Bison Diorama Restoration Project
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Cleaning the Fur, Consolidating the Manikin

May 9, 2018

Before I write about the Bison, I want to pick up a thread from the last blog post of being unsure what to do with the grasses. I think it is clear that I can't re-install the old, brittle grass and will need to make some artificial grass to either replace the old grass or supplement it. As a first step, I asked Patrick Sweeney, the collections manager from Botany to come take a look at the grass and identify what type of grass it is.

Dr. Sweeney

I don't know anything about the grass in the diorama, whether Ralph Morrill and Dave Parsons collected the grass in the West or from their yards in Connecticut! Patrick will let me know more about the grasses later. With that information, I will be able to wrap my head around how to fabricate new grass.

The cleaning began with a hepa vacuum cleaner. I began with a small nozzle attachment and a low vacuum setting. Within minutes, it had sucked up a loose piece of fur. I was able to retrieve it from within the vacuum cleaner, but from then on, I laid down a square of window screen on the fur before I vacuumed. This removes the dust and still picks up loose fur, but I don't have to take the vacuum apart to retrieve it. The screened vacuum also picked up some loose plaster and excelsior (hemp material) from the manikin. I saved the loose fur. I threw away the plaster/excelsior bits.

Once the vacuuming was done, I began going over the mounts with damp wipes. I wet them with a 50-50 mixture of ethanol and distilled water and squeezed out excess water. The wiping process breaks off some of the hairs, but I think the cleaning is more important than losing a few hairs.


I don't know if these mounts have ever been cleaned. In 1992, almost to the day, I helped Ray deLucia, a diorama artist from the American Museum of Natural History, clean and renovate this diorama. We vacuumed the mounts, but stayed away from a wet cleaning as he was concerned it would cause more damage to the skins. As it turns out, the skin is quite thick and damp cleaning lightly wets only the hair and doesn't sink into the skin. It took two or three passes to get the majority of the dirt off the mounts.

There is significant crumbling of the manikin. I found the following diagram of how William Hornaday created his manikins in 1887. This matches almost exactly what I am finding in the internal armature of the Richardson mounts. This is expected since Richardson was Hornaday's apprentice. Jenness Richardson covered the internal armature with what appears to be a plaster/excelsior mix. In some places, like the neck, there are big chunks of the plaster that have gotten knocked loose.

HIstoric Bison Manikin jpeg

I am using an acrylic consolidant, acrysol WS 24, to stabilize the crumbling armature. I removed the big chunks that were dislodged and I will not replace them. I believe the skin will hold its position without support from the manikin or these chunks of plaster. In fact, this is the operating assumption to all the repairs. The skin has mostly separated from the underlying manikin and the repairs being undertaken are more about spanning cracks and letting the skin expand and contract freely over the armature. I am also removing old repairs and as many nails and pins that have been used throughout the years to hold the skin together.


In the “zoot” suit, wetting the manikin in preparation for the consolidant.

The nose of the female appears to be a cast of the bison's actual nose. It is cracked in several places, but I will make a mold of it and cast it. With repairs to the cracks, I hope to salvage the nose. In contrast, the male bison's nose has been plastered over. If the actual nose is there, it is under an old repair.


Avangrid Foundation

Posted on May 9, 2018 by Michael Anderson

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