No Fish Story

There was a time when I could tell the difference between a Brown trout, a Brookie, a Rainbow and a Lake trout. I never fished for anything but mackerel in the Atlantic Ocean a few times, but I had the privilege of working for David A. Footer, a famous taxidermist of cold water fish, a fishing guide, and wildlife artist. If you have ever been to the L.L. Bean store in Freeport, Maine, you have undoubtedly seen one of the fish he painted and mounted.

Dave taught me more about fish than I ever expected to learn. He said their brilliant colors change within minutes – even seconds – after being caught. I guess my color would change fast if I were held under water indefinitely. He also explained, “They are just like women – there ain’t a straight line on ’em!”

Dave’s wife Polly, whom he has adored since high school, has managed the business – bookkeeping, customer service, marketing, etc, etc, etc. – all the while raising seven children. Dave and Polly’s daughter, Julie, (a photo taken by her appeared in the MW January 2007 Newsletter) is learning the office skills from her mom along with her regular tasks of skinning fish and sculpting forms. I am fortunate and thrilled to have her volunteering here at Maine Warmers as an intern a few days each week.

I told Julie recently that whenever I am racing around at 90 miles an hour (not in the car) to accomplish a myriad of tasks, I remember her father’s measured pace and try to slow down. But Julie said that her mother was the one running 90 miles an hour behind the scenes for all those years.

I admire Dave for his knowledge of wildlife and his patience and attitude toward life in general. Dave designed his studio as he did other things – by thinking first and not rushing. The studio had large windows on the north side – natural light with no glare from the sun. Twenty years ago the room contained shelves with fish skins mounted on sculpted forms, neatly lined up according to the type of fish, and ready to be painted and restored to their natural beautiful colors. A tape player with an assortment of books on tape and a boom box tuned to Maine Public Radio were constant fixtures in the room. We listened to one of Dave’s favorite books on tape – a biography of Vincent van Gogh – which encouraged and inspired him.

Today, Dave spends more time painting pictures of fish in their natural surroundings than painting on them, mounting, or restoring them. He is now into his seventies, but if you ever talked with him you’d think he was 40. The first day I walked into his studio to work I saw a hand written sign on the workbench where I mixed paints each day. Three words spoke volumes about Dave. The sign read, “Enthusiasm is everything.”

Read more about David A. Footer

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