In one huge loft of Jonas Bros., Seattle taxidermists and furriers, two or three thousand wild animal pelts are strung up on long lines—big or little noses in the air, big or little tails sweeping downward, fur against fur, skin against skin, all tagged with names and numbers, and all exuding a pleasant, pervasive scent. It somehow suggests an oversize cloakroom in a primitive longhouse—on family night.
"Great bins on another floor, and an immense barn on Seattle's wooded outskirts, hold Fiberglas forms for every trophy species a hunter is likely to bag in North America, Africa or India. These are carefully "filed" under extra large, large, medium or small, subfiled under right face, left face or straight—and, in the case of complete mounts, according to stance.
Put the furs and the Fiberglas together, and you get—well, not exactly instant animals, but a unique contribution to taxidermy and the trophy room by the three Klineburger brothers, who bought out their employers, Jonas Bros., in 1954. Gene, 41, Bert, 37, and Chris, 36, operate one of the world's largest custom taxidermy businesses. It has branches in Uganda, Tanganyika and Alaska, numerous fur-receiving field stations, plus a guide-referral system (no charge for either of these services).
The Klineburgers will make for you or sell you beautiful fur rugs (for ski or hunting lodge, townhouse den, office or sports car) from as low as $20 for a little, short-haired skin to perhaps $225 for a big polar bear. They custom-make or sell mink coats, leopard (car coats, $3,450), Washington State muskrat (car coat, $295) and zebra (24-inch jacket with natural beaver shawl collar and elbow cuffs, $875). They will sell you enough zebra to cover your bar, whether it takes one skin ($75-$100) or a hundred.
But their true love is good, if not old, taxidermy. They have reconstructed everything from a hummingbird to a 23,000-pound killer whale. They originated the Fiberglas form, and they (and their staff of 50) are the only taxidermists, to their knowledge, who use it.
The combination of Klineburgers plus Fiberglas has made it possible to hang on your wall a nonanimal that you yourself shot: a completely synthetic head of an elephant, hippopotamus or walrus. If you have the tusks but the skin is damaged or lost, Jonas Bros. can mold and tint a head to the eye-fooling likeness of such almost hairless creatures. That gives you a base for displaying the tusks. But wait. For mounting, the true tusks are routinely recast in plastic. The original tusks can then be displayed casually nearby—alongside, with luck, an on-the-spot photo of you and the actual animal you shot.
All three Klineburgers have been hunters since they were children. They put themselves through school in Arizona by running trap lines and curing the skins of the beasts they caught. They and their wives have hunted in Mexico, the Arctic icecap and the African veld; they are regular commuters to the Yukon and Northwest territories. Bert Klineburger, president of Jonas Bros., holds the world's record for moose. Like all hunters, they want trophies to look real, rip-snorting or restless, and evocative of the climactic moment—even if what's inside is only [1/16] of an inch of Fiberglas.
Since the first hunter noticed that he had shot something larger than his neighbor's kill, men have stuffed animals (and also birds and fish) with earth, grass, leaves, straw and, later, excelsior. Originally they added spices in an effort to stave off decay. The development of preservative chemicals led to great 18th-century private and especially royal collections. Taxidermists studied exact measurements of the animal. They reconstructed skeletons, modeled them in clay to show musculature in action, then molded them in plaster of paris, reinforcing them inside with papier-m�ch�, stiffened burlap or even wire cloth for large specimens. They tried molding them in wax or carving forms out of balsa wood or cork.
Though the Klineburgers have moved on to Fiberglas, they still urge hunters to take exact measurements in the field. But after modeling and casting thousands of animals, they hit on something: four basic sizes (of heads in most cases) could take care of each species "within a quarter of an inch"; additional differences in musculature stemmed mainly from position. Today in the big, windowed "studio" you can see the older European and more recently trained American "artists" adding bits of clay to the Fiberglas forms, deftly sculpturing them to fit the pelts they will wear; putting in plastic "dentures," rubber tongues and glass eyes made in Germany; pinning the furs into position while the glue dries and then fluffing up the fur like show-dog handlers.
The finished mount is "stronger, lighter in weight and more damp-proof than the old papier-m�ch� method," according to the Klineburgers. A full-mount bear might weigh 135 pounds in papier-m�ch� and 35 in Fiberglas. If it's a big polar or Kodiak brown bear, the job will run to $1,000 or even $1,200. Blacks and grizzlies, can be done for $600 to $800. A wolverine that weighed 35 pounds in life might weigh 10 in Fiberglas, with base. Wolverines and some other small mammals can be done for as little as $125; a dik-dik, not much bigger than a jack rabbit, for $95 to $115 full mount, $45 for a head. Wildebeest-or caribou-head mounts are about $125. A full-mount moose could run to $1,500.