In addition to testing the stability of metal-complex dyes, we have been studying condition issues facing historic taxidermy collections (see our previous posts on the Mammalogy condition survey) and performing conservation treatments on selected specimens. These treatments stabilized important mounts and served as case studies for a workshop on the Care of Historic Mammalian Taxidermy at the 2017 Denver meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC).
In one of these Case Studies, project intern Caitlin Richeson treated a damaged red-fronted brown lemur (Eulemur rufus) taxidermy mount. Its catalog number suggests that it was acquired soon after the Museum was formed in the late 19th century. This post and the next one will provide some of the details of that treatment.
All conservation treatments should begin with thorough documentation: an object description, condition examination, and photography. Caitlin’s project provides a good example of what that documentation may look like for a piece of taxidermy.
Object Identification: A full-body taxidermy mount of a female red-dronted lemur (Eulemur rufus) mounted on a habitat base constructed from a tree branch.
The specimen is constructed around a composite manikin that is visible in several locations due to previous damages. The manikin is composed of wood wool (thin wood shavings traditionally made of poplar, pine, or spruce) bound to recreate the musculature form of the specimen; cotton batting used to bulk appendages such as the hands; and a metal armature used to provide rigid structural support. Appendages such as the hands and feet still contain original skeletal materials. The nose, snout, and eyelids are shaped from a soft black material, likely a pigmented wax.
The specimen is attached to the base with ferrous metal wires at three points: the proper right palm, the proper right foot, and the proper left foot. The wires penetrate the palm and feet of the specimen as well as the habitat base where they have been secured to the base by bending at a 90-degree angle. The specimen is mounted in a standing position gripping the habitat base with the proper right (PR) hand and both feet.
There is a paper specimen label tied to the proper right ankle, which contains taxonomic information in two separate campaigns of writing. There is also a metal plate attached to the habitat base located on the front of the branch. The plate is inscribed with the catalogue number and attached to the branch with two tacks. There is another metal tag tied with a thin metal wire around the PR wrist of the specimen, also stamped with the catalog number.
The specimen is in fair condition. It is structurally stable; however, there are two detached elements, several areas of fur loss, tears and cracks/splits in the hide, which contribute to the overall instability of the specimen. In addition, the specimen is covered in a layer of light grey dust and grime.
- A portion of the proper left (PL) hand is detached from the specimen. The detached hand consists of the hide and four digits, but excludes the thumb, which remains attached to the specimen. The detached hand has several cracks/splits in the hide and a large loss on the palm side, exposing the interior construction. The PL ear of the specimen is also detached and there are small areas of unrecovered loss.
- On the lower back at both the PR and PL sides there several moderately large stable tears in the skin of the lower torso, which expose the wood wool manikin below. There is also a minor split located at the PR side of the vent. Although the skin is slightly out of plane, it remains somewhat pliable and can be pressed back into place with gentle pressure.
- There is a small circular area of abrasion on the back of the PR hand.
- The material used to finish the nose of the specimen has sustained localized losses and a dent on the PL side. The eyelids, which are made from the same finishing material, have also been deformed.
- The fur of the specimen has discolored to a light yellow-brown color, having lost its natural variation in red, brown, and black colors that are representative of the species.
- There are several areas of fur loss located on the mount. The first is a a substantial loss of fur on the chin and underside of the snout. This species is identifiable by its characteristic “beard”, and thus the fur loss in this area detracts from the accurate representation of the species. There are also small losses associated with the detached PL hand and at the coccyx.
- There are also beige accretions on the fur, primarily located along the seam at the center of the torso, and an overall layer of moderate dust accumulation on the fur.
Display Base (branch):
- The specimen is well-secured to the tree branch habitat base, which appears to be in good condition. When examined in ultraviolet light, the base fluoresced a milky yellow/green color, and appears to have been coated.
After completing this type of photographic and written documentation, the conservator then submits a proposed treatment to the Collections Manager and/or Curator for approval. Follow along with the progress of this treatment in the next post.