Valentine’s Heart in Jar Class @ Islington Arts Factory, London

14th February 2016
Review and photography by Sabrina Selkis

Islington Arts Factory, 2 Parkhurst Road, N7 0SF London, United Kingdom

There is nothing more romantic than making a gift that will last forever and never die, such as a pickled heart in a jar! Well, that’s my opinion anyway!


I couldn’t pass the occasion of learning more about taxidermy and preserving organs. So I make my way to the Islington Arts Factory in London. I arrive before the other enthusiasts and get a chance to talk with Tonja Grung, our teacher for the session. Tonja has been teaching for The British Academy of Taxidermy for four years now. She has her shop in tea rooms market on Brick Lane.



Today we will be learning how to prepare a specimen for preservation. It is important to specify that all specimens are sourced legally in accordance with the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.


At 2pm, 18 participants arrive in the classroom. Each has its own station carefully pre-prepared by our host.



Today we will be working with a pig’s heart as it is the closest looking to a human heart. Tonja explains how the session will develop and the different stages we are required to do.


First we can choose to dissect, carve the heart or let it as it is. Once we are happy with the look of it we need to thoroughly wash it under running water,making sure the inside is clean too.







The next step is to inject the heart with a syringe of ethanol. In the past,wet specimens were preserved in formalin, which is a solution of 35-40% formaldehyde in water.Unfortunately it is toxic, corrosive and can cause cancer, so now its use is limited.


The simplest and safest way is to preserve wet specimens is keeping them in alcohol (ethanol) of 70-80%. Injecting the heart with the alcohol solution will stop it from rotting, and needs to be done on the surface and inside the heart, 5cm apart.


Next step is to use some see through nylon thread to levitate the heart in the jar so it doesn’t stay at the bottom and keeps a nice shape.


Finally the heart is placed in the hermetically closed jar and is filled up with the ethanol solution. Using a stick,we poke the heart to help untrap any air bubbles in order to maximize the conservation time by avoiding rotting to happen.


Overtime the heart will change its color due to the alcohol solution, it will most likely become grey.

Taxidermy classes happen all year via the British Academy of Taxidermy  should you wish to learn more about preserving insects and mammals too. And regardless of what you think about Taxidermy, today was about love.