Up here in Alaska at the American Bald Eagle Festival, one of my fellow presenters is Glen Browning. Glen’s giving a course in digital wildlife photography, as well as demonstrating — from start to finish — his methodology for mounting an immature female Goshawk. I asked Glen how he came to be one of the world’s most respected — and busy — bird taxidermists. When it comes to turning a passion into success, it’s the sort of story I’ve heard before.
Glen had always been stuffing birds, but a 1991 motorcycle accident had left him injured, angry, and reassessing the direction of his life. One day he made a phone call to the greatly admired, prize winning taxidermist Patrick Rummans. Glen invited Patrick to come several thousand miles and teach him all he could in two weeks. Patrick, looking for an exchange of good northern wildlife photography, took him up on it. “There’s more to it than meets the eye,” Glen says. “I learned from Patrick about the details and the finish. Feet — I always fill them out and mount the feet — otherwise they shrivel up — and the eyes — particularly around the eyes, you have to get that right.” Then there’s the knowledge needed for lifelike positioning. This takes an understanding of anatomy, weight distribution and habits that can only come from watching and study in the field. In Glen’s case he was able to add literally thousands of hours flying near and along with birds in his ultra-light aircraft. In Glen’s flying-mounts you can feel the wind.
In so many conversations with creative masters I’ve found myself hearing a lot of stuff about the details. In these details — no matter how much trouble they take or how much one is to be paid for them — there comes the resolve to excel and to do the job better. I see this kind of resolve as a “glow” in people, a one-tracked sense of personal pride that results in focus and purpose. Purpose-driven folks tend to develop an advanced proficiency that makes them stand out. Purpose-driven folks — while they may be laden with humility — are often also loaded up with a sense of righteousness about their work. Simply put, they believe in it. And purpose-driven folks have often taken a circuitous route to get that way. In Glen’s case it took a lot of jobs, banging around — commercial fishing, sheet metal working, and a bone-breaking experience to come to this resolve.
PS: “You’ve got to really take your time to scrape back the skins until they’re very thin — paper thin — and very very clean. That makes them supple — then and only then you can do what you want with them.” (Glen Browning)
Esoterica: Here in Haines, Alaska, down by the Chilkat River, the place is up close and personal with Bald Eagles. About four thousand right now. The long-lens birdwatchers attending this convention have been going nuts. Where I am there’s a foot of fresh snow. More coming. It’s silent except for the distant eagle’s calls, the soft thud of snow falling from the pines and my woolly-gloved fingers talking to you on this laptop. Amazing world. Bit different than Manhattan.
This letter was originally published as “Resolve” on November 11, 2005.
“The honouring of specificity is no small job indeed.” (James Fenwick Lansdowne)
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My art represents an artistic journey that has been on-going for more than thirty-five years with help and guidance from many wonderful artists. Now, with years of plein-air painting experience, study and solo exhibitions, I believe that my current work has reached its highest level, reflecting the depth of my absorption in the wonder and beauty of the world around me. I have learned that, as an artist, I will never stop looking for better ways to express my feelings in art and that struggling to more fully understand myself is integral to my painting; a philosophy that was part of every workshop I taught. Still is.