Lee Kong Chian Museum of Natural History

Animal artisan

Since young, Kate Pocklington has been wavering between becoming a veterinarian and an artist.

Her love for animals developed while growing up in rural England, and her artistic creativity was fueled by her passion in fine arts. Kate decided to bring together her twin interests by studying natural history conservation at university.

However, instead of treating live animals, she now “revives” animal specimens by restoring them to their original state with her artistic talent.

Kate started applying her acquired skills at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, while absorbing all aspects of conservation and exhibition planning. Five years later, she was enticed to Singapore by the prospect of helping to set up a new museum. In 2012, she joined the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at NUS — which was reborn as the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum — as a conservator to restore over 150,000 specimens of Southeast Asian vertebrates and invertebrates dating back to the 19th century.

Kate brought the boxes of specimens to life, assembling the parts in anatomically correct order and portraying the critters in their natural state. Concurrently, she mounted them for exhibition at Singapore’s first natural history museum, which opened in April 2015.

I enjoy that I can continue to maintain these specimens for future generations and know that I can show these animals some respect, even if they are dead. Knowing I can extend the life, or rather after-life, of them for the education of others is also fulfilling.

To date, Kate has recovered and conserved more than 6,000 specimens at the Museum. Her arsenal of tools comprises scalpels, knives, forceps, brushes and sculpting tools. Materials for prosthetics and bones include formulated plaster, special colourings, chemicals, wires and stuffing. Under her artistic loving hands, once derelict sad creatures came to life again.

The artisan is especially proud of her work on restoring a crocodile dating back to 1887 and a family of four orangutans in 1904, which required months of painstaking effort. Another pride is the Jubilee Whale, which the Museum team salvaged and processed within nine months. She pioneered the innovative fixing of individual pieces of bones with wires for easy maintenance.

Kate loves the warm climate of Singapore, compared to the cold English weather. However, she sometimes misses the four seasons and the spacious countryside back home. “A culture shock was people: In a radius of 6km where I was from, it’s probably the same number of people as in my block now,” she quipped.


The before-and-after photos of a male orangutan restored by Kate shows the amazing mastery required to reshape the badly moth-eaten disfigured face, just like a skilled plastic surgeon

Kate elaborating on setting up the Jubilee Whale exhibit


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