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Friday, June 1 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Natural History Collections) Preserving Penn’s Woods: The restoration of the Mammal Hall dioramas at the State Museum of Pennsylvania

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The Hall of Mammals was one of the first permanent exhibitions planned for the State Museum of Pennsylvania (SMOP) in Harrisburg. It opened to the public in 1968 after almost a decade of research, preparation and construction by a team of artists and scientists. In the years since, it has remained beloved by visitors. The space features thirteen site specific habitat dioramas. These large-scale exhibitions incorporate taxidermy, dried plant specimens and fabricated plant materials, all arranged within a sculpted foreground that ties in with a curved illusionistic background painting. The dioramas were individually designed to depict groups of animals at a known location, season and time of day. This sense of place was reinforced by attention to detail in lighting, pose and positioning of specimens.
Many similar exhibits were installed in institutions across the country, not only in Natural History museums, but also in more general and university collections whose staff often designed versions to elucidate the indigenous regional flora and fauna with an educational goal and subtext encouraging land and wildlife conservation. Several of the species depicted in the Mammal Hall were already long extinct in Pennsylvania at the time of construction. Featured creatures range in size from the relatively diminutive striped skunk to the imposing bison. In addition to plants, the illusionistic materials they created include, trees, rock formations, snow, ice, running and still water, eggs, mud and many others.
The media and methods employed in the creation of habitat dioramas are not codified, but rather the practice was local and idiosyncratic. Earlier in the century, dioramas were made from a more predictable pallet of materials. However, the SMOP dioramas comprise a wide range of traditional artist’s materials as well as commercially available products such as modern artist’s materials and commercially fabricated plants, often combined in unusual ways.
Beginning in the Summer of 2016 our team of taxidermists, conservators and artists began a restoration of this historic Mammal Hall. The open design of the light boxes above the diorama shells had long allowed infiltration of particulates and debris into the exhibit spaces. Many of the diorama elements had become discolored from dust and/or fading and some of the plants were no longer configured in a naturalistic manner. The animals had experienced significant fading. The water surfaces were dusty and irregular in their surface sheen and the snow was piled in heavy drifts against the glass at the front of the winter dioramas as the snowfall had often been “topped off” from above. Previous treatment, including a refurbishment in the 1990’s by some of the original artists, had introduced incompatible new materials, overpaint and coatings posing significant treatment challenges. This talk will focus on the documentation and treatment of the dioramas with an examination of the condition of various materials used in the foregrounds and how subsequent treatments affected their longevity and behavior during the current campaign.

Co-Authors
avatar for George Dante

George Dante

Taxidermist, Wildlife Preservations, LLC
George Dante, Founder, Wildlife Preservations, has more than 30 years of experience as a taxidermist, model maker, illustrator and fine artist.  He has been an artist and naturalist his entire life and formed Wildlife Preservations while in high school.  George continued to de... Read More →
avatar for Stephen C. Quinn

Stephen C. Quinn

Artistic Director/Consultant, American Museum of Natural History
Stephen C. Quinn is an artist, illustrator, educator, author and naturalist who spent nearly 40 years on the staff of the Exhibition Department of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Beginning his career there in 1974 as an intern to the recognized “old masters” of... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 2:30pm - 3:00pm
TBA

Attendees (30)