Phillip with the cat
Cat Gilded Cat on cushion

The Chippendale International School of Furniture is associated with furniture design and making, so it’s not often that one of its students sets out to make a prosthetic tail for a dead cat.

But that was part of the task that Dr Phillip Prager from Luxembourg undertook to upcycle a mummified cat into a golden work of art.

The Chippendale school in East Lothian is Scotland’s only private furniture school and each year takes a small number of students from around the world for one year professional furniture design and making courses.

Phillip, a former assistant professor of aesthetics at the IT University in Copenhagen, wanted an unusual item on which to hone his gilding skills.  Learning how to gild, as well as other skills such as veneering and marquetry, is all part of the course.

He first bought a spiky sea urchin, but didn’t like it, and then came across the long-dead cat on a natural history website.

The ancient art of gilding is taught by specialist Richard Walker of Watergild Studios, who is one of Europe’s foremost experts in gilding, and teaches both in the UK and USA.

The cat had been bricked up inside a wall of a medieval English house – a common practice to ward off evil spirits – and only recently discovered.

While the cat’s mummified body is very well-preserved, complete with claws and teeth, the tail first needed to be replaced – which Phillip did using a strip of leather.

“The cat obviously lived a tragic life, and I thought it would be nice to give it a bit of afterlife splendour,” says Phillip, who covered the carcass with shellac to give it strength and seal the surface, and then gilded it in 24 carat gold.

The cat, now named Mrs Slocombe, after a character in the British TV sit-com, now has her very own velvet cushion to lie on.

“I did think of the cat as female, but closer examination reveals it to be a tomcat – or, to keep using the Mrs Slocombe analogy, a pre-op transsexual,” said Phillip.

This year, Chippendale school students are from Italy, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Ireland, the UK, USA, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Falkland Islands.

“It’s a very fitting gilding project because the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats, and it was also the ancient Egyptians who invented gilding.  Phillip’s cat not only has my approval, but it also would also win high praise from any Pharaoh,” said Richard Walker.

To find out more about the School, the courses and their fees on offer, see
The Chippendale International School of Furniture website.