By Mike Campbell
Not only were Alaskans competing at the World Taxidermy and Fish Carving Championships last month, they were on the podium too.
Russell Knight, owner of Knight’s Taxidermy in Anchorage and star of the cable TV series “Mounted in Alaska” that ran for 16 episodes on the History Channel, was master of ceremonies for the 650 people attending the closing awards banquet. “What a great privilege and honor that was,” he said Monday. “That was the finest group of taxidermists ever assembled under one roof.”
Among those recognized were Matt Potter of Soldotna, who took second place in the taxidermy-of-birds category for his ptarmigan, and Ron Ginter of Chugiak in the decorative lifestyle division for his rainbow trout.
Knight grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and began working at a taxidermy shop while in high school. There he met a sportsman who worked on Alaska’s North Slope and “filled by head at 13 or 14 with dreams of Alaska. So at like 14 years old, I decided I was moving to Alaska.”
He’s been here 37 years and today his business employs 21 people, including his son and daughter.
“My daughter grew up in the trade,” he said. “Up until recently, you didn’t see that many lady taxidermists, but a lot more women are getting into the trade. These TV shows have put it in a more popular light. Everybody thought it was just meat and flesh hanging on the walls, but it’s really an art form.”
The first episode of “Mounted in Alaska” aired in the spring of 2011. Back then, and today, Knight’s Taxidermy does mostly bears, followed by caribou and Dall sheep. “Right now Alaska is just overwhelmed with bears,” he said. “We’re doing 200-300 a year.”
Knight’s shop is so big now, “ I can sit back in the Russell R&D creative room and dream up new ideas,” he said. Knight's Taxidermy is a U.S. Customs-approved import/export facility, which means the shop is certified to accept delivery of, and handle, animals taken overseas. Some of those mounts can get expensive. A pedastal-mounted giraffe can cost nearly $9,000. But Knight still relishes the feedback he gets from a happy customer.
“In taxidermy, you really make history every day,” he said in a video promoting ‘Mounted in Alaska’ “That mount that we’re doing for the hunter, that doesn’t just represent that he took an animal and hung it on the wall and he’s proud of it, that mount represents the history of his hunt from the minute he left his door ‘til he got back and kissed his wife. So we’re having to create and make history for the client.”