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Black Crow Taxidermy & Art
Photograph: Daniel Iskandar

Time Out Tries: Taxidermy

We get an introduction to the art of preserving animals with Black Crow Taxidermy & Art founder Vivian Tham as our guide

Cheryl Sekkappan
Written by
Cheryl Sekkappan
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Pearl's Hill Terrace is a treasure trove of independent shops, craft studios, and trendy bars. But one that stands out even among this eclectic crowd is Black Crow Taxidermy & Art

Enter the small store and you'll see shelves laden with preserved animals – gorgeous butterflies floating in domes, intricate snake skeletons displayed in frames, and even fluffy chicks that have been carefully posed.

Black Crow Taxidermy & Art is headed up by Vivian Tham, who transformed her childhood fascination with dead animals into a lifelong pursuit of zoology and skin studies. In fact, she holds master's degrees in these disciplines and was once a conservator with the World Wide Fund for Nature.

After a stint on Carousell taxidermising and selling works of preserved animal art, Vivian finally opened the full-fledged studio we see today. Here, she works on commissions (from bereaved pet owners or wedding couples, for example), and also conducts workshops for the public.

Which is exactly what we're here for today – the studio's new animal dissection class.

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Getting to the meat of it 

Let's cover some facts. Taxidermy is the art of preserving an animal's body for the purpose of display and study. At Black Crow Taxidermy & Art, Vivian practices five types of taxidermy: dry preservation, chemical preservation, mummification, skeletal articulation, and stuffing.

Today, we're trying our hand at dry preserving the skin of a frog. Armed with black gloves, scissors, and scalpels, we quickly get down to dissecting an American bullfrog (ethically sourced, as are all the other animals) with Vivian as our knowledgeable guide. 

You'll be glad to know that it's not as gory as you would imagine it to be. The body of the frog is large and slick, but there's no smell and a scant amount of blood as we make incisions and expose the insides. It feels very much like biology class, complete with a handy diagram showing the frog's innards for reference. 

Vivian is calm, professional and engaging, patiently showing us how to pin the frog down, how to open up its belly, and later, explaining the organs we see while sharing more about its functions and how they all work together. 

Skinning the frog is also part of the package. This is turned into frog leather, which is apparently quite in demand for things like binding books. Vivian hands us a finished piece of frog leather – essentially, skin that has been salted till it's dry. It feels papery, but strong and flexible, with subtle swirling patterns in grey and green. 

Everything here is definitely educational. It's a form of science, and when infused with art, it doesn't scare people.

A dome fit for a centrepiece 

We didn't expect to be building a butterfly dome today, but Vivian kindly throws in the experience for us. It's a good option for the more squeamish among us and is certainly popular among couples and families as a fun – and unique – bonding activity.

The fun starts when we get to select up to three butterflies from Vivian's vast selection of the preserved critters. These were all sourced from butterfly farms and local research labs, which donate the butterflies to her after they've lived out their natural life cycles.

Vivian notes amusedly that I've picked out the commonly-seen native butterflies, namely the common bluebottle, lime butterfly and five-bar swordtail. According to her, a lot of the workshop participants at Black Crow Taxidermy & Art gravitate unknowingly toward the familiar butterflies they see in Singapore. 

Once that's done, we start assembling the butterfly display using found pieces of wood, dried moss and flowers donated from the florist next door and preserved herself, and a hot glue gun. It's a study of patience, creativity and dexterity as you choose your colour palette, arrangement the butterflies and flowers, and glue it all down neatly. The result is a dome worthy as a centrepiece in your home – or even at weddings. 

I want people to take away a bit of nature with them. When you take away this experience, you'll feel happy and want to protect nature yourself.

An experience in both art and science

We get to chat with Vivian during and after both workshop experiences. The knowledge and enthusiasm with which she speaks make it clear to us that she's running Black Crow Taxidermy & Art out of pure passion.

But she's also motivated by more – the first being the desire to share and teach. "Everything here is definitely educational," says Vivian. "It's a form of science, and when infused with art, it doesn't scare people. Some don't like science, but when you make it attractive and colourful, even little kids will come in because they are very curious about all this." 

Vivian also hopes that people walk away with a new appreciation for nature. For example, "Many may not know of the beautiful butterflies we have in Singapore, so when they come here, they can see it all up close. When you take away this experience, you'll feel happy and want to protect nature yourself," she says. 

You'll definitely leave with something valuable though – whether it's a preservation of a beloved pet, a quirky picture frame of taxidermied beetle or a butterfly dome filled with memories of the time and effort spent making it. 

Learn more about Black Crow Taxidermy & Art or book a workshop on their official Instagram page 

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