Bison Diorama Restoration Project
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We Have Opened the Bison Diorama!

May 6, 2018

So after all the preparation, consulting, purchasing of supplies, erecting of the barrier wall with picture window, the glass of the diorama was removed. The first thing done was to remove the male and female mounted cowbirds. The male is perched on the back of the male bison and the female is on the ground near the feet of the female bison. Flagged wires are inserted into the foreground so I can find the holes for the wires when the time comes to reinstall the birds.

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Male cowbird perched on the back of the male bison. Note the cracks in the skin to the left of the bird and on the back of the female bison.

Next in line to be removed, were the grasses under the bisons' feet. The grasses were created in the early 1950's from real grass, dried, tied into clumps, and airbrushed. Ralph Morrill likely developed the method and he then engaged a number of local art students to take his method and crank out large numbers of grass tufts for the ground cover. The prairie dogs also struck me as too close to my walkway for comfort, so I removed them as well. I wasn't too surprised to see that the prairie dog poking his head up from the hole was only half of a taxidermy mount. Ralph Morrill did the same thing with the half-taxidermied squirrel peering around the tree in the Forest Margin diorama. While understandable in both cases that the rear legs are not necessary to create a believable illusion, it is disconcerting nonetheless to pull the prairie dog out of the hole with no rear legs.

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By comparing the taxidermied prairie dog coloration to those painted in the background, it appears that I will need to recolor/darken them. That will mean I will have to track down prairie dog study skins to use as reference.

Back to the grasses, I am unsettled by their condition. Ralph Morrill installed them by laying down a layer of mache and plunging the tied end of the grass into it. To remove the grass, I had to break off the end of the grass stuck into the mache. The grass is so fragile that removal has been an easy task, but because they are so fragile, I am afraid a high percentage will crumble as I try to reinstall them. I will consult with our collection manager in Botany, Patrick Sweeney to see if the grass can be artificially fabricated to match the type of grass presented, at least in part with paper or acetate “grass”.

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Grass tufts in the diorama at the tie-in. Note the space between the foreground and background, which enhances the jump from three dimensions to two.

The broken tail on the male bison has intrigued me ever since I first saw it. I wondered how it could have possibly gotten broken. There is a steel rod embedded within the tail and, since it took some effort to re-bend it, it would have taken an equal effort/stumble? to break it.

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After I repositioned the tail back to its original angle, I noticed that all the bison in the painted background have their tails hanging down. I thought I better touch base with our Curator of Mammals, Eric Sargis to ask whether a tail-up pose meant anything and possibly whether the tail was broken on purpose. Eric wrote right back and sent this link of a posting from the State of Montana:

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A tail up position as indicated in the diagrams shows aggression and doesn't seem to be what is seen in the Peabody mounts. Eric suggested that it might be a mid-swish position as if the bison is using his tail to swat flies, so that is what we're going with. I might try to puzzle out a way to get the long hairs at the end of the tail to look as if they are more airborne in mid-swish rather than hanging straight down!

Avangrid Foundation

Posted on May 6, 2018 by Michael Anderson

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Taken from the following blog: Museum Model Making at Yale Peabody