Father and son find success in taxidermy

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published February 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 22, 2013 at 10:41 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Rodney Harper won state champion 2013 in Master Division Fish Taxidermy, and his son, Jared, won the Youth Horizon Award championship at the February 2013 state taxidermy competition in Greenbrier.

— For Rodney Harper, the owner of Harper’s Pure Country Taxidermy in Damascus, taxidermy isn’t just a way to make a living; it’s a way to stay connected to his son, Jared.

Rodney has been a taxidermist for 23 years and isn’t looking to stop anytime soon.

He won State Champion for 2013 in Master Division Fish Taxidermy at the 2013 Arkansas Taxidermist Association convention in Greenbrier in early February. Jared, 14, won the Youth Horizon Award for ages 16 and under with his goggle-eye fish mount.

The elder Harper is one of 17 certified taxidermists in the state, and one of only 102 certified in fish taxidermy across the nation.

Rodney said he received his state certification in 1999 in all categories and was nationally certified in the fish category in 2012. The four categories a taxidermist can be certified in are mammals, fish, birds and reptiles.

Rodney said his customers are important to him, and he takes pride in his work.

“When you go to a doctor, you don’t go to a noncertified doctor,” he said. “People hold a lot of us guys to a higher standard because we are certified.”

Some people do taxidermy as a hobby, but Rodney does it as a full-time job.

With his 23 years of practice, he’s been able to compete all over the United States and teaches seminars to people who express interest in the trade.

Rodney competes at the master level in taxidermy competitions and said when you get to that division, a person is expected to take it to a different level.

“They want it to be perfect,” Rodney said. “[The judges] want that thing exactly like it was when you caught it.”

Rodney enjoys taxidermy because it gives him a chance to recreate a memory for a person.

“There’s a memory behind it all. That’s what we try to do,” he said.

By recreating memories, Rodney said others who hunt and fish might not think the size of the animal is the most impressive thing ever, but it has a story behind it. Rodney said this comes with mounting a child’s first fish they ever caught or someone’s first deer they take.

“It’s a trophy to them. It might not be to anybody else, but it is to them,” Rodney said.

Jared has been around taxidermy his entire life, and when he’s not at school in Greenbrier, he helps his dad.

Jared makes all of the lures, jigs and flies that are mounted with the fish Rodney prepares for his customers.

Jared said that when he graduates from high school, he wants to pursue a career in fisheries biology and spend some time doing taxidermy.

“I’ve already had one person ask me to do an internship,” Jared said.

Rodney said he is proud of his son and hopes being around all the different types of fish in his shop will help Jared be successful as a fisheries biologist.

Rodney spent some time in the Navy after graduated from high school. He started going to night classes at a community college to learn taxidermy.

“I went to night classes after I got done with my Navy duties during the day,” Rodney said.

The more time Rodney spent doing taxidermy, the more people started seeing and requesting his work.

“I was spending more time doing [taxidermy] than I was my real job,” Rodney said.

He worked on his taxidermy all hours of the night and finally had built up enough business to do it full time.

Although it’s difficult for a taxidermist to get started, Rodney said, in the end, it’s worth it.

“It’s a tough way to make a living, but I enjoy it,” he said.

Rodney said he wants to encourage people to stop by and see what his taxidermy shop has to offer.

“It doesn’t cost anything to look,” Rodney said.

Harper’s Pure Country Taxidermy is at 22 S. Broadway (U.S. 65) in Damascus.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501)244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online News Editor Lisa Burnett can be reached at lburnett@arkansasonline.com.