Wild at Heart
It’s wild what Bob Parkey can do with an animal hide.
Russian brown bears are poised to strike; a black leopard catches an antelope in the abdomen mid-jump; a caribou lies gracefully, its hooves curled under in rest, on a patch of snowy ground. Even the animals’ noses look like they’re perspiring.
The mounts accomplished by Parkey, of Indian River, are museum-quality replicas of animals in motion. He captures the soul and spirit of the wildlife and freezes them in a moment in time.
For 30 years, Parkey has been the owner of Parkey’s Taxidermy in Indian River. He’s one of nine grand master taxidermists in the world, and he recently merged his business with a national firm to become The Wildlife Gallery with Bob Parkey. The main office is in Blanchard, Mich., while the long-established Northern Michigan branch remains a gallery itself of Parkey’s prized mounts.
Here, “What’s that?” is a common question, as the variety of species he preserves spans the globe (eland and kudu sent us to the spell-checker). “We do a tremendous amount of work from Africa ,” said Parkey, browsing a room filled with a zebra, ostrich, cape buffalo, some nasty looking warthogs and an imposing blue wildebeest.
“Most people who go on safari go to collect eight or nine animals at a time and they come back with 20. We had one fella who went for eight and came back with 47. One family brought us 109 animal skins.”
In the next room, a mammoth 500-pound elephant head, shot in Africa, is affixed to the wall and ready for delivery, complete with 8-foot-long tusks and ears the size of VWs. The mount is for a private home in Gaylord, at a cost of about $17,500. He’s done full elephant mounts, which run over $100,000, for private homeowners as well.
Surrounding the exotics are more commonly harvested animals around Michigan, bear, elk, red foxes, wood ducks, cougar and fish. A full-size display of four deer running through a corn field is another showstopper in the middle of the gallery, created by Parkey using his own kills.
“We probably do 1,000 mounts a year,” said Parkey, pointing out a row of deer trophies set for delivery to a Major League Baseball star.
To achieve such amazing mounts is not as messy of a process at the taxidermist as this writer was envisioning. Once an animal is killed elsewhere, a butcher removes the skin for the client. Parkey and his crew remove any skin from the skull and remove the horn plate. The hide gets salted, dried and then is shipped to a tannery downstate.
The tanning process removes the skin’s fluids, which are replaced with a synthetic oil and bug repellent. The skin is then shipped back to Parkey, who orders Styrofoam forms to fit the dimensions of the prepared hide. The forms come in pre-determined poses, which Parkey carves to create the life-like mounts for which he’s known.
“Anyone can put skin on a frame,” said Parkey. “But when you start looking at the details in the eye, or the tongue, or the movement … Our quality can’t be beat.” HL
Issues » November and December 2009 » Wild at Heart