Not many people have an otter in the freezer. But when Janna Keever was looking for something unusual to mount for a taxidermist competition in March, her husband found one of the river-loving mammals dwelling in his ice box.
Working nights, Keever formed the pelt into an otter swimming out of an underwater hole with a crayfish clenched in its teeth. For her work, she won best of category in the adult novice division. She also won the same award for her mount of a whitetail doe paired with a buck on a cornfield base. And the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation decided to give her its own award for the deer mount.
“To win two best of categories is crazy,” said her husband, Don Keever, a taxidermist and owner of Anglers & Antlers Taxidermy in the Heights.
“I’m one up on Don, because he’s never won the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation award,” Janna Keever noted with a tinge of one-upmanship.
Because she scored so high in the novice division, the next time she competes she has to go up against the pros, like her husband.
“So now my wife’s going to kick my butt,” Don Keever said. “She’s got more talent than she knows.”
Janna, 31, is a mother of three girls — Annabelle, Adrianna and Jayla — works part-time waiting tables at a West End restaurant and also helps out with the taxidermy business. But she didn’t create her own animal mount until three years ago, and even then it was fairly unusual.
She mounted a full-sized raccoon sitting amid refuse atop a garbage can lid drinking from a milk carton. The animal even has a white milk moustache. A placard makes fun of the popular advertisements reading, “Got milk?” For her efforts, she received a third place ribbon.
“I had never mounted anything and thought, well heck, I might as well try it,” she said while sitting in her kitchen/ office as a pot of chili stewed fragrantly on the stove. “I discovered it wasn’t a good thing to do, because it’s not that easy to do a full body mount.”
She worked on her raccoon design off and on for a week in the shop attached to their home, often putting in time after the girls were in bed.
“Late at night is when I do my best work,” she said.
She even dried out pizza crust to add to the tableau of garbage atop the lid. When she’d get stuck or needed help, Don would offer suggestions, but she did the work.
“I have the best teacher available,” she said. “I’ve been watching him do stuff for years.”
Yet she waited two years after her first foray into taxidermy competition before entering one of the contests again.
Growing up in Worland, Wyo., Janna had long fished but never hunted until she married Don 12 years ago. Likewise, taxidermy had never crossed her mind as an occupation or art form.
“My family is like, ‘Hmm, I never would have thunk it,’” she said.
Yet she enjoys coming up with unusual and different scenes and seems to have a special knack for creating realistic additions to her pieces, as well as some of her husband’s work. He mounted two sea turtles, but Janna created the coral base out of Bondo — a filler used for car body repairs — sponges and pot scrubbers over a base of driftwood.
“It’s really cool to see the animal come to life,” Janna said, especially considering that the process starts with an animal cape and a stiff foam body form.
She’s not sure where the ideas for her creations come from, although she admitted seeing photos and imagining animals mounted in a similar fashion. Trying to make the mounts look like live animals is the constant challenge of taxidermists.
“I like the artistic ability,” Janna said, although she added that if she has to draw, she’ll sketch out stick men. “I guess there are different forms of artistic-ness.”