For 34 years, Jeffrey Sweet has done exactly what he loves. The Saugerties native opened his self-named taxidermy studio on Route 32 after developing a boyhood interest in the ancient art of preparing, stuffing and mounting of animal skins. But ask him how it all began and he’s not entirely certain himself.
“I get that question all the time,” Sweet said. “I don’t know. I just like the wildlife. I bought my first taxidermy book when I was 8 or 9 years old.”
Sweet started as a self-taught taxidermist, though he didn’t do it professionally until completing a three-month course at the American Institute of Taxidermy in Janesville, Wisconsin.
“It was just enough time to teach you to get into trouble,” Sweet said.
Sweet has a collection of his own mounts – roughly 175 of them, including a scene with a hyena chasing a pair of baboons – but the great majority of his work is done on assignment.
“I mount trophies for hunters,” he said. “Occasionally I’ll have a piece, like if a guy is building a log cabin but doesn’t hunt, he might want a bearskin rug.”
Sweet’s taxidermy business isn’t just local, either. He’s showcased his work at his profession’s World Show and the New York State Show, often using pieces from his hunting trips around the United States and Europe as well as Africa, where he’s gone 14 times and is planning another trip for later this year. He and his wife, Ivone, also book hunting trips to Africa.
“She handles everything from buying your tickets to getting your trophies home,” said Sweet, noting that outside of Saugerties, Africa is probably his favorite place in the world. “My favorite of all is Zimbabwe.”
Having been in taxidermy for over three decades means Sweet has seen a lot of technological changes impact the business, many of which, he said, are improvements.
“It’s gotten dramatically better,” he said. “Mannequins are better, procedures are better. It’s a huge difference from where it was.”
But as for a favorite animal to work with, well, that can vary depending on one basic principle.
“The one that wants to get mounted is the one I like best,” Sweet said.