Re-coloring Close to Finished

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Half the head done!

A big day today!I moved giant steps forward with the re-coloring. I first packed up the female skin from the Burke Museum and hauled out the male skin. I am using these skins to determine the value that I should reach with the dyes. Value is the amount of dark/light in the color, but not the color. I am using the Burke skins to give me some sense of the color, but I am also referring to the painted bison in the background painting. I have to make sure the mounted bison fit in with the painted ones.

I got color back in the head, the flank, and in the old fur sloughing off the back. In fact, it is almost done.

DSCN0593I will go back tomorrow, look at it again, make some small changes, but work mostly on the Scarlet Globemallow flowers. I got the first casts of the diminutive leaves today and using a sharp scalpel and a lot of patience, I cut them out. Thank God my nearsighted eyes are still good enough to do small, close-up work like this:

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Yes, these are casts! Hot melt glue embedding colored acetate

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Not only tiny, but translucent.

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First contact upon opening the diorama

Finished Bison

Restored/Re-colored

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Fur on the Foreleg

Female foreleg

Finished furred foreleg. Note the burr tangled into the fur!

I went online to look at images of female bison and whether they have fur on their forelegs. It appears there is a significant variation. I could find some with short fur over the foreleg and others with long, darker fur covering the foreleg like a male. I decided that the mount would look better with longer fur, so I “harvested” fur from the neck and leg on the non-show side, felted it into Remay fabric, and glued them on, one on top of the other on the foreleg.

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Now, I will start again recoloring the female and move to the male. I hope to be done with all the recoloring on the mounts by the end of next week. That will leave only the preparation work of the grasses and the fabrication of the Scarlet Globemallow flowers. In addition to the Bison, we got the OK to recolor the Alaskan Brown Bear and the Mule Deer while the enclosure is up. The glass will be removed from these other dioramas on June 20th if all goes as planned.

I have only been able to dream that I could restore these taxidermy mounts, the “stars” of the Peabody dioramas. By early July, the taxidermy mounts for these three dioramas will be fully restored!

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Female Bison update

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Female Bison-bare foreleg (note Bison’s forelegs painted in the background)

I was looking at the female Bison’s foreleg and looking at the painted Bison in the background. The taxidermied foreleg is bare of the long dark fur that the male has and that ALL the other painted Bison have. (I assume both male and female are painted in the background). I came back to my computer and pulled up a reproduction of our Bison from the 1920’s.

Lucas Story of Mus Grps 1925 XXX copy

This is our same female Bison with the same calf. It looks like there was more fur on the foreleg.

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Female Bison-Enough evidence for me!

This will be nice to add fur to this area because there is a large crack on the foreleg of the female that is not easy to hide. Adding hair over it will make it disappear.

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Scarlet Globemallow

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Latin name: Sphaeralcea coccinea

This diorama has more to be done than I thought. Once inside the diorama, I found some unusual additions to the foreground. They looked like small, wadded-up pieces of brown paper with orange paint daubed on them. I thought they might be leftover trash from the 1950s until I noticed there were flecks of orange paint in the background painting. No mention of any orange plant in the label. So, once again, I asked Patrick Sweeney if he thought there might be a flower in the Wyoming prairies in June. He came right back to me and told me that he thinks the Scarlet Globemallow, a member of the hibiscus family, would be common in these areas and serves as excellent forage for species like Bison.

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Indications of Scarlet Globemallow painted in the background at the feet of the Bison

I then talked with Collin this morning about trying to make 3 to 4 flowering globemallow plants to replace the orange painted paper wads. We have some time to work on this because the recoloring of the Bison will be done in the next couple of weeks and the grass won’t be arriving until mid-July. Patrick Sweeney is away from the museum this week and I am anxious to start, so I went online to see what I could find. I was able to find a schematic drawing and a couple of photos of herbarium specimens:

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The plants are small and we will be creating ones at the smaller end of the scale, about 4-6″ in height. The flowers are smaller than a quarter in diameter and the leaves are about 3/4″ in length. The scale will be challenging for all aspects of sculpting, moldmaking, and casting. We now have the method for making translucent flower petals and leaves and we will adapt that to the smaller castings using colored lighting gels embedded in hot-melt glue. Finally, all the leaves and plant stems are covered with hair that we will try to reproduce with flock.

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Re-coloring Started Today!

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I spent the last couple of days getting dyes into a solution of alcohol to be ready to airbrush new color onto the Bison mounts. I will use the Burke Museum skins as color reference as well as the Bison Francis Lee Jaques painted in the background. Actually, the painted Bison take priority over the skins as color references. The mounted Bison have to fit in with the other Bison painted in the diorama. And Jaques painted a number of variations, so there is a lot of leeway for the re-coloration.

I include a couple of photos of the day’s work below:

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The female’s head is now much darker

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The juvenile also got some color.

The fur in some areas is so dense that I use a hairbrush to lift layers of the fur to get color down into the base of the fur. I do this over and over to get a full, rich color. Other parts of the mounts are almost devoid of hair. I will be painting the skin in that case to get the right colors. I intend to work slowly on this and not rush. I will add color gradually and assess the look as I go. I will wait to re-color the male until I get the female and juvenile where I want them to be. The un-colored male will give me a landmark to judge how much I am changing the color in the female.

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Progress Report and Bison Skins

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No crack to be found

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I don’t know what I was thinking, but the felting and furring over cracks took only a short amount of time. I estimated it would take three weeks and it only took a couple of days. The bison are now completely stabilized. All the cracks are bridged over with spun-bond polyester. The show-side cracks have overlapping pieces of fur shingled one on top of the other to hide the cracks. I have used BEVA adhesive thickened with cellulose powder to fill cracks in the nose and around the eyes. I have adhered a thin BEVA cast of the nose texture over the female’s original, cracked nose and painted it with oil paint. These mounts look better than I have ever seen them ever and I know that they will remain looking good for a long time to come.

The other news is that the two bison skins from the Burke Museum in Seattle arrived today! I couldn’t have scheduled a better time for them to arrive! I am going to refer to these skins as I airbrush dyes to re-color the faded fur. More to come

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Note the color difference between the mounted bison in the diorama and the skin hanging in the foreground!

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Felting Fur, Furring Cracks

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Repairs to the cracks have now been wrapped up on the Female and juvenile Bison mounts. The cracks have been bridged with spun-bond polyester fabric, glued to each side of the crack with BEVA gel adhesive. Now my biggest fear has been allayed that the hide will literally crack and fall off the manikin.

So now that the mounts are stabilized, we have to make the repaired cracks disappear. To do so, I will collect fur to glue over the cracks. While I was vacuuming the mounts, I collected any loose fur and put it into labeled, plastic bags. Also, historic repairs sometimes have fur glued to them.

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Historic repair with fur glued to it.

Whenever I removed any old repairs, I collected what fur I could find, but the biggest cache of useable fur is on the non-show side of the mount. I use a scalpel to harvest fur from this side and I can usually match the exact kind of fur needed.

Once we have the right kind of fur, it is best to adhere the hairs to fabric and glue the fabric to the crack rather than just gluing on random hair. We have been using two different techniques. One is “felting” the fur into a piece of spun-bond polyester. I bought special felting needles that grab the fur as it is being pushed it into fabric. When the needle is withdrawn, the fur stays in the fabric. After a piece of the fabric is felted, it can then be adhered to the repaired crack. We use Lascaux 498 HV adhesive. This process is reversible if need be.

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Collin gluing fur into a crack

The second technique is to glue the fur by laying it down directly onto spun-bond polyester fabric. We discovered that some fur being replaced lays flat and, in this case, the second technique works better than felting because felted fur stands more upright.

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Gluing fur to crack

I estimate that Collin and I will be felting and furring for the next three weeks. When that concludes, we will start to recolor the mounts. I have to work on the eyes and the muzzles, so stay tuned for a blog or two on that.

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