Exploring Materials in Natural History Dioramas

Written by Claire Dean, Curatorial Assistant at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle, and MA Preventive Conservation student at Northumbria University.

The wildlife dome at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery
The wildlife dome at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Carlisle, C. Dean

In many old dioramas, material mysteries abound. As a Curatorial Assistant at Tullie House, I’ve encountered a tree trunk made from a Robinson’s fruit juice box, a fake roof that contained fibrous signs of asbestos, and a hodgepodge of unidentifiable paints and old plastics. The museum’s new-in-post Biodiversity Curator discovered pests thriving amongst the real vegetation and a 30-year-old slice of bread in a garden scene.

Dioramas aim to create the illusion of real habitats for their taxidermy inhabitants, and they use a huge range of materials to do so. After decades of neglect and destruction there is now wider recognition that habitat dioramas can instil a sense of wonder in visitors that no amount of digital wizardry can replace. Through my dissertation research for an MA in Preventive Conservation at Northumbria University, I wanted to find out more about what materials have been used in dioramas over time, how these might impact the preservation of specimens, and what we can do to better protect the dioramas that remain. I put a call out to ask, ‘What’s in your dioramas?’ through an online survey and received 30 responses from people with experience in a range of different sized institutions and private practice.

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Book Review: A Historical Directory of Taxidermists.

Reviewed and written by Jazmine Miles Long, Taxidermist. https://www.jazminemileslong.com, Twitter: @TaxidermyLondon; Instagram: @Jazmine_miles_long

A Historical Directory of Taxidermists: Bird and Animal stuffers, Naturalists, Beast and Bird Preservers in Southwest England and Wales. Early 19th C to Mid-20th C.

A directory complied by Kelvin Boot
Published by MPM Publishing
2022
ISBN 978-1-7397161-0-3
Contact – kelvinbootbooks@gmail.com

This book is a must have for any researcher exploring the lives and work of taxidermists from Southwest England and Wales during the 19th and 20th Century. 140 pages in black and white including some images of taxidermists trade labels.

The book is a thorough directory of the taxidermists trading in the area at the time, the introduction cites how the directory was researched, exploring printed documents, not only naturalists publications but newspapers, trade directories and census records where taxidermists may have been mentioned or advertised. Exploring what the life of a taxidermist may have been like and how just like today it was the ‘celebrity’ taxidermists that would have been more likely to be written about.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – January 2022

Compiled by Claire Dean, Preventive Conservation student, Northumbria University & placement student at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle.

Welcome to the January edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. We are really keen to hear more about what you are getting up to, exhibition launches, virtual conferences, training opportunities, webinars, and new and interesting online content. If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Sector News

There’s still time to submit to SPNCC 2022. ‘Through the door and through the web: releasing the power of natural history collections onsite and online’ will take place from 5th to 10th June in Edinburgh and the deadline for abstracts is 28th January. You can submit your abstract to the open symposia or under the general theme. Full details here.

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A Supreme, Dream Team: The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Museums (SPNHC) Conference 2021

Written by Bethany Palumbo, ACR, Founder and Owner of Palumbo Conservation Services

As a Natural History conservator, I was thrilled to learn that the 2021 SPNHC conference would be a joint conference with the AIC. These two large US organizations have very different priorities and committees, but many collaborative interests. I had waited a long time for this collaboration! The theme of the conference was ‘Transformation’ seeking ideas to not only transform museums, but discuss how museums can transform the world for the better. A fitting theme for a year of massive upheaval and dramatic change.

The conference was originally due to be held in Jacksonville Florida, but the on-going pandemic meant it was moved online at the last minute. Though disappointed to not see colleagues physically, holding the conference online did allow for truly international participation and I could catch up on talks as and when I was able!

The majority of sessions were collaborative with talks from both members of AIC and the SPNHC. They were spread over 6 weeks, allowing for many more sessions than could normally be accommodated in a 5-day conference. The sessions were varied, covering not only the conservation of objects but digitization and data management, using Natural History as an educational tool, collaborating with stakeholder communities and storage and display.

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Book Review: Managing Natural Science Collections

Written by Jan Freedman, Curator of Natural History, The Box, Plymouth.

Working with natural science collections is quite a unique role. The specimens we care for, the stories they tell, the research we carry out or help facilitate, and the engagement with the public, are just a few rewarding jobs that we carry out daily. Sometimes there are barriers between those working with natural science collections and those at a higher management level. This is mainly due to a lack of understanding of the importance of these types of collections. “Why are there so many flies?“, “It’s just taxidermy, bring it out for people to stroke“, “It’s just a rock”. Just a few of things many of us have heard being said about natural science collections.

Whilst we can respond to these kinds of comments, some of us may find it more difficult to respond in a strategic way: in a language that makes sense to high level managers or funders. I have in the past, and I’ve found that frustrating, because I know the importance of the collections I look after. I was very pleased to be asked to review a new book about management of collections, focusing on strategy and development, Managing Natural Science Collections: A guide to strategy, planning and resourcing which was released this year and it couldn’t have come at a better time. A time when the country is recovering from an economic slump after the Covid pandemic. A time when cuts to the museum sector are inevitable.

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