#NatSCAConservation Twitter Conference

Written by Lucie Mascord, NatSCA committee conservation representative.

During the week of the 18th January 2021 NatSCA will be hosting their first ever Twitter conference all on the subject of conservation.

Following on from the success of our inaugural conservation conference “Caring for Natural Science Collections” held at Oxford University Museum of Natural History back in October 2018, the NatSCA conservation working group had hopes of another conference this year. However, it was not to be, so we are changing the format and coming to you in 2021!

The attendees of the “Caring for Natural Science Collections” one-day conference at Oxford University Museum of Natural History in 2018. ©Bethany Palumbo @bethany_bug

Given how strange this year has been we are keeping it simple. Just follow us on the week of 18th January (programme with exact dates and times to follow) on the hashtag #NatSCAConservation and we will bring the unique world of natural science conservation to you for free! Join us for this great opportunity to explore conservation work relating to the range of natural materials including bone, taxidermy, fluid preserved collections, geology, botany and entomology.

If you have a natural science conservation project to share, whatever the size, shape or specimen, we would love to hear from you. The subject of each submission can be as diverse as the field of natural history itself, from storage projects, preventative work, treatments, new innovations, or to how recent world health events are shaping the way we work with collections. Check out the event page to find instructions on submitting an abstract, the deadline is the 30th November.

My particular highlight of our conservation conference in 2018 was seeing the number of emerging professionals we had in attendance, and speaking. This included Kathryn Royce giving an excellent talk on her research into geological collections with Dr Christian Baars at the National Museum Cardiff; and three very differing technical projects from Samuel Suarez Ferreira, Beth Hamilton and Anastasia van Gaver during their placements at the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology. It was heartening to see such enthusiasm and skilled work displayed through these talks. My other highlight, in a day of valuable talks, was to see Natalie Jones speak about the needle-felting technique that has been expertly adapted for fur in-fills on taxidermy. The before and after pictures always succeed in delighting the audience.

Natalie Jones from the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology speaking about the needle-felting process at the NatSCA Caring for Natural Science Collections one-day conference in 2018 ©Lucie Mascord

To find out more about our 2021 Twitter conference, keep an eye on the event page (https://www.natsca.org/conservation-2021) where more information will be posted soon. Please contact conservation@natsca.org with any questions.

Diving into a Coral Reef with Cambridge Communities

Written by Sara Steele, Museum Education Assistant, Museum of Zoology and Roz Wade, Learning Officer, Museum of Zoology.

This article was first published as a blog for University of Cambridge Museums, 1st June 2020.

Our audiences are full of creativity, something we see in bucketfuls at our events and workshops. We wanted to go further, and showcase audience creations and collaborations in our programming and displays.

As a Museum celebrating the wonders of the natural world, we have an innate desire to protect it. We have committed to embedding sustainability into our public programme : tackling the materials we use and considering the impacts of activity outputs. Not all craft day creations end up on the fridge, let alone as an item cherished for life. Could we bear the thought of our logo sitting atop a landfill?

With this focus on collaboration and sustainability in mind, and with the help of the artistic mind of volunteer Fanny Bara Moreau, we designed a summer activity with longevity at its core.

Every summer, the University of Cambridge Museums box up their wares and head out into the weather with themed activities to communities across the city with Cambridge City Council’s Big Weekend and Children and Young People’s Participation Service (ChYpPs). Summer 2019 had a tropical oceans theme at the Museum of Zoology, with the goal of inspiring conversations around the conservation of our coral reefs. We wanted to use this as an opportunity to bring audiences together through shared making and showcase their creations in our programmes and displays.

We took inspiration from our ‘Patchwork World Map’ project, created from individually-made sections sewn into a large tactile map of the world populated by animals.

We also piloted a collaborative family making activity at our Zoology Live festival in June 2019.

We wanted to emulate the collaborative aspect of these projects, as well as create another resource for future programming and activities.

Not forgetting our overall goal of using sustainable materials, we had our work cut out for us.

What came out of several conversations over (essential) coffee was a 5-metre long scroll of empty reef, soon to be populated with corals. From our point of view we liked how transportable it was, neatly rolling up, and that the only materials were paper, paper straws, and water-based paint. Huzzah!

Alongside handling boxes, participants could explore real coral specimens and had the opportunity to create (reusable) collages from shells. Families across Cambridge were invited to add to the reef using pools of very watery paint, blown into organic branching patterns with a paper straw. There were several ‘races’ to the top of the paper over the course of the summer.

We were so happy with what our Cambridge communities created that we began to embed it within further activities, including as a backdrop to an underwater drama created by our Young Zoologists Club and to recycled makes created by visitors to our ‘Winter Wildlife: A Christmas Coral’ (excuse the pun) family day.

Just as we did for our patchwork map, we found a space in the gallery to show-case the work of visitors. We settled on a long table-case on our mezzanine level. It was the perfect shape for our scroll of a reef, and was a space that most visitors would see. Unfortunately, it is not a fully accessible space, and for future projects we are considering how to make its content available to audiences unable to use the stairs.

The knitted and crocheted animals that you can see here were created by our local WI attendees to Creature Crafternoons, with our early years audiences in mind, and a desire from the team for more diverse ocean dwelling creatures in toy form.

Best of all, we not only generated meaningful conversations and activities for our visitors, but also new resources for future programmes, and a wonderful, colourful, collaborative display for all to see.

Of course, to be used in our learning programmes, the resources had to come out of the display case. However, our collaborative coral reef has inspired further projects displaying work created by our visitors. In March 2020, we ran a workshop in partnership with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and led by artist Hilary Cox Condron to create a vision of Cambridge where we can live in harmony with nature. The collaborative artwork created during this ‘World of Tomorrow’ workshop was made from recycled materials, and included wonderful creative solutions for sustainable transport, homes for wildlife and food production. This was put on display in our ‘Communities Case’ on the mezzanine with the aim of inspiring further conversations about wildlife conservation between our visitors.

We entered 2020 with a view to either using the materials we already have, or ordering only recyclable and sustainable materials. Not only does this do us good, but it also allows visitors to see the potential of craft materials that are not harmful to the planet.

While our non-recyclable materials stock is shrinking, our bank of bespoke and inspired resources is growing. The reef continues to give in the form of new online resources. Families can get stuck into making their own at home or gain help with home schooling during lockdown:

https://museumofzoologyblog.com/2020/05/04/dive-into-a-coral-reef/

https://museumofzoologyblog.com/2020/05/11/our-changing-reef-habitats/

By creating a space within the gallery amid the zoological specimens for community collaborations, we hope to provide a sense of ownership of space for our audiences. Our programmes aim to celebrate the animal kingdom and nurture a desire to protect it. We are proud of the passion our visitors have for the natural world, and through these projects hope to encourage more conversations about wildlife conservation.

We want to make the most of the creations by our wildlife-loving audiences, and during the lockdown our community space has moved online. Here you can add to the ‘World of Tomorrow’ with your creative recycled solutions to live in harmony with nature.

Have you created something animal-themed during lockdown? Or spotted some wildlife from your window? Why not add it to your Community Gallery of lockdown wildlife sightings.

We hope to be able to include more photos of sightings and makes as time goes on so do get in touch via our social media platforms or umzc@zoo.cam.ac.uk to submit.

NatSCA Digital Digest – November

Compiled by Glenn Roadley, Curator (Natural Science), The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Welcome to the November 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 museum re-openings, exhibition launches, virtual conferences and 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.

News from the Sector 

Upcoming Conference: Decolonising Natural Science Collections
November 19th 2020
NatSCA will be holding a one-day online conference on November 19th 2020, 9:50am – 4.15pm GMT.

Miranda Lowe and Subhadra Das will be leading the proceedings as keynote speakers, presenting an update on their widely shared NatSCA paper – Nature Read in Black and White: decolonial approaches to interpreting natural history collections

This event is free for members, with opportunity for live Q&A. The event will be recorded and made freely available afterwards. NatSCA members will receive a code to register via email – if you have not received this, please contact membership@natsca.org

Reimagining Museums for Climate Action

Reimagining Museums for Climate Action is an international design and ideas competition launched on 18th May 2020 for International Museum Day. The competition, which closed on the 15th September, challenged designers, architects, academics, artists, poets, philosophers, museum professionals and the public at large to radically (re)imagine and (re)design the museum as an institution, to help bring about more equitable and sustainable futures in the climate change era. Find out more about the project and the eight winning proposals at www.museumsforclimateaction.org

Pest Odyssey UK Discussion Forum

The Pest Odyssey UK group is a non profit organisation, advocating for IPM within cultural heritage institutions. Its mission is to provide a trusted platform to communicate, advise and promote best practise in Integrated Pest Management for cultural heritage. If you have a question about pest management or advice to share, you can join the email group here.

Warwickshire Museum Collections Move

Warwickshire Museum has recently moved its extensive collections of geology, archaeology, natural history, social history and costume to new stores close to the county town of Warwick. Natural history, comprising a comprehensive herbarium, extensive taxidermy collection and an entomology collection, are now re-housed in secure pods within the new storage, using fixed and mobile racking (Ocean Design), recycled from our old store, which was kitted out in 2012-2013. Many months and probably years of unpacking and documentation lie ahead, but the collections should be accessible again, sometime in 2021.

Packing and mapping started in earnest in mid-2019, and the first collections were just starting to be moved in early 2020. Following announcement of Covid-19 lockdown the process was put on hold until June, when work recommenced.

Where to Visit

With a fresh UK lockdown underway in England, museums have once again been forced to close their doors. Be sure visit these exhibitions if you can when the country re-opens!

Portsmouth Museums – The World of Wonder

Portsmouth Museums have recently filled a shop window in the local Cascades Shopping Centre with over 150 natural history objects. The ‘World of Wonder’, designed by Athena Jane Churchill features some of the weird and wonderful objects that have been held in store for over a decade. The display aims to showcase Portsmouth’s natural history collections to new audiences and to engage with them through the use of QR codes to download more information and by inviting them to create butterflies and moths which will be added to the shop windows.

Gallery Oldham – Rain Drop to Corporation Pop!

This exhibition has a very watery feel, exploring water from the start of its journey in the clouds through all freshwater aquatic environments using objects chosen from across the Gallery’s collection.

Water is an essential element for all life that has ever lived on the planet and makes up important part of our local wildlife habitats. Come and see beautiful paintings portraying rivers, lakes and canals displayed alongside ancient fossil fish and an array of present-day aquatic creatures. A special attraction is the fossil skeleton of an Ichthyosaur, the largest fossil in their geological collections.

Oldham became the most important spinning town in the world because it is nestled high in the hills making the most of the damp climate so necessary to spin the best cotton yarn. Water collected in newly constructed reservoirs was important for an expanding human population to ensure good health and hygiene as well as textile processing.

Water has a special attraction to us for leisure activities, swimming, boating and fishing to name just a few. Amazing fish trophy mounts donated by Oldham Central Angling Club will be displayed together with swimming memorabilia.

Image © Gallery Oldham

The British Museum – Arctic: Culture and Climate

Home to rich cultures for nearly 30,000 years, the Arctic is far from the inhospitable hinterland it’s often imagined to be.

From ancient mammoth ivory sculpture to modern refitted snow mobiles, the objects in this immersive exhibition reveal the creativity and resourcefulness of Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic. Developed in collaboration with Arctic communities, the exhibition celebrates the ingenuity and resilience of Arctic Peoples throughout history. It tells the powerful story of respectful relationships with icy worlds and how Arctic Peoples have harnessed the weather and climate to thrive.

The dramatic loss of ice and erratic weather caused by climate change are putting unprecedented pressure on Arctic Peoples, testing their adaptive capacities and threatening their way of life.

What happens in the Arctic will affect us all and this exhibition is a timely reminder of what the world can learn from its people.

What to Read

We have two great new entries on the NatSCA blog this month. Trials From The Riverbank: Conserving a Taxidermy Otter by Jen Gossman details the assessment and plan for conservation work needed for a taxidermy otter. Telling the Truth About Who Really Collected the “Hero Collections” by Jack Ashby explores how museums can work to decolonise their collections by seeking out the real stories behind famous collections traditionally attributed to ‘dead white men’.

Over on the Geological Curators’ Group blog, John Cooke and Ros Westwood write about the Auction of a Thomas Woodruff Table and provide a great history of the table and its maker.

Job Vacancies

The Powell-Cotton Museum are seeking an Audience Development Consultant, to lead on building networks with the Museum’s local communities (both well represented and underrepresented) and to develop a series of workshops and focus group sessions that will bring those audiences into the ‘Colonial Critters’ project.

Tullie House Museum is inviting applications for a Biodiversity Curator, a unique and exciting opportunity to work in the most biodiverse county in England with both a nationally Designated museum collection and one of the largest and oldest biodiversity data centres in the UK.

Before You Go…

If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Similarly, if you have something to say about a current topic, or perhaps you want to tell us what you’ve been working on, we welcome new blog articles so please drop Jen an email if you have anything you would like to submit.

Trials From The Riverbank: Conserving a Taxidermy Otter

Written by Jen Gossman, MSc first year Conservation Practice student at Cardiff University.

Otter mount © Jen Gossman

I received a mounted taxidermy otter in still life pose without a base from the Tenby museum, Wales where it had been in long term storage wrapped in Tyvek. On initial examination it showed some skin shrinkage and was covered in a thick layer of dirt, grease and dust.

The main concern was an infestation by carpet beetles. Inspection of the fur and hide revealed evidence of the beetles in the form of fras, some dead or empty larvae casts and matted fur alongside large bald areas.

The decision was taken to send the otter to be frozen using industrial freezers with the valued assistance of Julian Carter from Amgueddfa Cymru (Cardiff), where it spent 3 weeks at -30 degrees wrapped in plastic sheeting and placed in a strong container to avoid freezer burn or contact with moisture. Once the otter returned, a detailed examination of the mount could be undertaken.

Otter examination in fume cupboard © Jen Gossman

The exact age of the mount could not be determined due to the lack of records but the potential of there being arsenic contamination, commonly used as preparation and an anti-pest measure prior to the 1980s, was likely.

In response to this I decided to examine the mount with surfaces covered using polyethylene sheeting and a fume cupboard, making sure to wear protective PPE whilst handling. For certainty and the safety of students and staff, we decided to undertake tests to ascertain the likely presence and potential contamination level of the mount by arsenic. I used the XRF machine and dab tests to sample common aggregation areas such as the feet, armpits and ear areas. Two tests were decided on to allow a holistic view of the mount.

Pest damage to underneath of mount © Jen Gossman

Alongside the general dirt levels and grease or debris on the surface layers of fur, underneath this and close to the hide, was found to have been warped by the potential actions of moisture or eaten and matted by pest action. The fur itself was severely degraded from fading and showed some embrittlement from this occurrence. There were various areas of the hide that had been subject to warping. This had potentially caused dislocation of the toes and warping of the jaw. It was decided not to address this as it had low impact on the mount at this time.

Due to Covid-19, the actual treatment of the mount has sadly been put on hold but the planned treatment is to clean and remove pest damage and dirt from the fur and attempt to recolour the mount to reflect a realistic appearance. I decided that recolouring was important as I feel that the purpose of a taxidermy mount of this type, is to represent as much as possible the real animal. Taxidermy either scientific or trophy most commonly has the purpose of allowing a closer understanding of nature, and may provide scientific value.  To maintain the validity of that experience the accurate appearance of the mount is important to our understanding. Re-colouring may hide history of the mount and will interfere with any scientific data but will enhance public experience, I feel that this opinion is important to consider when displaying taxidermy of extinct species.

The treatment of the pest damage on fur layers will be performed by delicate detangling and very light brushing of the hide with tweezers, pick and a soft brush. Matted fur being gentle tweezed apart followed by a soft brush and a filtered vacuum to pick up loose material.

Grease and ground in dirt will be removed with a mixture of 1:1 ethanol and deionised water. The solvent will allow the removal of the dirt and will retard the exposure of the mount to moisture from the deionised water which itself will reduce the excessive drying of the fur which could lead to embrittlement. A blotting paper guard will be used to prevent the solution from touching the hide directly. The solution is applied with a swab, working backwards through the fur in thin sections which are then brushed back to a life-like appearance. Once free of grease, dirt and pest debris, colouring can be performed.

The exact decision to proceed with this is the responsibility of the client museum but the process proposed will be to use a mixture of acrylic dyes and ethanol. These will be applied in very thin amounts via the controlled use of air spray methods applying thin coats working systematically over the hide using realistic colour pallets of brown auburn and umber tones to achieve a representative coat.

The mount is now snuggled up in our stores awaiting the return of the students and the commencement of the treatments.

Waiting in storage © Jen Gossman

NatSCA Digital Digest – October

Compiled by Lily Nadine Wilkes. NatSCA Volunteer.

Welcome to the October edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.What can I read?

There are some wonderful posts on our blog. Patricia Francis, the natural history curator of Gallery Oldham, wrote Natural Connections an investigation of the person, place and specimens of a painting that reveals a hidden Oldham story. There is also Andrew Kitchener’s post on CryoArks, the UK’s first zoological biobank.

As we are in Black History Month, there is a lovely collection of research from the Natural History Museum into how the museums history and collections are connected to the transatlantic slave trade in Slavery and the Natural World.

What can I see?

The National Museum of Scotland has a fabulous small exhibition on Scotland’s Precious Seas, exploring Scotland’s diverse sea life and many threats facing marine life.

Chester Zoo have shared this fantastic animal video for World Animal Day.

Not visiting anywhere currently? Take a look at the interesting online collections of the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

What can I do?

The Geological Curators Group have their Symposium of Palaeontological Preparation and Conservation 2020 event on 11th – 17th October.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History are holding an online lecture ‘How do many-eyed animals see the world?’ with Dr Lauren Sumner-Rooney, a research fellow.

As part of the iDigBio webinar series ‘Adapting to COVID-19: Resources for Natural History Collections in a New Virtual World‘, Virtual Project Management, Tips and Tools, will take place on the 27th October 2020.

On social media you can get involved in #ReptileAwarenessDay on 21st October, showcase your spookiest collection on #Halloween (31st October) and on November 8th there is #STEMDay.

Save The Date!

Pest Odyssey 2021 – the Next Generation Detect, Respond, Recover – best practice IPM in 2021.

20th – 22nd September 2021

Submissions are invited for the third Pest Odyssey Conference. This will be a fully virtual conference and will enable participants to focus on changes and new developments in IPM over the last ten years.

They invite contributions looking at science, sustainability and climate change in relation to IPM. Additionally, papers examining how to carry out IPM well and what a successful IPM programme looks like over 10+ years. Methods of advocacy and successful ways to share the IPM message both in your organisation and the wider world will be welcomed.

Abstracts should be a maximum of 500 words and should be submitted to pestodyssey@gmail.com by 12 a.m. (midnight) GMT on 8th January 2021.

Successful authors will be notified by 8th March 2021. Completed papers will be required by 30th June 2021 for peer review for inclusion in the conference publication. Poster abstracts will be invited, but the call for these will follow later.

Jobs?

National Museums Scotland are looking for an Assistant Preventive Conservator. Closing date 16th October.

North Pennines AONB Partnership are looking for a Geology Projects Trainee. Closing date 11th October.

Before You Go…

If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Similarly, if you have something to say about a current topic, or perhaps you want to tell us what you’ve been working on, we welcome new blog articles so please drop Jen an email if you have anything you would like to submit.