Eagles of the Asian Civilisations Museum
by Tan, Bonny
There are two black eagles made of cast iron that stand at the entrance of the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) at 45 Armenian Street. The eagles were part of Tao Nan School, which had occupied the premises between 1910 and 1982. The eagle statues were first captured in photographs in 1932 but are believed to have been part of the school much earlier. When Tao Nan relocated to Marine Parade, the eagles moved together with the school. However, the birds were brought back to their original location at Armenian Street in 1996, when plans were made to preserve the old school building.1
The eagles located at the entrance to the ACM at 45 Armenian Street had some significance when the building was the location of Tao Nan School. The school occupied the colonial building for seven decades before moving out in 1982. It was during its occupancy that the school had the eagles erected, though it is still a mystery as to when they were first placed there. A picture of the school with the eagles at its entrance dated 1932 is believed to be the first pictorial evidence of the existence of the statues. In 1996, the statues were estimated to be around 70 years old.2
Initial research by the National Heritage Board revealed some possible reasons for the statues’ placement at the school. Their presence might have given an awe-inspiring touch to the facade of the building, as birds of prey were regarded as guardians against bad luck. Moreover, the Chinese word for eagle – ying – is the same character used for the word jing-ying, which means “elite”, a possible reference to the potential that the students were believed to have. When Tao Nan School moved to its new building in 1982, the two eagles went with it. In 1996, at the request of the National Heritage Board, the school agreed to return the eagles to the old site, which now houses the ACM.3
Each eagle is made of black cast iron and weighs approximately 200 kg. Taiwanese sculptor and conservator, Chern Lian Shan, was specially commissioned to restore them in 1996. The restoration took three months, during which Chern worked with museum conservators on ways to remove the existing layers of old paint. He sandblasted the old paintwork to expose the weak areas in the sculptures where there was rust, and where gaps had formed between different parts. After removing the rust and smoothening out the holes with putty, the eagles were repainted black. James Khoo (Dr), chairman of the ACM Board, noted that the eagles, as symbols of excellence at Tao Nan School, should be maintained at the museum.4
1. Peralta, C. (1996, November 22). The eagles have landed back at the old Tao Nan building. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Peralta, C. (1996, November 22). The eagles have landed back at the old Tao Nan building. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Peralta, C. (1996, November 22). The eagles have landed back at the old Tao Nan building. The Straits Times, p. 9; Ho, J. (1997, April 3). Down memory lane at old Tao Nan school. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Peralta, C. (1996, November 22). The eagles have landed back at the old Tao Nan building. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Foo, A., & Tham, W. M. (1997). Collecting memories: The Asian Civilisations Museum at the old Tao Nan School. Singapore: National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: RSING 372.95957 COL)
The former Tao Nan School preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). (1988). Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority.
(Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 FOR)
The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.