Hunting for treasures

Yampa man turns animals into art

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Sculptor, taxidermist and jewelry-maker Floyd Montgomery used to work out of his kitchen in Yampa.

From 1975 to 1983, Montgomery would put in a full day at Montgomery General Merchandise, then come home to work for hours on his bronze sculptures of wildlife.

His taxidermy work would consume an entire Sunday, which was his only day off from the store. On those days, Montgomery would sprawl the skin of a buck, sheep or even a 1,500-pound moose head on his kitchen floor, then stuff the animal during the day.

Friends would come in, look at the kitchen, and wonder how the Montgomerys ate there, he said.

"I put a lot of animals out of that kitchen," Montgomery said.

Floyd's wife, Treba Montgomery, said a turning point came when Floyd walked in and saw the clothes she had ironed hanging on the horns of a caribou head.

"I think that's what changed it," Treba Montgomery said.

That's when Floyd Montgomery and his two sons built a workshop above the garage. The workshop became a place that Montgomery could devote to his artistic endeavors, particularly after Floyd, 65, retired in 1995 and sold his store to his brother.

Montgomery's workshop holds, among other things, rock cutters, engravers and a case of polished stones and gems, and rows of necklaces and bracelets fashioned of silver and fine, deep-colored stones.

Jewelry-making is one of Montgomery's newer skills. The first piece he created was a bracelet for his wife from pieces of black, brown and red speckled Montana Agate.

The rest of the rock cutters, along with boxes of rough stones, sit in Montgomery's garage and basement.

The excitement in jewelry-making, he said, comes with cutting open a rock that's drab and dusty on the outside and having no idea what colors and patterns of minerals and crystals the inside will hold.

"It's just every time you cut something open, every piece is different, and you just never know," Montgomery said. "Some are good, and some are bad."

Back in the workroom, there's a case with several of Montgomery's sculptures sitting on top. The sculptures are scattered throughout the house, as well.

Over the years, Montgomery tried to make one each winter. He first takes measurements on an animal such as a black bear or elk, then he scales his sculpture to one-eighth the size.

Through the snowy winter, he builds a model of the sculpture with twine, wood and any other materials that work. Eventually, a mold of the model is made, and the bronze sculptures are cast and finished with silver, polished bronze or other colors.

There's a proud eagle head with a polished beak, a bear catching salmon coming up river, a mountain lion with two cubs, a running buck, and, Montgomery's favorite, a sheep.

Capturing an animal in a bronze sculpture gives it texture and three dimensions. The sculpture often expresses a sense of movement and grace. Through his hunting career, Montgomery has learned how the animals look and move and feel.

One workshop wall is covered with animal heads. There's a moose head from the Northwest Territory, a six-point bull elk Montgomery shot with a traditional wooden bow and arrow, and several antelope, among many others.

Many of the heads have won ribbons for state and local competitions, and most are Montgomery's own kills. He has hunted since he was old enough to get a hunting license, and he hasn't missed a season yet.

For some, Montgomery will give specifics on how he found and shot them. For others, he's more general, like any good hunter.

"That's Routt County," he said, pointing to the six-point bull elk. "That's just what you tell them, Routt County."

Sheep are Montgomery's favorite to pursue, because they are a challenge. To hunt them, first they have to be spotted on the steep, rocky hillsides they frequent. Getting close to them requires a slow, steady trek through difficult terrain.

Sheep can bound through a distance in 10 minutes that it would take a person all day to cover, he said.

"I'm just a sheep nut," Montgomery said.

One of his other pastimes is wildlife photography, and he says he can never pass up the chance to shoot sheep with a camera.

The first sheep Montgomery killed was the Stone Sheep in British Columbia, Canada. He went for his 40th birthday in 1978 and followed an Indian guide over nasty terrain. "He said, 'Don't be scared, Floyd, I'll get you there,'" Montgomery remembers.

Montgomery said he wanted a 40-inch sheep, which refers to the curl of the sheep's horns, for his 40th birthday, and he got it. Sheep with horns that long have a full curl and so are "the holy grail of sheep," he said.

That sheep and heads of two others are mounted in Montgomery's living room and peer down at him as he watches television.

Hunting, he said, is thrilling, but it also gives a sense of respect for the wild animals, which Montgomery said are smarter than most people realize.

Montgomery is on to his next project: learning to make spurs and revisiting techniques for making leather. To learn a new artistry, he relies on guidance from others and his own stubbornness.

"I see something that I just get interested in, I want to learn more about it," he said. "I'd say you have to have a little ability and a lot of want."

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