Drama On the High Flea

Sorry about the title! But yesterday, the unspeakable happened: the flea broke loose from its mount and crashed to the floor!  Epoxy legs broke away and shot over the floor, parts of the comb went missing for hours, hairs were out missing on the floor, and generally, it looked pretty sad.

Flea model just after the fall

I don’t know about other types of work, but in museum work, sometimes there are dramatic accidents.  For instance, a graduate student was studying one of the duck-billed dinosaurs at the American Museum in New York.  He was studying the skull of the “type specimen”, a very important item in the collection from which all others fossils of the same species are identified.  Somehow, the pad on which the  skull was laying got hooked onto his chair and when he pushed away from the table, the pad and the skull came with him, crashing to the floor.  The skull broke into thousands of pieces.  The unfortunate student took a leave of absence from his studies and spent the next 6 months in the museum gluing the skull back together.

Last year when I was working on the Point Pelee diorama, I wrote in my blog about another preparator’s disaster.  You can read about it here:

http://jamesperrywilson.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/ray-delucia/

So, what I’m saying is that occasionally, things like this happen.  I was lucky that it wasn’t on the day of the installation.  I am also glad that the models are made mostly of 5 minute epoxy which can be repaired easily and quickly.  The crux of the weakness in the mount was my desire to hide the supporting structure.  I struggled with the problem of how to support all of the models.  Every other model I’ve seen has a support rod going right up into the body (at the Peabody we refer to this kind of mount as a lollypop!).  I wanted to try to do something different if possible.  In the case of the bedbug, it was too heavy and unwieldy, so I used the traditional method with a support rod right up into the body.  The only thing I could do was put the rod in the middle of the legs, so it is somewhat hidden by them.

The other three models are hung on the plexi rod hairs.  The plexi rods are all either airbrushed or sanded (to simulate white cat fur) but they are translucent.   Any solid supporting rod drilled into the plexi will be seen, so I decided I would try hanging the models on narrow 1/4″ plexi rod drilled into the plexi hairs as the mount.  My hope was that the 1/4″ plexi would disappear when glued into the larger plexi hair.  This worked to some extent, but it wasn’t perfect, the drill holes were still visible. In the case of the flea, there were two plexi rods drilled and glued into the body from hairs coming up alongside the body.

Flea model before the fall (note the two plexi rod mounts)

Hiding mounts has been a badge of honor with museum preparators  and taxidermists for many years.  My mentor, Ralph Morrill, mounted a wood stork in our Florida Everglades diorama by running a strong wire down the primary feather shaft of its outstretched wing.  The wire is drilled into a support behind the wall of the diorama and is invisible to the viewer.  The bird looks weightless in mid-air.  In 1947, George Adams, the taxidermist at the American Museum of Natural History, mounted the timber wolves in a diorama in the North American Mammal Hall.  Each looks as if they were defying gravity, airborne in mid-stride.  Each is supported by one rod coming out of one foot and may be the most extraordinary pair of taxidermy mounts in a museum display.  Write me with your favorites!

Well, back to the flea.  A lot of work on these models is trial and error.  In this case, the small diameter plexi mounts weren’t strong enough and I learned by my failed experiment.  I cut two stainless steel rods and inserted them into the plexi hairs.  Surprisingly, they don’t really show any more than the 1/4″ plexi rods, but I know they will never let go.

Model glued together again

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