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'It’s like art and science together': Curiosity shop teaches taxidermy

Cassandra Pace, center, teaches Sarah Wright-Aholt and Kristin Carlson how to skin a rat at her Creaky Crow taxidermy class.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Cassandra Pace, center, teaches Sarah Wright-Aholt and Kristin Carlson how to skin a rat at her Creaky Crow taxidermy class.

St. Louisans looking for a new date night activity can add taxidermy to the list.

The Creaky Crow, a four-month-old curiosity shop on Cherokee Street, now offers hands-on taxidermy classes. Aspiring taxidermists learn the basics of animal preservation, from skinning to stuffing, while enjoying a glass of wine.



Owner Cassandra Pace oversees the taxidermy classes. The St. Louis resident, who is more commonly known by her burlesque stage name, Lady Von Black, has been practicing the trade for nearly nine years.

Pace said her interest in taxidermy stems from a deep love and appreciation for nature. For that reason, she only works with animals that died naturally. In most cases, she obtains her specimens from local farmers and breeders, but occasionally she receives requests to preserve deceased pets.  

“I couldn’t imagine having an animal on my table that suffered in any sort of way. I get really emotionally invested in these animals,” Pace said. “Because I love animals so much, I cry a lot during taxidermy. I take a moment, I release my emotions and then I get back to work.”

Cassandra Pace carefully inspects a specimen. She obtains naturally deceased animals from local breeders and farmers.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

For Pace, taxidermy offers a way to honor animals and encourage appreciation of the natural world. Through her bimonthly classes, she hopes to share that interest with the next generation of taxidermists.  

Most of the students in the Creaky Crow taxidermy classes are women. But Pace said there have been some exceptions, including couples on date night.

“I actually had a couple on a Tinder date,” Pace said. “The girl was like, ‘I understand if you don’t ever talk to me again.’”

In one class, Pace works with two students to help them skin and preserve a rat. In between sips of wine, they carefully remove the skin with tiny scalpels.

“It’s like art and science together,” said South City resident Kristin Carlson, as Pace bends over her and offers guidance.

Carlson is taking the class with her friend, Sarah Wright-Aholt. The two laugh as she explains how she broached the subject of enrolling in a taxidermy class.

“We were out to brunch with all of our friends, and they’re talking about school districts and stuff,” Carlson said. “And I was like, ‘Hey, do you want to take a taxidermy class?’”

Neither has done taxidermy before, but they have a shared interest in bone collecting.

“When I was a kid, I would bury my pet gerbils,” said Wright-Aholt. “My sister and I would mark where we buried them, and my parents would let us dig them up. It was like dinosaur hunting.”  

After they have removed the rat’s skin, Carlson and Wright-Aholt stand shoulder to shoulder in the shop’s tiny bathroom, washing the skins with dish detergent. Next, they rub the fur with dry Borax to clean and preserve it.

Using the actual skull as a template, they form a teardrop-shaped skull from clay and add black glass beads for eyes.

For Pace, the devil is in the details. She watches closely and offers suggestions for making the rats look more lifelike.

“My whole goal is to make that animal look realistic and beautiful again because I love it, and I want it to be honored,” she said. “This is the best way that I can think of to honor it.”

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @ShahlaFarzan

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