Bucking bronze

Taxidermist, sculptor finds another way to preserve wildlife

Don Beeler is an accomplished taxidermist for the Smithsonian who has created more than 70 bronze wildlife sculptures since 1995.

Beeler grew up on a cattle ranch near Baggs, Wyo. He has always ridden horses, and he competed in rodeos for five years.

Before he worked in taxidermy, Beeler worked in a tannery. There, he lost his middle left finger in a large machine.

"It was used to take the flesh off of Cape buffalo, zebras and giraffes," Beeler said. "There was only one way to get your finger in it and I done it."

He later studied taxidermy under Lloyd Woodbury and worked with exotic animals, including hippos, tigers, elephants and various native species.

It was only natural for Beeler, a Craig resident, to try sculpting next.

"I thought I better get something going for me," he said. "So I got into sculpting."

Beeler started working from photographs but after creating about 20 elk sculptures, he can now work from memory.

"What helps is that I've hunted enough and seen them in the wild," he said. "I create a scene or a position of what I've seen in the wild."

Beeler started by doing sculptures of world champion bronc riders and now creates large pieces of multiple animals. He recently completed a bronze sculpture of a pack train lead by Clark's Orval Bedell. It is seven feet long and 18 inches high.

"I think that's the piece that is going to rock 'n' roll me," Beeler said. "And I'm going to be making 68 of those."

Beeler is represented in two galleries and two museums and anticipates a big break soon.

"I'm not famous yet," Beeler said. "But I think I'm going to turn pretty hot pretty quick because not many people do these big pieces."

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