Observations from the 28th Annual SPNHC Meeting, Part 1: Fran Ritchie’s Rehabilitation of a Taxidermy Orangutan

Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections
28th Annual Conference, June 19, 2013

“When Modern Materials Fail: Rehabilitation of a Taxidermy Orangutan from the Buffalo Museum of Science,” Fran Ritchie, Buffalo State College, Art Conservation Department

Fran presented an information-packed and engaging summary of her recent treatment of an orangutan from the Buffalo Museum of Science. She opened with a brief history of taxidermy, pointing to early examples in a preserved crocodile and 17th century horses. Her history highlighted the important relationship between advancements in realism and the concurrent proliferation of wildlife habitat dioramas.

Fran described early “stuffing” methods (utilizing carved wooden forms and frames filled out with soft materials), the highly refined Akeley method of “mounting” skins (in which a clay model of the musculature is made, molded, cast, and then the hollow cast used to mount the skin) and recent variants using polyurethane foam mannequins. Against these techniques she contrasted processes not considered taxidermy, namely freeze drying, plastination, and skin-replacement techniques.

The Buffalo Museum orangutan was made using a bound mannequin. The skin was tanned and sewn onto its support while wet. The face is painted, and latex rubber was used to sculpt hand and foot pads. The animal was mounted to a piece of driftwood by means of nails through the hands and feet. Over time, the latex deteriorated, and hands and feet were badly damaged by the mounting system. The skin showed areas of loss and flaking.

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Buffalo Museum of Science Orangutan Before Treatment

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Buffalo Museum of Science Orangutan Before Treatment, Detail of Face

To complete the treatment, the orangutan was removed from the driftwood mount and the detached pieces reserved. Deteriorated skin was consolidated and mended. Areas requiring loss compensation were sealed with an isolation layer before filling and inpainting. Visible seams were covered, and other minor repairs executed with materials with favorable long-term aging characteristics. A new mount was then fabricated from a synthetic tree branch purchased from a commercial taxidermy supplier, adapted with minor modifications. The orangutan was attached to the new branch by means of threaded rods mounted into hands and feet, allowing it to be removed as needed.

As you can see here, the cleaned and freshly groomed specimen looks stunning!

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Buffalo Museum of Science Orangutan After Treatment, Detail of Face

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Buffalo Museum of Science Orangutan After Treatment

For further details about this project, you may contact Fran Ritchie directly using the form below.

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