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Alumni Professional Venture Fund awardee strives to bring museum audiences closer to lacquerware objects

Alumni Professional Venture Fund awardee strives to bring museum audiences closer to lacquerware objects

PSP alumna Dr. Maria João Petisca used her funding to partner with national universities in Portugal, studying their lacquer collections to assist in their preservation and access.
 
WUDPAC summer and third-year placements

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Student Blog: Cleveland Museum of Art

Student Blog: Cleveland Museum of Art

WUDPAC Class of 2024 Fellow Brianna Weakley is completing her graduate studies with an internship in paintings conservation at the Cleveland Museum of Art, giving her a holistic view of the role of conservation in a large encyclopedic museum.
 
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Art conservation and natural history collections

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A student sits at a table and uses a soft brush to dust the feathers of a taxidermy bird.

Winterthur/University of Delaware Fellow Nicole Chausse using a soft brush and vacuum to surface clean the delicate feathers. (Image: E. Krape)

​With a slight lean and broken skin near the rusting armature at the ankles, the brown feathered taxidermy mount, a bird called the pigeon guillemot, is largely intact with an ovular body, short neck and tail, and white patches on the wings. It nearly came back to life when WUDPAC Fellow Nicole Chausse, an objects major who is treating the bird this year, carefully cleaned the dusty haze from its small black glass eyes, shining them to a lifelike finish.

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The student holds a piece of painted paper next to the foot of the taxidermied bird which is painted the same color.

Nicole uses toned paper to match the color of the painted feet. (Image: N. Chausse)

​This small, handsome bird was in fair condition when Nicole started her treatment. In addition to the broken skin at the ankle, its feathers had faded from black to brown, and its feet, scarlet-colored in life, had become dull, faded, and dry. The species of this shorebird is naturally found living along rocky shorelines of the Pacific Rim. This particular taxidermy specimen is thought to predate the 1970s and was likely part of ornithologist John DuPont’s collection, which constituted the original holdings of the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science, which now owns the bird.

Nicole’s goal was to safely clean and improve the bird’s aesthetic appearance. The presence of arsenic, a toxic substance widely used as a preservative and pesticide in taxidermy b​efore the 1980s, was confirmed through scientific testing. Nicole knew to take precautions, such as wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and safely disposing of chemicals and materials as she worked. When cleaning the feathers, she first used an air puffer and soft brush to dislodge as much dirt and dust as possible, with a vacuum nozzle nearby to catch the debris. She then used a very soft toothbrush, a dental pick, and a small spatula to preen and straighten the feathers, realigning the tiny hooks on each feather barbule to put them into place.

Nicole used conservation paints to restore color to the bird’s feet, referencing images from living birds and their scarlet red feet, but crafting a more aged appearance to be sympathetic to the rest of the bird’s condition. Finally, she mended the damaged ankle skin using Japanese tissue paper, toned to match the new color of the feet. After Nicole has completed her treatment, she will return the pigeon guillemot to the Delaware Museum of Nature and Sciences, where it will rest in the natural history collection among its feathered and furry peers.

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Photograph of the taxidermied bird after conservation treatment.

The pigeon guillemot after treatment. (Image: N. Chausse)

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X-ray imaging of the taxidermied bird shows the metal support structure underneath.

X-radiograph of the taxidermy specimen showing the internal armature and structure. (Image: L. Fair)

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A taxidermy pigeon guillemot was restored to its lively appearance under the care of Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation Fellow Nicole Chausse.
 
 
6/3/2024
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