Miller's Life Like Taxidermy

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Morning Journal, 11-28-11, By JASON HENRY

[Miller's Life Like Taxidermy moves to Sheffield

5442 Colorado Ave., Sheffield Village, 934-5813.]

SHEFFIELD VILLAGE -- In the cluttered back room workshop of his building on Colorado Avenue, Todd Kinzel works to bring a hunter's kill back to life.

Kinzel, the owner of Miller's Life Like Taxidermy, meticulously sculpts epoxy clay around the glass eye of the unfinished piece, a half-body buck leaping forward as if coming through the wall ...

While deer make up the bulk of Kinzel's work, the 42-year-old also reconstructs fish, African big game, leopards, bears, crocodiles and once a 12-foot alligator. His specialty, he said, is fish.

Kinzel said he is federally licensed to import game from overseas. "I do stuff from all around the world," he said. The avid hunter and fisher said the move to taxidermy was a natural progression for him.

He became interested in the work when he was 14 years old and attended Artist's Taxidermy School in Cleveland after graduating from Avon High School in 1987. By the age of 19, Kinzel began working at Miller's Life Like Taxidermy, then owned by Richard Miller.

"I've been doing it full-time ever since," he said. He bought Life Like Taxidermy in 2008 when Miller retired. The business relocated four months ago from Avon to 5442 Colorado Ave., Sheffield Village, because the new location was more affordable, he said. The fall is Kinzel's busiest period because of the hunting seasons.

Kinzel said he works around 70 hours a week during the season and maintains a 12-month turnaround on work because of how busy he is. "I never work a 40-hour week," he said with a laugh. "I pretty much work seven days a week."

Once Kinzel gets an animal, he skins it, tans the hide to dry it out and then fits the hide over a polyurethane foam form, which he orders from suppliers. The process takes about a month as the skin's drying can take weeks. Kinzel said he usually does multiple pieces at once ...

Kinzel's apprentice Justin Wojciechowski, 13, watches Kinzel work, occasionally grabbing a tool or cleaning up a work bench. "I do a lot of sewing for deer and I clean up," he said. "I'm kind of still learning."

He said he has been hunting for as long as he can remember and his dad, who fishes with Kinzel, suggested he learn the trade.

Wojciechowski said he began working at the shop about four months ago. "I kind of want to bring stuff I've taken back in to the world," he said.

Kinzel's prices depend on the size of an animal, but he said a deer head mount costs between $350 and $375, with a piece like the half body-mount going for around $900.

Kinzel stressed that he only does game animals, he does not do pets. "I probably get a phone call a week on that," he said. "I don't do that because the animal has character, and you can't bring a character back."

Miller's Life Like Taxidermy can be reached at 934-5813.



"Bringing skin, bones to life

AVON - Richard Miller picked up another shipment at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and began organizing things in his workshop.

Neatly placed across the floor were the skulls of warthogs, zebras, baboons, other monkeys and a variety of antelope. The animals' skins, turned inside out, were neatly folded in stacks.

Miller's task?

Take these animals from an African trip by two central Ohio hunters and make the remains look alive.

It is work Miller has been doing for more than 40 years as owner of Miller's Life Like Taxidermy, starting out in Olmsted Township before moving to Avon 30 years ago.

Only a handful of the 280 registered taxidermists in Ohio are licensed to accept game from Africa, said Art Ledger of Art's School of Taxidermy in Cleveland.

"I feel it's an art," Miller said. "Some people put a paint brush in their hands and paint a flying pheasant. I can re-create a pheasant."

Miller got interested in the ancient trade after his father, Edward, took him to a taxidermy shop in Cleveland. Miller was only 10, but he ordered a class by mail from the Northwest School of Taxidermy ...

By the time he graduated from Olmsted Falls High School in 1960, profits paid for a 21/2-car garage used as a workshop.

In the early years, local wildlife, such as pheasants in the days before deer were plentiful in the area, kept Miller busy. But word spread. Two-thirds of his business now comes from outside the area, from places like Alaska and the December shipment from Zimbabwe.

His showroom looks like a staging area for Noah's Ark: leopards, moose, elk, giraffes, buffalo, bison, monkeys, deer and fish.

The "trophies" are the end product of a process that takes four to five months to do right in the best of circumstances, Miller said. His turnaround time is about double that, in part because of a backlog of about 130 deer.

The skin goes through a preserving process with heavy use of salt before it is "leathered out" with tanning solutions.

Miller makes polyurethane forms on site, animals are not stuffed, and the skin is placed on the body forms. The eyes are glass. Everything else visible is real, unless the animal's mouth is open. In those cases the teeth and tongue are artificial.

Deer heads run $215 to $250. A whole deer costs $900 and up. A big brown bear would start at about $3,000.

"You learn to love animals," Miller said. "You want to preserve what is left of them."

But Miller said he draws the line at pets. He refuses to do them, instead suggesting that people frame a picture or get a nice oil painting done if they want to preserve the memory of their pet ...

Miller, whose interests at an early age included both hunting and art, said he was attracted to taxidermy by the thought of re-creating the beauty of pheasants and other animals.

After he met Dotti, his wife of 33 years, "she spent a lot of dates watching me do taxidermy." He said the business is a success because his wife runs the financial side of things.

For 35 years, Miller also worked as a lineman and supervisor for the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. "I would come home at night, eat supper and work [on taxidermy- until midnight."

Miller, 58, and retired from CEI since June 1998, said he would like to start cutting back, perhaps hiring an apprentice to join his other taxidermist on staff, Todd Kinzel ..."


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