Alaskan Brown Bear and Mule Deer Dioramas Re-sealed

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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.

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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.

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Glycerine Treatment of Grass

Grass inglycerine

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!

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Unexpected problem

Dried grass

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:

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Dave Schwendeman

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.

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Diorama(s) update

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Re-colored Mule Deer mounts

The Alaskan Brown Bear diorama is basically done. The bears have been re-colored, the tie-in with the crowberry ground cover is complete, the Collared Lemming has some more color in it’s fur (and a pink nose, which is hard to see from the front of the diorama), and the Golden Crowned Sparrow has flesh color on it’s legs. I just have to add gloss to the noses of the bears (I think AMNH used B-72 for gloss) and we will be ready to close it up.

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Tie in with newly re-colored crowberry ground cover. The Collared Lemming is in the crowberry and the Golden-crowned Sparrow is up on it’s perch.

I moved over to the Mule Deer diorama and installed the plank. I decided that I could get away with placing ethafoam “mats” down on the sandy foreground to be able to walk in to paint the taxidermy mounts. I brought in a study skin of a mule deer to use for color. It is quite ruddy and I used it to some extent to re-color the mounts. The juvenile was re-colored with the most ruddy coloration, the female has some ruddy tinges with dark brown over-sprayed to soften the reddish color. The male was re-colored mostly with dark brown and black in contrast to the female and juvenile color.

There is not much more to do in this diorama now before we close it up. I asked Collin to 3D scan the Great Plains Skink before we close it up. The skink is an actual skin and is very fragile from significant insect damage. It may be best, rather than re-install the fragile specimen, to print and paint a new skink to install in the diorama.

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Long Bison Grass with Seed Heads

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My able volunteer Stefan Hurlburt comes in on Thursdays and does a variety of tasks around my shop (he shows real promise as a taxidermist!). He strengthened the drooping long grasses with seed heads in the Shoreline diorama several years ago (read more about this in my blog  from October 20, 2016). I asked him to take a look at the grass that just came from Wyoming. Within minutes, he was harvesting the long grasses and running thin piano wire up the hollow stems just like he did with the Shoreline grass.

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50 grass stems that are never going to droop!

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Grass from Wyoming!

Collecting grass

The collecting team

This morning, I received 3 large boxes at the Peabody Museum of fresh grass clumps from Wyoming. Michelle Downey from Yale Forestry School’s Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative in Clearmont, Wyoming organized a team of over 15 people yesterday to collect the grass. I had asked them to collect buffalo grass and blue gramma grass because it is listed on the label to the diorama.  Rachel Renne, a botanical research student at the Yale School of Forestry, wrote back her concerns about using the buffalo grass and gramma grass:

So, although the text that accompanies the diorama does mention buffalo grass and gramma grass, the habitat pictured in the mural behind the buffalo doesn’t really look like a buffalo/gramma grassland. Buffalo grass and blue gramma are short-statured grasses warm-season grasses and those in the background are taller and there are patches of sagebrush as well—which suggests that the grasses are more likely to be cool-season. The diorama is supposedly depicting a scene from near Cody, Wyoming and is at the base of some foothills that are almost fully tree-covered. The natural range of buffalo grass ends in eastern Wyoming and blue gramma becomes increasingly rare in western Wyoming.
 

Rachel suggested that instead we use Idaho fescue Festuca idahoensis and Columbia Needlegrass Achnatherum nelsonii. since these grasses are more common in Western Wyoming and at the elevation suggested in our diorama. I decided that we would go with  Rachel’s suggestions and use grasses that are more accurate. We’ll change the label later. The boxes were sent express overnight to keep the grass as fresh as possible.

Collecting grass II

Collecting grass IV

Grass specimens wrapped in wet paper towel in preparation for shipping.

The following list are the names of all those who worked with Michelle to collect the grass. Many thanks to you all!!!
Rachel Renne
Sam Maher
Jesse Bryant
Elle Brunsdale
Jaclyn Kachelmeyer
Natalie Irwin
Selia De Leon
Michelle Downey
Sabrina Szeto
Jeff Goodwin
Fidel Hernandez
Rachel Mealor
Brian Mealor
Mark Bradford and family
Emily Oldfield

When I received the boxes, I removed the plastic bags, each containing 10-15 clumps of grass wrapped in paper towels. I unwrapped each clump of grass one-by-one. Since I can’t add too much depth to the surface of the diorama, I removed as much of the roots and dirt as I could without them falling apart. I must say, I felt transported to Wyoming with the smell of the earth! I then pushed a sharp wire through the root clump and hung the grass upside down from lines snaked across my lab. I will let the grass dry-I’m expecting two to three weeks-before I use my airbrush to spray them with green acrylic paint since they will turn brown naturally as they dry. There should be no other preparation needed before I install them in the diorama. The long stemmed grasses with seed heads may need to be strengthened with piano wire as the weight of the seed heads cause the grass to droop over time

WY grasses

The first grass clumps in my lab. Beautiful!

Hanging grasses

The first line of grass hanging to dry. My lab is now filled with clotheslines of grass!

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Great Plains Skink

Skink in situ

Skink in the Mule Deer diorama before removal

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Before painting

repainted skink

After painting

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