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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: taxidermy (3)

Taxidermy conservation workshop

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
18 March 2014
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Comments (2)

It’s clear that the old penguin specimen needs a lot of work. Age or accident has detached the bird’s head from its body, and preparator Steven Sparrey is carefully working PVA glue into the break in the neck. This will consolidate the edge and provide a sound surface for reattachment. Eventually, preened feathers will conceal the join and the penguin will be whole again.

Damaged taxidermied penguin Detail of damaged taxidermied penguin specimen.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We’re at a workshop for people in the business of preserving natural history specimens – collection managers, preparators and conservators – led by visiting UK expert Simon Moore. The museum’s conservation laboratory is busy with people transforming elderly and damaged collection objects into exhibition-ready specimens, using specialist techniques that are very rarely taught in this country.

Taxidermy workshop Taxidermy conservation workshop in the conservation lab at Melbourne Museum.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Sometimes the damage occurs from wear and tear, especially where specimens have done time in the museum’s interpretive collection. Other times it’s inadequate preparation at time of taxidermy – overstuffed specimens tend to split as the skin shrinks with age. Simon explains, “many of the specimens are decades old, and materials just become more brittle with time. “A small bump when handling can have drastic results on a fragile specimen, and the head is often the first to go.
We turn back to Steven’s penguin. “The skin on birds in particular is very thin and vulnerable to tearing,” says Simon. “In this case, the neck was overstuffed. As the skin dries out and retracts back onto the underlying material, it starts to split.” 

The penguin also needs a wing reattached, so Steven drills a fine hole for a galvanised steel rod to hold the wing on a natural angle. Next to him, Michael Pennell is finishing work on a mounted Regent Bowerbird, freshly reunited with its tail and perch. “He’s a little bit cleaner than he was this morning and I’ve filled a few little holes and splits.”

Man and bird specimen Preparator Michael Pennell working on a Regent Bowerbird mount.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Elsewhere in the room, people are creating supporting armature for rabbit ears, cleaning feathers and mending tears in batwings with Japanese tissue. This tissue, says conservator Dani Measday, has unusually long fibres and resists tearing. “It means that it’s really strong and you can do all kinds of things with it. We use it to repair paper and books , but you can use it as fill, to strengthen and replicate fibres , or as a consolidating surface. What we’re doing with it here is making replacement skin. With adhesive, it has a tightness and tautness just like skin.”

repair to bat specimen Careful repairs to a bat specimen using Japanese tissue.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Karen Roberts and Brendon Taylor are restoring tiny bat specimens. It's painstaking work; they have pinned out the fragile wing membranes and patched the holes with Japanese tissue. The purpose of the specimen dictates the treatment from here. “A scientific collection item can have warts and all, with minimal intervention,” says Simon. “Here we could put a gentle lacquer to hide the tissue, but obviously for display you’ve got to colour them in.” The extent of treatment for exhibition work can be deceptive, as the conservation treatments aim to draw the eye away from repairs so the specimen can be read as a whole.

Two men with penguin specimen L-R: Preparator Dean Smith with Simon Moore, looking at a damaged King Penguin mount.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Simon’s own knowledge comes from decades of experimentation and consulting with natural history collections around the globe. “I’ve learned lots myself throughout the years and I’m trying to advance the technology, giving credit where it’s due. There aren’t many people doing taxidermy conservation and they keep trade secrets.” The techniques that Simon shares in workshops like this will help keep scientific and display specimens in good nick for study, research and exhibitions in years to come.

...but is it real?

Author
by Wayne
Publish date
6 August 2012
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Comments (0)

Your Question: ...but is it real?

"I love the Discovery Centre at Melbourne Museum and wanted to know more about the animals and fossils on display. Are they all real? "

Not all of the displayed material is 100% ‘real’, but a surprisingly large percentage of the displays are certainly real...although it depends on how you would define reality! Let me explain with a few examples:

Dinosaur Skulls

The two dinosaur skulls in the Discovery Centre (of Tarbosaurus and Centrosaurus) are both casts from real specimens, but aren’t themselves ‘real’. For many reasons, casts of dinosaur remains outnumber the real dinosaur fossils on display here at Melbourne  Museum, but you can see real dinosaur fossils in the Dinosaur Walk and 600 Million Years exhibitions in the Science and Life Gallery.

Centrosaurus skull The cast skull from the Cretaceous dinosaur Centrosaurus
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Cephalopod slab

Yes, this is also real, but it has had some enhancement – the fossils themselves have been cut and polished in contrast to the rough, unpolished rock in which they are embedded. It looks quite different to what the slab looked like originally, but it is certainly real – just a bit more polished, literally!

Cephalopod slab A slab of ancient sea bed sediemnts with cephalopod shells embedded.
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Mammal and Bird Mounts

We have a variety of these in the Discovery Centre, ranging from small local Honeyeater species to the impressive Jaguar mount. These are all real in the sense that the skins/hides are preserved from the original animals, but the remaining soft tissue such as eyes and muscles, are not real – just as you would expect for taxidermy animals.

DC Jaguar The Discovery Centre's mounted Jaguar specimen
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Got a question? Ask us!

Links:

600 Million Years – Victoria Evolves

Dinosaur Walk

Live Exhibits blog posts

Discovery Program koala

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
3 January 2012
Comments
Comments (2)

You can see the work of MV's preparation department before you even walk in the door of Melbourne Museum. Hanging in the front window there is a food chain of predators chasing a school of fish. Our preparators created over one thousand individually painted fish for the school and the brilliant prehistoric animal models in the Science and Life Gallery are their work, too.

One of specialist tasks of the preparators is taxidermy: preserving the skin of an animal specimen and preparing a mount that records exactly how the animal looked in life. Taxidermy is truly an art that takes many years to learn and even longer to master. At Museum Victoria, our master taxidermist is Senior Preparator Dean Smith.

I paid him a visit as he was putting the finishing touches on a taxidermy mount of a male koala. This individual was the unfortunate victim of a road accident; Dean reported that its skull and jaw were fractured from the impact. It's a reminder for all of us to drive carefully in areas where animals roam, but this koala will now have a second life as a teaching aid in the museum's Discovery Program, our mobile outreach service. Says Dean, 'it will go to the elderly, the disabled, little kids... they will be able to touch a koala.'

Dean and the koala specimen Senior Preparator Dean Smith with his handiwork.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Dean learned how to prepare mounts from a former taxidermist who worked at the museum for 40 years. He's now passing on his skills to other staff in the Preparation Department, describing it as 'the cycle of learning'.

Koala specimen This beautifully prepared koala specimen will join the Discovery Program in 2012.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

From start to finish, a specimen like this takes several weeks. First Dean removed and tanned the skin. He cast an exact copy of the koala's body and stretched the skin over the cast, pinning it it place. He recreated the fine structure of its head beneath the skin. After three weeks of drying, he cleaned the fur and airbrushed the fleshy details of its ears and mouth. The result is an exquisite specimen that is incredibly lifelike.

Detail of koala specimen Close-up of the koala specimen, showing Dean's amazing attention to detail.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Later this month, Dean will be working on a Wedge-tailed Eagle for the Discovery Program. He says that birds are much more difficult to prepare than mammals because their feathers lose their structure. 'You have to sit for hours and comb the feathers.' We'll cover the process here on the MV Blog.

Links:

Wildlife Victoria

Infosheet: the Koala

What's that smell?

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