Divide the word "taxidermy" in two and you'll find its origins: "taxi" (to move), and "dermy", or dermis (skin). Moving deer and fish skin is what Mitchell, Illinois, taxidermist Rick Nadeau has been doing for 3-plus decades. However, Nadeau's got a new forte: He's not only stuffing squirrels lifelike to a fault, but mounting them in peculiar positions while donning apparel from hand-stitched clothing to beer bottle Koozies. Most sport miniature accessories. That includes mini ARs and AK-47s. Some even have little cigarettes clamped in their jaws. After all, nothing's better than one of the most amiable creatures on Earth well-armed and puffing on tobacco products - right? You could call it the art of juxtaposition…if you want to. Nadeau began carving his niche six years ago when he was out of work and traditional taxidermy jobs were in short supply. Since then, "Rick's Custom Squirrels" (www.thesquirrelshole.com) has been shipping squirrels to order all over the globe, as well keeping a stock on hand for the holidays.
In this close-up, you can see the detail Nadeau puts into his work. “Even on a small animal like this, the eyes make it or break it,” says 53-year-old Nadeau. Other details include the critter’s claws wrapped around an assault rifle. Nadeau has sent mounts similar to customers in places as far-flung as Iceland, Norway and Japan. This particular mount was a custom order for a retiring U.S. Army colonel.
“The card-playing mounts are popular for deer camps and poker rooms,” Nadeau says. This poker-playing cowboy was made ahead of time, for when business slowed, and was sold on eBay. Nadeau’s chest mounts go for $75 to $90 a piece.
Do I hear banjos? The only thing delivered here was this made-to-order cigarette-smoking, banjo-picking squirrel by the UPS man a few years back. “Most taxidermists don’t even want to mess with animals as small as these. Obviously, it’s paying off for me,” he says.
Nadeau tackles full-body mounts during the fall football season. This one, paw out for the block, was made for an attorney in New York. “I’ve also done a referee, hands up, signaling a field goal,” adds Nadeau. He sells full body mounts for $155 to $165.
“You’d be surprised at all the miniature accessories you can find on the Internet,” says Nadeau. This jazzed-up cello-playing squirrel, complete with felt-lined instrument case, was a gift from a father to his son who plays the real thing. A taxidermist by day and warehouse supervisor by night, Nadeau sometimes trades hunters squirrel pelts for a mount of their choice.
Tail and whiskers back, this motorcycle-riding fox squirrel was a custom order for a woman in St. Louis, MO, who restores human-sized bikes. “You have to have a good imagination to do this kind of stuff,” says Nadeau. “Then again, some clients, like this one, let me know exactly what they want.”
This military mount is one of Nadeau’s best sellers right around Christmas. “Mounting squirrels is very tedious work; work others won’t even attempt. The smallest animal they’ll do is a coyote,” he adds.
A little bit country? A little bit rock and roll? “It’s up to the customer as to what they want,” he says.
Right before the World Series, Nadeau mounted several squirrels for his home team–who call the ballpark just over the state line near his shop. Here, a beer bottle Koozie made the perfect St. Louis Cardinals uniform.
Beer? Baseball? Need we say more? “Some locals question my beer brand of choice for these mounts with the Busch Brewery so close to home. All I have to say is when they send me a check I’ll slip a Bud Lite bottle under there…” Nadeau’s in the process of producing squirrels with a German look to pair with some local hand-crafted brews.
A close up of one of Nadeau’s rally mounts, including life-size-to-a-squirrel baseball and mitt.
A lot of the clothing is sewn by Nadeau’s wife, such as the bibs on this fox made for the author of a children’s book whose main character is a fiddling squirrel.
“Nothing says happy St. Patty’s Day better than a squirrel sporting a green top hat and gold from the pot at the end of the rainbow.” This one’s a popular purchase in early March.
Even the best of the best like novelty mounts, such as the retired Green Beret who received this one.
“By far, the most popular mount I make is the full-size business card holder,” Nadeau says.
Nadeau’s novelty mounts are becoming his most popular request, but he still gets the occasional call for a lifelike in a natural stance.
The shop of Rick’s Custom Squirrels, where the critters are fleshed out, washed in Dawn soap, and then their hides tanned and taxied.