Originally created 07/21/02

Art imitating life



The practice of taxidermy also has its fringe benefits, including the gossip - and the stories - of all the best fish and deer, and how they were taken.

"This is one of the biggest deer in here," Nevils said, holding a massive whitetail rack in his "antler room" of trophies to be mounted. "The guy was a guest at a club, he fell asleep and when he woke up, this was looking at him."

Trey Nevils is the fur and antler guy. Larry Stewart is more at home with feathers and fins.

Most afternoons, the two men are confined to the back room of their Augusta taxidermy studio - elbow deep in hides, borax, paint sprayers and other tools of their unusual trade.

"I like deer, so they're easier for me to mount," said Nevils, who worked at DSM Chemicals 13 years - and dabbled at taxidermy as a hobby - before making it his permanent vocation.

"I piddled with it awhile, then got serious," he said. "But it's not for everybody. Unless you really love it, you're not going to stay in it."

Stewart, deftly brushing the brightly colored feathers of a male wood duck, enjoys the challenges of mounting birds and fish.

"When you start on one of these, they're like a limp rag," he said. "It's exciting to see them when they're done."

Modern taxidermy is sophisticated and often artistic. Nevils learned his trade from seasoned masters, including Augusta's Barry Edlunds. Once trained, Nevils opened Southland Taxidermy.

"I wanted to know all I can to make what I do as real as they can get," he said. "Sometimes it's hard; you'd be amazed what people bring in here wanting us to fix up and mount."

Working those miracles with trophies that are shot up, cut, improperly frozen or otherwise compromised, however, is part of the magic of taxidermy.

"I'll say it like this," Nevils said with a laugh. "Anyone can take a car apart, but you have to know what you're doing to put it back together."

Although traditional shoulder mounts of deer are a mainstay of the taxidermy trade, Nevils also enjoys a little free expression with unusual mounts destined for contests and competition.

Pedestal mounts, bucks with flailing feet and wildlife combinations such as a bobcat attacking a wild turkey are examples of Nevils' enterprise taxidermy.

"You try to be original, to come up with new things," he said. "But it's not always easy."

Nevils displays his more unusual creations at his studio, and sometimes customers see them and want something unusual.

"More and more nowadays, people want something different," he said, adding that "different" often can be a strong selling point. "It can be like, 'Aw, Honey, it's not the same as the others, so let's get this one mounted, too."'

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119 or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.