Walk into Stagliano Taxidermy, and it feels like time stands still. Over here, a fox pauses mid-stride. There, a deer has its head turned and seems to stare right at you. A fisher winds its way up a branch — with its prey, a black squirrel, dangling from its mouth.
“I’m a one-man show,” taxidermist Jim Stagliano explains, as he prepares for a busy hunting season. “Here, people know who they’re working with.”
Stagliano has practiced taxidermy for 40 years: He began at age 12 with a correspondence course he ordered through Boy’s Life magazine. A whitetail deer was his first mount, and once Stagliano was out of high school he began preparing mounts for friends. A laborer by trade, Stagliano left Local 17 to ply his craft full time. He’s won several first-place and “Best in Show” taxidermy awards, earned for work that requires precise attention, down to an animal’s tear ducts.
His love of the craft is matched with an encyclopedic knowledge of taxidermy and the animals he processes. Pointing to animal skulls, he explains how those animals’ hides are being tanned and will be matched with the corresponding skulls. The hides are mounted on mannequins that the lean, bespectacled Stagliano customizes: “I’m like a dressmaker, only instead of tailoring the dress to fit the mannequin, I tailor the mannequin to fit the dress.”
Across the street from his studio in Walker Valley is his home, replete with a trophy room lined with more than 40 animal trophies. It’s there you’ll find his prize possession: a 200-pound leopard he shot in Zimbabwe.
Some people compare taxidermy to mortuary science, Stagliano says, but really, it’s the opposite.
“Morticians deal with people at the saddest time of their lives. I deal with people at the happiest time of their lives,” Stagliano says.
Stagliano respects that as he prepares each trophy: “That 14-year-old’s first doe is as important to him as that 52-year-old’s leopard. They’re fulfilling a lifelong dream.”