Developing New Methods for Recoloring Faded Taxidermy
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.
Display Base (branch):
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.