It was necessary to completely dismantle the diorama to remove it from a display location with an incredibly low ceiling and doorway scarcely higher than the cabinet was wide. The cabinet was comprised of an internal box within what appeared to be a Regency wardrobe veneered in beautiful Brazilian mahogany. The wardrobe was removed from around the internal box and the loose mouldings and veneers (largely detached due to prolonged display in damp conditions) are currently stored in a flat pack form. The internal cabinet is also drying out in storage as can be seen below.
The damp which had permeated every element of the diorama was a concern and the paper backdrop in particular was damp to the touch with what appeared to be a layer of white mould across most surfaces. Luckily, the glue adhering the paper backdrop was failing allowing the paper to be removed very easily. Each sheet was around A2 in size and these were numbered in sequence with a view to reinstating the backdrop in the future. A series of really charming pencil drawings were revealed once the paper had been removed but these really deserve a post of their own so stay tuned!
Although the taxidermy specimens themselves did not appear to be showing signs of pest infestation, organic materials are always at risk of pest deterioration, especially since the diorama was displayed in a dark environment with high relative humidity. The taxidermy specimens were individually wrapped first in tissue paper and then several layers of cling film before being frozen for five days to kill off any moths or beasties that may have been lurking.
Once the imminent danger of pest attack had been eliminated, the next step in safeguarding the specimens was to reduce their relative humidity (RH). The high RH had already taken its toll with all specimens having suffered extensive wire corrosion and in many cases, corrosion products had burst through the skin of the legs and feet. It is also likely that the many detached and loose limbs are the result of degraded wire armatures.
In order to lower the humidity of the taxidermy specimens, the cling film was removed and the specimens were placed into a series of sealed plastic storage boxes along with a thermometer/RH meter and boxes of dehumidification crystals (Calcium Chloride Dihydrate). Initially, Art-Sorb engineered silica beads were used as they are a precise and reusable option; a firm favourite with conservators. In this case however, they were not proving particularly effective probably due to the high levels of RH presented coupled with poor re-calibration after a previous usage (in the rainy west of Ireland re-calibrating dehumidification materials is problematic!) For this reason, single use AirWise interior dehumidifier cartridges were used and proved to be a cheap and really successful alternative.
Over a period of three months, the RH within the sealed boxes was monitored and reduced from a sodden 92% to around 50%. At relative humidity levels above 65% organic materials are at risk from mould growth and below 40% feathers in particular can become dehydrated and brittle (Rae 2016). The graph below demonstrates the RH reduction in specimen box 1.
Currently, the taxidermy specimens are stored on Tyvek® bean bags in sealed plastic boxes with thermometers/RH meters installed to continue to monitor the environmental storage conditions.
Not all of the specimens are pictured. Three of the particularly fragile individuals are awaiting their own boxes, including the pine marten. The golden eagle was too large to fit into standard storage boxes and is firmly attached to its wooden stand, which has been clamped to a solid surface enabling the eagle to remain upright. The feathers of this specimen also seem especially fragile and so it is at present underneath a polythene tent so as not to further disturb the feathers.
Rae, A. 2016. The conservation of feathers introductory workshop course notes, revised 10 May 2016.