Post by Nancy Anderson, Collections Management Associate (Human History)
Visitors to the Manitoba Museum are currently enjoying two hockey themed exhibitions – Hockey: The Stories Behind our Passion from the Canadian Museum of History and Manitoba Heart of Hockey developed and produced by the Manitoba Museum. Both exhibitions examine the meaning of hockey in the lives of Canadians as players and their families, coaches, officials, broadcasters, and fans.
One person who literally helps to keep the game running smoothly is the skate sharpener. A trained operator can optimize a player’s performance by skillfully honing the pitch and contour of the blade to match their stride and style. Recently, the Manitoba Museum received a donation of an early skate sharpening machine along with the sign for “Vimy Skate Sharpening” run by Allan Merko.
Allan Merko was a Canadian lad with a passion for hockey. Times were tight growing up in Gilbert Plains, Manitoba, so Allan collected bottles to cash in for the deposit in order to pay for his basic equipment – skates, gloves and a stick. After a move to Ethelbert, he played centre for the Ethelbert Eagles and later the Sabres wearing jersey No. 9. His skill and speed on the ice earned him the nickname “Squirrel”. Later, he would take up coaching the younger Ethelbert Oilers team and teach power skating. His daughter fondly remembers growing up as a ‘rink rat’ and hanging out with her dad.
Allan was more than just a player and coach. He also operated the Zamboni and created and maintained the ice at the Ethelbert Arena. Sometimes he flooded the ice between periods in full hockey gear while his team rested in the dressing room! Being mechanically inclined, Allan taught himself how to sharpen skates on an unused machine in the arena thus saving local skaters a 125 km round trip to Dauphin.
Following a move to Winnipeg in the late 1990s, he set himself up in the skate sharpening business at the Vimy Arena in St. James. His love of the game shone through in the service he provided to his customers. Al, as he was known, always remembered their names and preferences. One young customer sent him a note at the end of the season – “Thank you for sharpening my skates all year and thanks for taking an interest in my ringette. I had a great time at Nationals”. Al took the time to listen to parents tell stories of their children’s accomplishments. One mom recalled he would offer “the warmest of hugs especially when …I was run ragged during hockey season.” Sadly, Al passed away in 2012 which coincided with the last year of operation for the Vimy Arena.
The contact between blade and ice sets hockey and ringette apart from other team sports. In arenas and sporting shops across the county, it is the skill of the operator at the skate sharpening machines that keeps the players skating their best.
Post by Janis Klapecki, Collections Management Specialist (Natural History)
The Manitoba Museum receives calls daily inquiring if we are interested in receiving artifacts or specimens for our collections. They may have collected some clam shells while on a family outing to the beach, or have found some “treasure” in Great Aunt Muriel’s attic. We never know what to expect until we actually see the item.
In the spring of 1993, we received a call from a woman near Arborg (Manitoba) asking if we would be interested in receiving a butterfly collection. That may sound unusual to some, but for museum staff that work with insects, it’s a common conversation and potentially a good acquisition. What WAS unusual was where the butterflies were currently being stored…… the caller described that they were in a derelict van on the property they had recently purchased! After hearing this, we imagined the worst and didn’t expect to bring much back to the museum. Dried insect collections are highly susceptible to mould and live insect activity. A collection that is exposed to either of these factors can be completely destroyed within days.
Within days, we were on our way out to an acreage near Arborg. The donor escorted us to the derelict vehicle, and there they were……several old wooden cigar boxes stacked in the back of the van. We carefully opened each box and found most of the insects already pinned, while others were still flat in their collection envelopes. There were some signs of mould, but we accepted all of the collection and drove back to the museum.
Once back at the Museum, the entire collection was placed in our large freezer for pest treatment. This is done to ensure that we aren’t inadvertently bringing in any live insect pests that could damage the Museum’s galleries and collections. When the 2 week freezer treatment period was complete, we started the massive task of inventorying the collection. The collection consisted exclusively of butterfly and moth specimens. There were upwards of 400 expertly pinned specimens with data labels, and approximately another 200 specimens still in their original glassine collection envelopes. As our work progressed further into documenting and cataloguing each individual specimen, we realized that it included some very special and rare specimens.
Among the many specimens of this collection, one species stood out. There were 26 specimens of an extinct butterfly, the Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus xerces; Family Lycaenidae). They were collected in the 1920s by R.F. Sternitzky from the dunes of what is now the Sunset District of San Francisco, CA. This butterfly was endemic to the almost uninhabited coastal sand dunes of this area at that time. The species was first documented in that area in 1852, and is believed to have become extinct by the mid 1940s, when the dunes were scraped clear and houses completely replaced the dunes. Its extinction was directly attributed to urban development and habitat loss that included dune plants that the species relied upon for food and egg laying.
The majority of the butterflies and moths were collected by R.F. Sternitzky in the coastal regions of California in the years ranging from the 1920s to the 1940s. There isn’t a lot of personal information on the web about R.F. Sternitzky, other than he was born in California (1891-1980) and spent a life time collecting mostly butterflies and moths (also some bees, flies, and ants) in parts of California, including the San Francisco Bay area, and in his later years, Arizona. He contributed significantly to Lepidopteran (moth and butterflies) collections and subsequent research as is evidenced by the numerous ecological and taxonomic publications online that refer to his specimens. His specimens are deposited in several large American museum collections including the the Essig Museum of Entomology (University Of California, Berkeley, CA), Bohart Museum of Entomology (University of California, Davis, CA), Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (New Haven, CT), the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington, DC), the Harvard Museum of Natural History (Cambridge, MA), the American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY), as well as in Canadian museums such as the Canadian National Collection (Ottawa), and now the Manitoba Museum (Winnipeg).
These specimens, and in fact all specimens of permanent scientific collections all over the world, represent invaluable time capsules of the flora and fauna of that time, and of that space. We cannot go back and reproduce those dune habitats prior to human encroachment and development.
Thankfully the donor of this butterfly collection recognized that these specimens should be inspected by the Museum experts – otherwise they may have ended up in the local dump.
The mystery still remains….
How and why did these specimens arrive in Manitoba? Did the previous owner of the property correspond with R.F. Sternitzky through his ad?
Post by Loren Rudisuela, Conservation Technician
This home chemistry set came into the conservation lab for treatment after being selected for display in the soon to be constructed Winnipeg Gallery which is part of the Museum’s Bringing Our Stories Forward Capital Gallery Renewal Project. The set was acquired by the museum in 1979 and was manufactured by Lotts Bricks Ltd., a toy company based in Waterford, England.
It was noticed during an initial condition report that the cardboard insert was weak, ripped, and warped in several locations and needed to be stabilized before display. Since the cardboard had warped over time, the loose and broken parts would no longer fit together and therefore the cardboard would need to be reshaped before repair could be completed.
The chemistry set consists of a red cardboard box which has a grey blue box adhered to it. There is also a moss green cardboard insert which holds the pieces of the set in place. There are twelve cardboard canisters with pop-off metal lids, and four glass bottles with metal screw-on lids. All of these containers still have their labelled chemicals inside. There is a small glass tube with a cork stopper which containing purple coloured litmus paper. Hidden under the cardboard insert is a small envelope labelled ‘Litmus Paper’ which has two pink papers inside. Lastly, there is an orange rubber tube with a glass end covered in a black coating.
In the conservation lab, the set was disassembled and the individual parts were examined. In general all surfaces of the set were dusty and covered in grime. The red outer box was very stable but the moss green cardboard insert was ripped in several areas and the structure was warped. The canisters and glass bottles have small areas of corrosion on the metal lids.
The first step was to clean every surface of the set. This involved brushing all the components with a soft natural hair brush which loosened dust off the surface and allowed the dust to be carefully vacuumed away . The cardboard and canisters were further cleaned by gently rubbing eraser bits over the surfaces to pick up grime and loosen ingrained dirt.
The most complicated step of the treatment was reshaping the cardboard insert. The insert was reshaped by misting the surface with distilled water, causing the paper structure to relax, which allowed for the manual repositioning of the cardboard to the original position. The insert was placed onto custom cut wood blocks which were covered in absorbent paper (blotter paper). The wood form was clamped and weighed down which prevented the cardboard from deforming during the drying process.
After a week, the cardboard insert was dry and removed from the wood form. The cardboard was then repaired by reattaching the loose sections and reinforcing ripped areas with light-weight mending paper and conservation grade cellulose based adhesive. The ripped cardboard was further repaired on the front of the insert by adhering tinted light-weight mending paper to breaks in the structure.
Once everything was stable and dry the insert was set back into the red box and finally all the components were set back into place.
You will be able to see this home chemistry set in the new Winnipeg Gallery when it opens in the fall of 2019.
Matthew Gowdar, Collections and Conservation Assistant
This summer, I was given the amazing opportunity to work at the Manitoba Museum through the Young Canada Woks program. From the end of May until mid-August, I held the full-time position of Collections and Conservation Assistant.
While this was not my first experience working at a museum or archive, the Manitoba Museum was certainly a step up for me, in terms of scale. As a History major at the University of Manitoba, this opportunity was especially exciting, as it fell directly within my field of study.
Each day started with a gallery walk through the whole museum. I would check for garbage and damage to exhibits, clean the glass cases and monitor humidity levels each morning. I was also given two large projects to undertake at the outset of my term. The first was to sort, organize and create a digital database for over three thousand research photos, which had been collected in cardboard boxes throughout the past decades. Despite their fascinating nature and relevance to the ongoing Bringing Our Stories Forward Capital Gallery Renewal Project, searching through these photos in their original state was impossible. Therefore, my goal was to make the collection easy to browse, as well as searchable for specific subjects via the digital database.
Using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, I created a series of binders, each assigned to a different subject. Each individual photograph corresponded to a different record in the database, which contained information such as date, photographer and a brief description. Although not quite complete, this system perfectly meets the project’s original goals.
My second major task was a total revamp of the Manitoba Museum’s Institutional archives. These boxes of documents were stored on dangerously unstable shelving which did not use the space efficiently, and contained a wealth of irrelevant material. The first step was to clean out the room as much as possible, followed by the disposal of the old shelving. New shelving was ordered and assembled. Each box was culled for material which could be discarded, and then placed on the new shelving. While this sounds simple enough, when one has over two hundred boxes to evaluate it becomes more complicated. The project was a great success, and resulted in a substantial increase in free space within the archive room.
I was lucky enough to work alongside a group of intelligent and hardworking colleagues, who’s passion for museum work was evident from day one. The support and direction I received from both Cindy Colford, Manager of Collections and Conservation, and Roland Sawatsky, Curator of History, was invaluable. I also would like to thank Loren Rudisuela, Carolyn Sirett, Nancy Anderson, Cortney Pachet, and Amelia Fay and numerous other staff members for all the help they provided me over the last few months. The Manitoba Museum truly employs a special group of people.
Post by Cortney Pachet, Collections Registration Associate (Human History)
Fifteen year old Eleanor Geib and eighteen year old James “Jimmy” Brady met at a dance hall on Strood Avenue in North Kildonan.
They began courting and after Jimmy enlisted with the Winnipeg Grenadiers, exchanged love letters while he was stationed on garrison duty in Bermuda and Jamaica at the beginning of WWII. His parting words in nearly every letter were “With all my love for you and you only” and he signed many of them “Diamond Jim”, a reference to a popular comic strip of the era, according to his younger sister, Dorothy.
When Jimmy returned to Winnipeg on furlough in October 1941, the couple married at her parents’ home on Bonner Avenue, with her sister Marguerite and his friend Harry Robinson, a fellow Grenadier, serving as witnesses. Within days of marrying, Jimmy and the rest of the Winnipeg Grenadiers were shipped out to Hong Kong.
Jimmy wrote to Eleanor about his journey through western Canada and the uneventful voyage across the Pacific Ocean. Upon arriving in Hong Kong, he sent his new bride a beautiful green silk pyjama set and slippers, along with letters about life abroad.
Expecting a quiet assignment at the former British colony, the Canadian military was surprised when the Japanese army descended on the island of Hong Kong on December 8, 1941. After a 17 day fight, dubbed the Battle of Hong Kong, the Canadians capitulated on Christmas Day and Canadian, British and Indian survivors were taken as prisoners of war of the Japanese for the next 44 months. Private James Brady did not survive the battle, dying in combat on December 19, 1941. In the ensuing chaos, his wife, mother and sisters did not receive word of his passing until January of 1943.
Following the war, widows and mothers of the war dead were given the Memorial Cross medal. Eleanor, widowed at age 17, fastened her engagement ring to the purple silk ribbon of the medal she received and stored it away with the letters, pyjamas, photographs and other objects she had saved from her brief marriage.
Eleanor went on to marry again and had four children with her second husband. She spoke little of her first love, but even after her passing in 2005, her daughters kept the trove of mementos safe in her stead. Last summer, after learning of the Manitoba Museum’s Hong Kong Veterans collection on the local CTV morning show, her daughters made the decision to donate Eleanor’s treasures to the museum. These objects complement the collection in a unique, albeit tragic, way: we have very few materials from Winnipeg Grenadiers who did not survive the Battle of Hong Kong and subsequent internment. The family also connected us with Jimmy’s surviving sister, Dorothy, who came to the museum to view the new acquisitions –she commented that Jimmy always had excellent handwriting and was a prolific letter writer. Dorothy imparted more information about Jimmy’s short life for our records and donated the Memorial Cross medal her mother had received 70 years earlier, after the loss of her only son.
These new acquisitions have been carefully catalogued and photographed, detailing the story of Jimmy and Eleanor, his death and the events that followed. His story continues through the preservation of his written word and the objects he lovingly chose for his young bride. All his love for her and her only.
Post by Nancy Anderson, Collections Management Associate (Human History)
You may have heard the old adage, attributed to either Napoleon or Frederick the Great, an army travels on its stomach. The saying attests to the importance of military forces being well-provisioned. A healthy food supply is especially critical for those recovering from illness or injury. Military histories rarely document the key role young women, such as dietitian Nora Mary Attree, played during World War II. Recently, Mary Attree’s niece, Janice Attree-Smith, donated a collection of materials documenting Mary’s war-time service.
Mary was born in 1912 in Sapton, Manitoba, to a family with deeps roots in Manitoba. Her great-great grandfather, “Orkney” John Inkster, came to Red River in 1821 in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Mary’s family describes her as a friendly, unassuming woman with a great sense of humour. She was a good listener and someone they could always count on.
Mary attended the University of Manitoba and seems to have made the most of university life. An article in the Winnipeg Free Press mentions that she assisted as the home economics students entertained in the practice house at the tea hour and played interclass basketball that evening. Mary graduated with a BSc in 1931 and won the gold medal in Home Economics in 1931. She went on to post graduate training in Dietetics at Victoria General Hospital and was working in Regina at the opening of WWII.
In the fall of 1940, Mary Attree applied to enlist. In a letter to her parents she said “the experiences in a hospital of that kind, would be invaluable. As you know I do not mind hard work – and heaven knows there will be plenty of that! If I were to accept, it would merely be changing from one position to another, and actually has little or no danger attached to it. Anyway, who wants to touch an irate cook!” She was appointed an officer in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps with whom she would serve in Nova Scotia, then England, France, Belgium, and Holland before returning home to Canada to receive her discharge on August 21, 1945.
Lt. Attree served as a dietitian at No. 8 Canadian General hospital where she “supervised the cooking and distribution of food to approximately 25,000 patients, along with the unit personnel” in one ten-month period. In a letter written by Capt. A. H. Ernswell, he described how she took “care of the feeding problems of a 600 bed hospital, personnel and patients under some very trying conditions”. Today, a 600 bed hospital would be the second largest in Manitoba. During her military career Mary Attree received the oak leaf insignia for mention in dispatches and she was awarded the Royal Red Cross Class 2 (ARRC) medal. A generous and loyal friend, Mary forged strong bonds with her fellow nursing staff members – friendships she would retain throughout her life.
In 1947 Mary began 26 year career as with the RCMP as a Senior Messing Officer heading up a staff of six dietitians across the country. You could say that her career mirrored her military service as she continued to support the work of the force by keeping them well provisioned. Mary was quoted as saying that the Mounties are “healthy men, and we try to keep them that way.” Initially she would have been considered a civil servant; the civilian member category of the force was not created until 1960. In 1966 she was one of only 100 women working within the male dominated organization. Her family described her as a feminist ahead of her time.
Sources: Winnipeg Free Press, October 26, 1929, p. 48; Brandon Sun, September 22, 1966, pg. 8; Documents and biographical notes provided by Janice Attree-Smith.
Post by Karen Sereda, Collections Registration Associate (Natural History)
We humans are not the only ones who like to dress up; sometimes animals disguise themselves to look like something else, like we do at Hallowe’en. They may be trying to look like something else or it could be a warning. The ecological term for this is mimicry. There are many different types of mimicry, and differing reasons why an animal would try “look” like something else. I was reminded of this recently when I catalogued a clear wing moth that looked like a wasp. Hover flies also resemble bees or wasps to discourage other animals from eating them, as do some butterflies.
I first learned about mimicry years ago during a summer job when I was collecting information about differing types of moths. Near some flowers was a hover fly fluttering about. The research scientist I was working for told me not to worry, that it wouldn’t sting me because it actually was a moth, and it was there to drink nectar from the flower. I thought that was so cool!
Sometimes bright colours are used by animals to warn possible predators that they contain toxic or bad-tasting chemicals. It’s a bit like wearing a costume to scare you.
And other animals may adopt these bright colours pretending to be toxic, when they actually are not! The king snake lives in areas where the coral snake occurs, and looks very similar to the coral snake. It takes advantage of the coral snake’s warning colouration.
Stick insects are not dangerous to humans, but many are predators of other insects. They have evolved an appearance that looks just like a twig. They remain very still, and if an unsuspecting insect wanders too close, they grab it and eat it! There are even some other insects that look just like leaves!
Another reason animals try to blend in with their surroundings is to keep themselves safe. This is a type of mimicry usually called camouflage, and many of our Manitoba animals such as rabbits, mice, squirrels, and deer use camouflage. Our Museum galleries have lots of examples of camouflage. This picture is from one of the galleries in the Manitoba Museum. Can you can spot the bird?
Post by Cortney Pachet, Collections Registration Associate (Human History)
Our human history collection is full of special objects, highlighting significant points in Manitoba’s past –like Cuthbert Grant’s medicine chest or the replica of the Nonsuch. Yet we also make a point of collecting objects that represent everyday life in Manitoba – cans of soup, well-loved toys and farming implements. These mundane objects surprise people, since most of us consider objects we use routinely to have little historical value. Then there are objects that baffle even the seasoned museologist, begging questions like what and, most importantly, why?
Early in my days working with the human history collection, I was searching for a medical-related artifact in an area of our storage room rife with old medicine and surgical tools. I pulled an unlabeled box off a high shelf to have a look inside and was shocked to find it full of dentures –it gave me quite a start. I wish I could say it was the only time that box of dentures had scared me.
Only one pair of our dentures can be linked to a specific person; the others were donated by the Manitoba Dental Association or have no known source. So if they don’t belong to a historical figure, why collect them? Dentures have been made of various materials for centuries. Wood, human and animal teeth, ivory, bone, and porcelain have all been used to fashion false teeth throughout history. Modern dentures are made from synthetic materials like acrylic. The dentures in our collection capture techniques and materials at a specific moment in time, allowing researchers to make comparisons to older and newer generations of false teeth.
Recently, some of our staff took part in an AMA on Reddit during Ask a Curator day (#AskACurator). One of the questions asked was “what is the weirdest object in your collection?” I immediately thought of an inflatable doll, which made her way into our collection in 1984 as part of a much larger donation from the old Winnipeg Musical Supply store. The doll is in excellent condition, meaning that she has never been used. And no, she doesn’t inflate – we’ve tried. Her face is coming away from her body, creating a hole where air can escape. This object is close to my heart because when I was in university, doing my Masters in Museum Studies, I wrote a paper about collecting sexual artifacts and discussed the inclusion of the doll in the collection and staff’s reactions to her presence. It’s highly unlikely that “Dolly” will ever be exhibited and her provenance isn’t clear, but she definitely captures a period of time when novelty and gag gifts were popular.
The previous artifacts are odd, true, but everyone knows that teeth are needed for chewing and enunciating and everyone loves a good laugh, but this artifact can turn stomachs and bewilder minds better than no other.
During the Victorian era, the popularity of jewellery made of human hair saw a definite rise. Hair would be collected from a loved one and woven into intricate patterns to make bracelets, brooches, earrings and necklaces. Wearing mourning jewellery fabricated from the hair of deceased relatives was common amongst Victorian women. People also made wreaths from human hair to display on their walls, often taking hair from multiple family members to complete a single wreath.
This example was made in Ontario by Mary Jane McKague and brought to Manitoba in 1881, first to Emerson by train and then transported by ox cart to the community of Coulter south of Melita where Mary Jane and her husband John homesteaded. Mary Jane died in childbirth delivering her sixth and final child in 1895. Her wreath was carefully kept by her eldest daughter and later three of her granddaughters before they donated it to the Manitoba Museum in 1985. It is one of several examples of Victorian hair art and jewellery in our collection. Even if the thought of handling human hair is unsettling, these objects are an important part of our understanding of 19th century society, fashion and the Victorian mourning process.
What commonplace objects that we think nothing of today will give pause to museum collectors of the future? Only time will tell!
Post by Kim Cielos, Collections and Conservation Assistant – Young Canada Works Summer Student
It has been an exciting summer as the Collections and Conservation Assistant summer student at the Manitoba Museum. This is not my first job in a museum; previously I had summer positions at the Transcona Museum as a Collections and Research Assistant and at the Winnipeg Art Gallery as a Collection Inventory Assistant. This is however, the first time I have had the chance to undertake conservation-related duties. I work closely with Cindy Colford and Carolyn Sirett who are two amazing people that guided me throughout the summer teaching me about conservation work. Perhaps it’s destiny, but coincidentally, both Cindy and Carolyn have studied (and Cindy was a professor in the Collections Conservation and Management Program) at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario where I will be going this going fall. Though I will be taking the Museum Management and Curatorship Program and not the Conservation program, there are some aspects where these two programs intertwine with each other. Thus, not only did I get to experience things before learning them in my program at Fleming, but I got to do, in my opinion, some pretty neat stuff.
Every morning, my routine would be to do a gallery check, looking for any burnt out lights, conditions of the artifacts, as well as tracking relative humidity and temperature. Every week however, I would have to clean the Nonsuch, a replica 17th Century ship that sailed into Hudson Bay in search of furs for England and was significant in establishing large scale trading in western Canada. This ship is an important part of Canadian history and is an artifact itself which needs to be maintained and cared for. Instead of the traditional broom and mop, I would put on a backpack vacuum (which looks a little bit like a ghostbuster), to clean the ship.
There are perks to working in a museum – not only do you get to see artifacts up close and personal, which is really exciting for a history nerd, but sometimes there are super cool specimens that you wouldn’t normally get to see – like a moonrock that was loaned from NASA! Another aspect of museum work is that sometimes you have to travel to deliver or retrieve an artifact that is being loaned – this can mean a summer road trip! In July, Carolyn and I couriered the Red Cross quilt that was being loaned to the Moosehorn Heritage Museum which is a two hour drive north-west of Winnipeg. You can read more about the quilt that was recently acquired by the Museum in Nancy Anderson’s blog. The quilt has been on display at the Moosehorn Heritage Museum for the summer and will come back to the Manitoba Museum in the fall.
I have only touched a tip of the iceberg with what I have done this summer. I have done other conservation tasks like polishing silver medals from WWII and taking photographs of artifacts before and after their treatment, helping to clean a cast iron coat of arms from the HBC Museum Collection, as well as making new custom boxes for artifacts to go into storage. From the collections side, I helped with cataloging artifacts and entering information into the collections management database, and labelling specimens from the zoology collections with their catalouge numbers.
The people at the Manitoba Museum were wonderful and helpful in creating an educational and fun experience here. Not only did I get to see the interesting aspects of conservation and collections, but my time here helped me broaden my knowledge about the different roles and career options that are possible in the museum field. I may be going into a general museum studies program, but I feel better prepared for the conservation-related tasks that may come along after my summer at the Manitoba Museum.
Post by Carolyn Sirett, Conservator
Legacies of Confederation: A New Look at Manitoba History, tells many inspiring stories and is supported by several amazing artifacts and specimens. Most visitors to the Museum do not get to see what happens behind-the-scenes in order to prepare our artifacts and specimens for display. Research is compiled, design and layouts are created, condition reports are completed, mounts are built, and in some cases, conservation treatments are performed in order to ensure the safe display of the Museum’s collections.
A significant specimen in the Legacies exhibition is the bison head mount seen in the Discovery Room. Prior to the installation and opening of this exhibition, this taxidermy mount spent about two months undergoing conservation treatment and preparation so that it could be safely displayed.
Before treating the specimen, I conducted research on the history of taxidermy from 1911-1912, the time period when the mount was created by Winnipeg taxidermist E.W. Darbey (You can find out more about this specimen in the Curator of Zoology, Dr. Randy Mooi’s blog). This research helped me to better understand the material make-up and structure of the specimen. I then completed a condition assessment which revealed that repairs to the ears, mouth, neck, cape, and the wooden backing board would be needed before it could be exhibited.
The ears of the specimen showed the most visible damage in the form of extreme shrinkage, which resulted in a number of tears and splits in the surface.
The skin had shrunk so much that the internal structure of the taxidermy mount was exposed.
I was able to repair this damage by cutting the exposed wire framework to the surface of the skin without damaging the hide. I then used a piece of Japanese tissue paper sized to cover the split in the skin and in-painted the tissue with watercolours to match the surrounding hide. Using a conservation grade heat-set adhesive, the Japanese tissue paper was adhered in place and set with a tacking iron. The final touches to the ears included placing a few strands of bison fur from a sample to produce a consistent look to the area.
In addition to the ear repair, a large hole in the neck was infilled with plaster, years of dust and dirt was removed, and the original wooden backing board was consolidated.
Before being selected to be part of the Legacies exhibition, this specimen spent most of its time in storage lying flat. But now, visitors to the Museum can see the specimen as it was intended, wall-mounted vertically.
On the day of installation, it took four installation staff to lift this nearly 100-pound specimen into position – five feet in the air. Today, as a feature piece within this exhibition, the bison head mount demonstrates its iconic significance to Manitoba’s history.
The Museum’s Conservation Department is charged with ensuring the long-term preservation of the Museum’s collections by mitigating deterioration before it begins, and responding to damage when required.