Bison Diorama Restoration Project
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Re-Coloring the Alaskan Brown Bear

June 26, 2018

I got started the re-coloring process in the Alaskan Brown Bear diorama. I looked at the Bear rug closely for guidance on color and patterns of light and dark (value patterns) in the fur. There are no bears painted in the background, so I went online to look at color and dark and light patterns in the fur. I discovered that there is quite a range of color-from light tan to dark brown-in the Alaskan Brown Bear. I noted that most bears have light muzzles in relation to the darker heads and that the upper chest area tends to be lighter than the arms, neck, and lower belly. DSCN0611

I first worked on the areas of the pelt that were already darker. I began by spraying a reddish brown on the legs to provide a base color and then I over-sprayed that with a darker brown similar to the color of burnt umber in artists’ paint to make the value darker. I found this mix to make a very luxuriant, dark brown for both the legs and arms. Even though it isn’t visible from the front of the diorama, I used the darker brown to darken the midline up the back. I darkened the back significantly with the two dye colors, cautiously adding an orange dye in places for more color. After coloring an area, I would brush it with a hair brush to pull different hairs forward for another round of coloring. Proceeding slowly, I worked my way up the bear’s body. I would step back out of the diorama often to make sure all the re-colored parts were holding together and that the color and value was what I was looking for. I got up to the neck, which is quite dark and continued up the head.


I decided to leave the re-coloring for the time being and to work on the tie-in of the crowberry in the foreground with the background painting. I couldn’t get the brightness I needed, color-wise by merely painting the color on the crowberry plants. I also found that since they are real plants, dried and colored, that they are quite fragile to touch with a loaded paintbrush. I decided to try some white spray paint and paint them white first. My thinking was that if I can get them lighter, I can paint them and they will look brighter.The spray paint also makes the plants less fragile by “gluing” all the leaves and plant material to the branches and stems.


The white underpainting helps with the brightness. I have to add a warmer pink-orange to get the tie-in to work well.

I told Julia Sybalski, one of the consultants from the AMNH, about using white spray paint, and she groaned! She admonished me saying, “You just couldn’t contain yourself and had to go and do something bad.” I laughed, but I asked what was so bad about spray paint and she said that it’s hard to tell what kind of paint it is and not easy to remove if it needs to be removed. Acrylic paint would have been a better choice. I admit, I use every material that I can find to solve problems. I usually don’t think about how long my solution will last or if it can be removed (hell, you spray another layer of a different color until you get it right!) When I’m with conservators, I sometimes feel like I’m from another planet. That said, one of the best parts of this diorama restoration project is learning a whole new set of materials and processes from them. In fact, they have spearheaded a new paradigm for restoring old taxidermy mounts that is brilliant. It would have been unlikely that new methods like these could have come from the discipline of taxidermy. It took someone outside of the field to make these innovations.

Next steps: I will spray the rest of the crowberry with acrylic white paint rather than the white spray paint and I have another bear to re-color.



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