appears, the taxidermist's craftsmanship and how expertly the artist captures an animal in a dramatic moment.
A separate competition brings some of the world's best fish woodcarvers together.
"What you'll see them do is unbelievable," Blomquist said. "People who see these carved fish are blown away by the detail, like a fish with 2,000 scales carved on it just perfectly. When you look at the carvings you can't tell them from the real fish."
A winning mount can fetch upwards of $20,000 to $30,000 from the right buyer, he said.
With the event occurring in the hometown of Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, Blomquist said he hoped the celebrated outdoorsman would swing by for a look — and maybe bring his checkbook.
"I hope so," Blomquist said.
If you want to go
Because The World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championships is a closed competition and trade show event, the only chances you'll have to see these taxidermy mounts and fish carvings will be 6-10 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Expo Center, 635 E. St. Louis St.
Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12.
For more information about the World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championships®, visit www.taxidermy.net/wtc. Video.