This Ignacio artist’s custom habitats are amphibian-filled jungles, and they’re magical

by Amanda Push

Peering inside one of Oscar Gillespie’s creation is like losing yourself in another world, except the world is a miniature jungle, with frogs and lizards climbing through the leaves, and branches expertly situated inside a Curio cabinet. Or, perhaps it’s a collection of fish swimming about an old candy dispenser turned aquarium.

These are just a few of the quirky creations by Gillespie, who makes these custom habitats as vivariums, terrariums, and aquariums.

“Let me make something special for your little monsters,” his business card for Healing Habitats reads. We were instantly intrigued after finding a few of his creations inside Durango tattoo shop, Graceful Eye Tattoo.

“My wife and I actually owned the pet store in the mall 14 years ago,” Gillespie said. “That was kind of one of my favorite parts of it, was doing the custom stuff. So I finally got into what I’m doing now and missed it. So it was like, ‘You know, I got to get back into this.’”

And so he did.

Today, the life-long animal lover runs his small business out of his home in Ignacio.

“I’ve got a couple going right now that are pretty good sized. I’ve got paludariums – that’s what they’re called when they’re more swampy, so it’s got more water features. … Much larger scale. The one (project) is about 85 gallons and it stands 42 inches tall,” he said.

He’s currently building a desert habitat for a bearded dragon. He tossed around the idea of building an alligator habitat for one client, though plans fell through. One of the weirdest things he’s ever built, he said, was a giant aviary for 20 finches that ended up being six feet tall, three- to four-feet wide, and a couple feet deep.

Though he could use pre-fabricated tanks for the homes he makes, he builds everything from the ground up because he loves the creation of imagining and then bringing to life the cool habitats. He believes doing it any other way would take away from the uniqueness of what he does. Plus, he finds building them therapeutic.

After getting an idea of what the customer is looking for, he goes into imagining what he wants the tank to look like. It’s a living, ever-changing creative process that evolves as he builds the habitat, making every project unique in its own way.

“It’s really just another place for you to go. … It’s an escape is what I’d like it to be, where you can go look at this living habitat inside your house and kind of lose yourself.”

Amanda Push


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