El Paso taxidermy artists find pride in agelong practice


EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Local taxidermy artists find the value and pride behind every trophy brought to their establishments.

Their goal is often to capture the significant moment fathers have with their sons in their first hunt. And, for seasoned hunters, who want to remember the moment they were out in the elements during memorable ventures through the woods.

“Now you have this mannequin that you’re putting the hide on and turning it around for something to be appreciated for a work of art that’s going to go mounted on somebody’s wall and it’s going to be displayed proudly because that’s their trophy,” said Ileana Ayala-Garcia, of Joe Garcia & Son Taxidermists.

Taxidermy is the process of preparing, detailing, and mounting the skins of animals. It is an ancient art form that not many practice, and although they are used to educate the public at museums, it generates mixed feelings from those who see this art on a wall, usually displayed in homes or offices as trophies.

KTSM spoke with two local taxidermists both whom got their start three generations back. Not only is the business generational but it’s also years of hard work and experience; an art not just anyone can do.

Photo by: Marlenn Barraza

Ileana Ayala-Garcia works with her husband Joe Garcia III, who is the owner of the taxidermy business in Central El Paso. She said they receive hides from the customers and a mannequin is used underneath.

She compares the setup to a ‘blank canvas.’

But how do taxidermists make the mannequin and hide come back to life?

“The anatomy, the chemistry, the math… the color of their nose, the color of their eyes, inside of their ears, what color is it? You just can’t paint it any color. When you’re a professional hunter you know all those details that you want to see on your mount,” said Garcia III.

Bernardo Norzagaray Sr., owner of Norza Brothers Taxidermy in Sunland Park, NM, said it’s important to portray what the animal would be doing, “Is it looking, is it sneaking, is it walking, is it watching, is it looking for food? You have to transmit what the trophy is doing – the emotion.”

The hours spent on the detail to make it the best it could be is what taxidermists strive for, just as a sculptor or a musician would do in their own art piece.

Although it is a unique job to have, with many having different opinions, nevertheless, taxidermists are artists. It takes time, patience, and experience to do impeccable work.

“I feel proud of my work because it is an art. It takes a lot of work, a lot of practice, over and over, change this change that, so it can start looking better,” said Garcia III. “We’re taxidermists and we love what we do. It’s been here for years, if it wasn’t an art I wouldn’t be here.”

Justin Underwood, an outdoorsman, appreciates the amount of work and detail taxidermists do for preservation and display. He tells KTSM that this past year his 7-year-old son was able to harvest his first deer.

Photo by: Marlenn Barraza

“It was one of the most exciting moments of his young life and certainly an exciting and proud moment for dad as well,” Underwood said.

A cherished memory is exactly the reason why Norzagaray Sr.’s business motto is “Preserving memories through wildlife art. Underwood said every one of the mounted animals holds a special story.

“Customers don’t just drop off the hide and leave,” Ayala-Garcia said. “When somebody goes in, we take the pride to put all of that detail in so that it comes to life and that story is part of what’s on there.”

Underwood said outdoorsmen hunt for the meat and preserve what they can.

“It’s a harvest of meat that was done in a very humane way that was done without hormones and antibiotics,” said Underwood.

“Killing is different than hunting,” said Bernardo Norzagaray Jr., son of Norzagaray Sr., “as a hunter you want more animals to exist so you can hunt them, you don’t want them to go extinct so that’s different between a hunter and poacher, or a killer.”

Underwood agrees, “hunters nation wide by far in a way lead the effort for conservation for wild life in this country and I know that people are going to think that I’m crazy for saying that but it really is true because if we don’t take care of these natural resources we wont have them anymore.”

According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife website:

“100% of your hunting and fishing license fees go to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for on-the-ground conservation efforts that help make Texas one of the best places in the country to hunt and fish. Fish stocking, wildlife management, habitat restoration, land conservation, and Texas Game Wardens are just some of the initiatives funded in part by your license fees.”

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