In the last few posts, we discussed how the renovation of the diorama hall at the American Museum of Natural History led to the creation of our current grant project. We were confident in the testing we did prior to the renovation, and successfully recolored many of the faded taxidermy specimens in the hall – however, we were still left with a number of questions as a result of our research.
- Our lightfastness testing investigated the dye’s resistance to fading in a controlled environment – but how long can we expect the dyes to last inside an actual diorama environment?
- How can we better understand the ease of removal of the dyes from the animal hairs – is there a way to manipulate the dyes’ ability to penetrate or “fix” to the substrate?
- Could the dyes potentially cause the hairs to degrade faster inside the harsh diorama environment, or do they block the light and slow down damage?
To tackle how to answer these questions, conservators at the American Museum of Natural History reached out to colleagues at Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History and the Institute for Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH) to collaborate on a grant proposal. We knew that there was a strong interest in recoloring taxidermy based on the feedback we received on presentations at the American Institute for Conservation‘s (AIC) 2012 annual meeting, the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) 2012 annual meeting, and the International Council of Museums Committee for Conservation Natural History Working Group Newsletter (No.17, October 2012). We also submitted a survey among conservation practitioners, and the results indicated the urgent need for comprehensive research to identify additional colorants and protocols appropriate for recoloring fur in the museum context. The project partners were awarded a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to fund three years of research to answer the questions that arose out of the restoration project. The conservators at the AMNH partnered with staff from the Peabody and IPCH to develop a robust research design for assessing the use of dyes and lead the evaluation of results. Additionally, an advisory panel of experts in the field was also created to support the team throughout the course of the project. The project will culminate in a workshop hosted jointly with SPNHC to train conservation professionals in the use of well-understood, high-quality, affordable materials for the conservation of taxidermy. The project will also introduce standards for decision-making about treatment procedures and present a project website and resources (like this blog!) to support the care and treatment of natural history collections. The research also has the potential to transform how visual artists, especially those working with taxidermy, create and conserve their work. The main project team combines expertise from museum collections staff, conservators, and conservation scientists. Lisa Elkin, Judith Levinson, and Paul Whitmore are the Project Co-Directors.
Lisa Elkin, Chief Registrar and Director of Natural Science Collections Conservation, provides administrative oversight of all phases of the project and general administrative oversight of the project conservator, ensuring all timelines are effective, and planning activities relevant and achievable. She also provides specific oversight for all outreach activities including standards and best practices, website/workshop development and blog maintenance.
Judith Levinson, Director of Anthropology Conservation, provides oversight concerning the AMNH research program, specifically the preparation of samples and the aging and lightfastness analysis. She will also lead efforts in identifying re-coloring materials to be investigated and the substrates upon which they will be applied.
Paul Whitmore, Director, Art Conservation Research Center, provides oversight of the overall research program and its development. He will provide support concerning analysis and evaluation of results, and foster access to expertise across the Yale science departments.
Julia Sybalsky is the Project Conservator. Julia carries out all the project analysis at AMNH and Yale. She will document all findings for presentation to the project team, the advisory committee, and the field at large. She will also work with the project participants in developing content for the website, the workshop, and the blog.
Aniko Bezur, Wallace S. Wilson Director of Scientific Research at the Center for Conservation and Preservation at Yale University, provides guidance in the use of analytical equipment and evaluation of results.
Beth Nunan, Associate Conservator at AMNH (that’s me!), maintains the project blog and will assist the project conservator with sample preparation and analysis at AMNH.
Tim White, Director of Collections & Operations at the Yale Peabody Museum, ensures that the results of the project are up to the standards expected of this field and disseminated to the appropriate audiences – conservators, collections managers, taxidermists, etc.
Richard Kissel, Director of Public Programs at the Yale Peabody Museum, provides guidance concerning the best methods for disseminating results particularly related to social media, web and blog technologies.
Michael Anderson, Museum Preparator at the Yale Peabody Museum, stands as the resident expert on habitat dioramas and provides guidance concerning the visual impact any treatment must have.
Catherine Sease, Senior Conservator at the Yale Peabody Museum, provides guidance concerning the potential long-term impact of the proposed treatments to specimen-based collections.
The role of our external advisory committee is to review the research questions to ensure that the issues critical to working and visual properties and long terms stability are covered. Annual meetings will help provide a forum to present details concerning the program and encourage discussion of the results: whether the methods of analysis need to be adapted and whether timelines need to be re-thought. Through regular updates, including these blog posts, the committee can monitor the overall direction of the project, review the testing conducted thus far, and provide input concerning dye application and interpretation.
Members of the external advisory committee include:
Corina Rogge, PhD., Andrew W. Mellon Research Scientist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Dr. Rogge provides a critical role of oversight concerning the research program and analysis of results. Dr. Rogge will be the point person liaising between the project team and the committee and will have the most regular contact with the project team.
Catherine Hawks, Museum Conservator, National Museum of Natural History. Ms. Hawks is a renowned natural science conservator and will provide guidance concerning the potential long-term impact of the proposed treatments to specimen based collections.
George Dante, Master Taxidermist. Mr. Dante was the taxidermist on staff for the AMNH diorama renovation project. He will provide insight concerning the suitability of the various dyes for treatment and will assist in disseminating results to the world of professional taxidermists as an effort to improve current methods and practices in this professional community.
Stephen Quinn, Diorama Historian and Artist. Mr. Quinn is the authority on habitat dioramas and was the project director of the AMNH diorama renovation. He will provide insights into the methods and materials used in constructing historic taxidermy and how the proposed treatments could be influenced as such.
Jane Pickering, Executive Director, Harvard Museums of Science and Culture. Ms. Pickering will provide the voice for public programming, education and exhibition. She will guarantee dissemination of the results to these communities and will provide guidance in the planning and development of the workshop and website.
We are excited to be collaborating with so many new partners! This diverse team of specialists has helped to guide the creation of a well thought-out research design and methodology that ensures key issues can be effectively addressed – more on this research plan in the next post!