While most people would be chilled to the bone marrow working with animal carcasses, for Natalie Sutton it’s all part of the job. Natalie, an artist from Moot in Pretoria, makes a living from turning animal bones into art.
“Instead of taxidermy where people preserve an animal's body via stuffing, people call me,” she says.
To create her unique pieces, Natalie scrapes the skin off the animal, boils the skull with chemicals and dries it out before she engraves bold, colourful patterns. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but her art has become such a hit, Natalie has started her own business.
“I know it sounds strange, but a bowl of bones can be a talking point in a home,” she says.
“I just believe there’s beauty in everything, even in death. When an animal dies, whether from hunting or natural death, I believe art gives the dry bones purpose. It's not just something that's just going to lay on the field. Each bone and each skull has a story.”
Before starting her business, Kobok Skull Africa,
Natalie (32) worked as a sales representative at a car dealership.
“It was the biggest leap I had ever taken, and I am so grateful I did. I had a fulltime job and loved it but as I got busier and busier with the art, it became a challenge to juggle the two,” she says.
The idea to breathe new life into old bones was sparked by her fiancé, Gerrit Pretorius. The couple were packing up to move into a new home in 2017 when he pointed out her massive collection of bones.
“My fiancé used to bug me because the whole yard was full of bones and we could never invite friends over because there were bones all over,” she says giggling. “I love the outdoors, and I’ve always been so curious about what happens under the skin. That’s why I collected them.”
While getting their new home ready for their
housewarming, Natalie came upon a Blue wildebeest skull. It was the first
animal Gerrit had shot on a hunt and she wanted to give it pride of place in
their new home.
Natalie put the bones through her processes, styled it and hung it up in their home. “People were asking me where I bought it,” she recalls. “When I told them I made it they said I should think about starting a business.”
At first she wondered who’d buy such a bold piece of art. But after selling her first skull, the orders have kept coming in. Natalie makes no bones about the secret of her success.
“I’ve always been artsy but never knew which medium I wanted to work with, she says. “I believe my hard work and the artworks’ uniqueness has truly helped.”