Charlie Wiste of Spring Grove works to put the “finishing” touches on this deer mount. He feels taxidermy is more of an art than a job. He strives to bring “nature back to life” with just the right amount of skill and time.SGH/Moorhead
Charlie Wiste of Spring Grove works to put the “finishing” touches on this deer mount. He feels taxidermy is more of an art than a job. He strives to bring “nature back to life” with just the right amount of skill and time.

Taxidermy has come a long way in recent decades. Practitioners of the art do more than "stuff animals," they strive to impart the look, the attitude and the spirit of their subjects.

For Charlie Wiste of Spring Grove "bringing nature back to life" is the watchword of his home taxidermy business.

"That deer rough-scored 173 (inches)," Wiste said last week, motioning towards a massive-antlered head ready for a customer to pick up.

Nearby, a smaller deer still had a few clips and clamps attached. "There's the detail work to finish on that one," he said, "a few hours... but it take's days to prepare a mount."

An avid outdoorsman his entire life, Wiste said that one of these days he just may try hunting with a camera instead of a gun. But it's just a personal preference, not value judgment about the sport. And he still likes to fish every chance he gets.

"I still go to my deer stand, and the anticipation is still there. I just don't get quite the thrill out of taking an animal that I once did."

Years of observation in the wild helps taxidermy enthusiasts like Wiste when it comes to adding that special spark to a mount. It's the eye of an artist.

The big mount's eyes gleam as Wiste added, "I've enjoyed that one for the last two weeks. Now it's time for someone else to place it on their wall."

"To bring an animal like that back to life and make it look real, that's just as enjoyable for me as taking a deer," he said.

"A lot of dyed-in-the-wool deer hunters will say that's a lie, but for me it's true. I don't have anything against hunting; I don't begrudge anybody taking a deer. As a matter of fact, we truly need hunting to control deer populations. It's a great management tool and a wonderful outdoor activity."

"It's just great to be the taxidermist now and still be involved with wildlife."

After being laid off from Featherlite Trailers of Cresco, Iowa, five years ago, Wiste decided to take a chance and go back to school when a jobs' counselor asked him a pointed question: "Have you ever had anything you really wanted to do?"

Wiste earned his diploma in the art of bringing animals back to life at a crash course at the Rinehart School of Taxidermy in Edgerton, Wis., a bit over four years ago.

"It was a one-month program," he said. "We spent a week each on birds, small mammals, deer heads and fish. It was pretty intense instruction, but we had a good teacher. He was a national champion in fish taxidermy on three separate occasions.

"I've always thought of retirement as not just sitting around. Keeping active with something you enjoy makes a lot more sense. This is more of a future for someone like me.

"I thought if I could find a little work on the side and get a little bit of an income, I wouldn't have to work for somebody else anymore."

Work at home has its advantages, Wiste said. Especially when a blizzard hits in the middle of winter.

"It's so nice not to punch a clock after 45-50 years of working for somebody else. One of the beauties of this kind of work is that you can take your coffee cup to the basement and just go to work.

"It gives you the opportunity to express yourself, use some of your creative talents. It gives me the opportunity to make something that someone else can enjoy."

Wiste's basement holds antlers, deer capes and a badger. Besides a coffee cup, specialized tools pack the workspace.

Wiste said his favorite thing is working on fish, even though furry creatures keep things interesting by providing variety. Using an airbrush to recreate lifelike colors on finny friends is a creative challenge that he truly enjoys.

When the Houston County Historical Society in Caledonia wanted to add something different to their open house earlier this winter, Wiste set up a display that included fur, fish and fowl. It was a hit, especially with male visitors.

Another of Wiste's subjects is currently on display at the Spring Grove Public Library. A road-killed river otter was brought to him over a year ago as a potential educational display.

Donating his time, Wiste set to work on the animal. He even built a display case for the otter complete with artificial snow and background materials. Located in the children's section, it's been extremely popular with young readers.

"Every time somebody picks up an animal, whether it's a fish or a bird or a deer, and they say 'Wow!' that makes me feel so good," Wiste said. "If I have one regret, it's that I didn't start doing this years ago."

Wiste Taxidermy is located at 105 3rd Ave. SE. Charlie can be reached at (507) 498-5820.