By SHANTEE WOODARDS
The Capital of Annapolis
EDGEWATER, Md. (AP) — There was a time when Charlie Fegan’s only complaint about work was not having enough room to tend to the deer and giraffes.
The Edgewater taxidermist had been operating his shop from a cramped space that made it difficult to recreate larger pieces. So he is grateful that he was reported for violating zoning laws, since he is now in a more spacious showroom just two miles from his previous location.
The new Fegan’s Taxidermy shop provides enough space for an 8-foot display of leopards perched on a tree on the upper level and a lifelike scene of a stuffed bear chasing two coyotes in the forest on the lower level. The walls are filled with mounted zebra and deer heads, and just for fun, a few deer butts. The business they’re getting is about the same, only now there is more parking and the shop is located right off Muddy Creek Road. They have about 125 regular customers.
“We could do giraffe heads and elephant heads, but when it came to life-sized elephants, there was no way we could consider that,” said Charlie Fegan, who moved into the new space in July. “Now we can do big pieces. It’s really nice here. Really nice.”
As a taxidermy business, Fegan and his son C.J. take customers’ animal pelts and bring them renewed life with the use of molds, glue, dishwashing liquid and other products. Hunters make up his clientele, and prices vary from $325 for ducks and $650 for deer to at least $3,000 to have life-sized pieces like leopards stuffed and mounted. Their latest project — the two leopards draped on a tree they created — cost them $4,000 in supplies. They took the leopard piece, along with several others, to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s event in Lexington, N.C. last week.
Some customers come to the shop with an idea of what they want.
Others just let them do what they will, such as longtime customer Mike Scarborough. The leopard display is his; the father and son team will take it to display at a few shows before Scarborough is ready to place it in his game room.
“Charlie and C.J. are really true artists, so I let them do whatever they think is best to do, given what the animal looks like,” said Scarborough, who runs a vineyard with his wife in Calvert County. “We talked about putting the leopards up in a tree, but I had no idea that they would build a tree. Boy, is that spectacular!”
Fegan has been in the taxidermy business more than 30 years, an interest he developed after bringing home dead birds as a child. He was a student at Anne Arundel Community College when he spent a few unpaid months working as an apprentice at a now-defunct Severna Park taxidermy shop. Eventually, he was hired and spent the next three years working mainly with deer and ducks. Once the shop went out of business, the owner gave Fegan his books on taxidermy.
Fegan’s Taxidermy was born in 1981.
Previously, Fegan operated his shop from a modified garage beside his home, but that violated zoning laws. Fegan contacted state Sen. John Astle, D-Annapolis, who became a customer and an ally. This relationship helped him again in 2008, when zoning laws were going to prevent him from setting up his 2,400-square-foot showroom on agricultural land. Astle contacted the County Council on his behalf, and eventually a bill was passed that allowed him to have the showroom.
Astle keeps a glass case of mallard ducks in his office, one of the many pieces he has sent to Fegan’s. Currently, the pair is working on a mountain lion that Astle brought in from a hunting trip in Wyoming. He didn’t give Fegan much input on the project, other than saying he didn’t want the animal’s mouth open or snarling.
“I wanted it to look serene, maybe sitting on a rock and looking down,” said Astle, who displays the work at his office, the Bass Pro Shop at Arundel Mills and Fegan’s showroom. “He loves his work. They really love what they do, and the quality of the work (shows that). If you do something you love, you make it look good.”
Fegan and C.J. differ about which aspect of the job is the hardest. C.J. was in the midst of preparing the second leopard on Scarborough’s display. C.J. has cats of his own and often studies them to make sure the whiskers are just right. The idea was for one leopard to be subdued, with the whiskers going down, and the other leopard to be more active because he had just grabbed dinner.
Despite the intricacies of that, the whiskers aren’t what worry him.
“People have problems with the eyes. The eyes are what define a mount,” said C.J., as he imagined what the leopards’ background story would be. “He just caught dinner for his girlfriend.”
The elder Fegan often works with birds. He skins the middle out, turns the wings inside out, washes it and eventually places the mold inside and arranges it in place. He uses an artificial head.
“That’s what I’ve been known for is birds,” said Fegan, adding that the head is the hardest. “If I look at the head of a bird, I can tell whether the rest of it is going to be right.”
Despite working with animal carcasses, the Fegans say they are animal lovers. C.J. has three cats and a dog. And the shop is run under the watchful eye of Mama Kitty, a gray cat who roams the showroom. The pelts don’t bother her, aside for the few times she gets confused when one is a member of the cat family.
“I want a lab, but (Mama Kitty) won’t allow it,” Fegan said. “She won’t have any other pets around. She runs the show.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)