GTPulse: Antrim County Taxidermy Museum Preserves Animals and Native American History
“Strangest request we ever had for taxidermy was a person that had died. She was in her 80s and she wanted to be mounted to sit in a rocking chair. It was in her will, but you can’t do that it’s illegal.”
Voss Guntzviller has been running Guntzviller Spirit of the Woods Museum in Williamsburg, Michigan with his wife Pat for 28 years. Part gift store, part taxidermy museum the store is a local oddity and treasure. The shop and museum came from humble beginnings as a tackle and bait store.
“When I first came up here I sold bait and tackle. We always sold moccasins and things like that too. There were two other bait stores in Elk Rapids and I bought them out, they were older guys they wanted to get out. We didn’t have Kmart or Dunhams or any of these other ones at that time so we did pretty good here. Then all of the sudden Kmart came in down the road and then you got Dunhams coming in, all these other stores coming in. The little small tackle shop owners…you can’t compete.”
This was what prompted the couple to get out of bait and tackle and shift over to selling gifts. Displaying the museum was always a part of the plan, however. Voss’s father Marvin Guntzviller was a taxidermist and passed down the skill to his son. Marvin learned the art of taxidermy while living in Northville, Michigan. Marvin’s father George bought a farm in Northville in 1921 where the family lived and hunted for Native American artifacts. A guy in town practiced taxidermy and was teaching Marvin how to do it. In 1928 Marvin started working in taxidermy full time.
“So, I’ve been doing it my whole life,” Voss said.
Marvin and his brothers continued to hunt for artifacts throughout their lives, and the family had amassed a large collection. The collection had items from all across the United States and when Voss’s uncle died he willed the collection to Voss, Voss’s brothers, and cousins which is the collection that is displayed at the museum.
“I took my inheritance and I bought them out so I could keep this all together. When we got it it was in beer bushels, cigar boxes, and crates. The family had never seen the whole collection until we put this together.”
The arrowheads, peace pipes, ax heads, feathers and so much more are displayed in glass and wood frames and shadow boxes that Voss and his wife made. The museum took seven years to put together.
“I didn’t do the cinder or the drywall but everything else in here, my wife and I have done. All the wood that’s in here, except the plywood, is from trees that I cut and sawed in my mill. The Elk Rapids school system was changing their windows and I bought a hundred and some windows that were in the old school just to build these cases for my artifacts and stuff.”
The cases are marvels, and not just because of their size or items they display. The artifacts are in frames that cover the walls, and Voss also has rows of large cases on the floor that display some of his more rare or unique taxidermy. There are, of course, deer and bear but there are also bobcats, cougars and a rare Piebald deer with a mostly white coat sprinkled with brown spots. The animals are lovely to look at, but the scenes they are depicted in are just as lovely. Voss painted and crafted all kinds of nature scenes for each taxidermy to go in. He has deer in different season forests, glassy creeks with shiny trout jumping out of them and a wolf trekking through shimmery white snow.
The museum is meant to be a unique, fun and family-friendly activity that appeals to locals and tourists, and Voss credits some of the museum’s foot traffic to the Pure Michigan advertising campaign.
“People looking up Pure Michigan see all that beautiful water and they want to see it. It helped us a lot from tourism. People would come to the area and then they’d say, ‘what can we do on a rainy day?’ They look up things to do and they find us here, or the Butterfly House, or the Music House Museum or Raven Hill. There’s a lot of things people can do.”
After walking through the museum visitors have a store of nature-inspired items to shop at. Pat curates the store’s items and keeps a variety of Michigan favorites like petoskey jewelry, Native American moccasins, artwork, woodworking and more.
Voss and Pat have provided a unique community fixture for both locals and tourists to observe and enjoy. Take a look on the next rainy day or the next time you want to see some wild animals and Native American artifacts up close.