I am in up to my neck in Bison grass! The glycerine treatment is over and the grass is dry. I have made little tufts of grass by gluing grass into pieces of wire mesh. I have sprayed a highly keyed pastel acrylic paint onto the grass to match the color that we notated when the grass arrived fresh from Wyoming.
Hard to believe that color is accurate, but it matches the color swatches!
I use plaster to install them permanently into the foreground. I was worried I might have to break into the surface of the foreground to get the grass placed naturally, but I shaved the protruding grass under the mesh to about 1/2″ or less and the plaster blends it nicely into the existing foreground. As a final step, I will glue single blades of grass between the tufts to help blend them together.
The plaster will be painted to blend in with the color of the foreground and extra dirt will be spread over that to make the new grass blend in with the old surface. I will be using the Wyoming grass in the most prominent spots since I don’t have enough to extend back into the less visible area behind the bison.
In areas not easily seen, I have re-installed the old Connecticut grass clumps from when the diorama was first built. So we now have a composite collection of grasses-some from Connecticut and some from Wyoming. The authenticity moves from back to front with the grass.
Three of five new Scarlet Globemallow flowers in the Bison diorama. Note the crumpled brown paper “model” from the 1950’s on the left.
The flowers are lifesize, only about 6cm or 2.5″ tall. The work was quite fussy at that small size. The leaves were multi lobed. I sandwiched a green light gel in the mold with hot melt glue. I clamped the mold to make a very thin cast and then used a scalpel to cut them out. Insect pins were pushed into the base of the leaves. Medical tubing was used to cover the pins and then flocking was blown over a glue coating on the leaves to make them fuzzy. The pins of each leaf were pushed into the shrink tubing covering the wire stem. It sounds complicated, but it produced the plants fairly quickly.
The procedure for casting the petals of the flowers was similar to that of the leaves, but with an orange light gel and using 5 minute epoxy rather than hot melt glue. Hot melt glue was used to adhere the petals at their base. This was nice because I was able to draw up the stamen in the middle of the flower with an insect pin before the glue cooled. The color of the orange light gel was too intense for the pastel color of the petals so I sprayed a lighter orange color on the surface of the petals. That cut down the color saturation and made the petals less translucent-both good things.
Last two flowers installed.
Cutting the grass. Adhering it to the wire mesh.
I started the grass work using the “authentic” Wyoming grass. It has now been soaked in glycerine and hung to dry, which keeps the grass from curling as it dries.
Once the grass is cut away from the sod, I push it into the wire mesh slathered with Lascaux 498HV, a thickened adhesive. The recycled drinking cup, hot glued to the mesh, holds the grass upright.
First batch started-hundreds to go!
The plan is that the grass will be adhered to the mesh, the cup will be removed, the grass will be painted to look like it is alive, and the mesh will be adhered onto the floor of the diorama, most likely with a mache/plaster mix. The mache will also be painted to look like a ground surface. I have told our development office that I should be done sometime between mid-October and the end of October.
Glycerine treated grass
Grycerine treated grass straightened out beautifully! The treatment perfectly solved the problem of drying grass curling. I ordered an expanded metal mesh in stainless steel to create the grass “plugs”. I plan to cut the mesh into 2″X 3″ rectangles. I will remove the grass from the sod, and then hot glue the grass onto the mesh. Finally, they will be painted the color of the living grass. Collin made color studies as soon as we got the overnight grass shipment from Wyoming. These grass “plugs” will be situated around the diorama and most likely, they will be plastered into place when the placement looks good.
Whalley Glass Co. doing the heavy lifting
Both the Alaskan Brown Bear and the Mule Deer dioramas have been brought to a level of restoration to be able to re-close them.
Two more finished up! Now, I will go on to the Bison diorama to get the grass from Wyoming ready for installation. the final touches will be to put a new BEVA nose on the male bison and to install the Scarlet Globemallow flowers.
I received my order of a gallon of glycerine this morning and went right at the test. I first heated up water and poured it over the curling grass. The grass immediately rehydrated and straightened out! (So nice not to have to re-invent the wheel! Thanks to the late Dave Schwendeman) I mixed a half and half batch of glycerine and the warm water and submerged the grass into it. I will let it soak for a couple of hours, take it out, remove excess glycerine and hang it over the weekend. Monday will give me a good idea about whether this method will work to remediate the curling grass problem. I’m feeling hopeful!
The grass we received from Wyoming is drying quickly. After hanging all of the grass clumps upside down, I have been observing it over the past week and have noticed that the grass blades aren’t drying in a straight line, but are twisting unnaturally, especially at the tapering ends. Hanging most kinds of grass upside down usually solves this problem, but when the grass blades are so thin, gravity isn’t enough to hold the grass blades straight.
I have ordered some glycerine to see if soaking the dried grass in a glycerine solution might straighten the curling grass blades. This method has been used historically with a lot of ground cover in the dioramas to keep dried botanical elements from getting too brittle. In fact, I noticed that the crowberry ground cover in the Alaskan Brown Bear diorama had received a glycerine treatment. It caused the long stemmed grass that was pushed into the crowberry to weaken at its bases and fall over. The stems literally felt rubbery with the grasses that came into contact with the glycerine-infused ground cover. If I’m lucky, the glycerine will straighten the grass. If it doesn’t work, I may need to crop off the clumps with the worst curling and use them as grass the bison has foraged over.
I found notes from a 1989 interview I had with the late Dave Schwendeman of the American Museum of Natural History about glycerine application:
He suggested that a bath of hot water for 10 minutes might straighten curling plants. Then the recipe for glycerine is:
9 parts glycerine
1 part formalin
15 parts water
(Schwendeman prefers equal parts water and glycerine)
Hang to dry.
Once dry, if the grass feels too limp or wet, it can be rinsed with water to remove some of the surface glycerine.