The Panorama was full of families today creating their own diorama. And what better place to do it than the biggest diorama any of them had ever seen? Everyone created a scene in their museum boxes — favorite scenes from books, nature, their family.
Nancy Bixler concentrated on cleaning the impressive 6-foot moose today. She’s from Maine, so while she has seen these animals in the wild, it’s certainly a unique experience to walk carefully under and around one to clean the mount.
While carefully documenting the condition of the moose in the Panorama, the team discovered something strange in a moose’s ear: a tail. A tail of a moose, stuffed into its ear! Ron Harvey surmised that the moose lost its tail, and an employee decades ago thought it might get lost. So they stuffed it into the ear, and then years passed.
Other not so strange finds have included two dead bats. Once every few years, a bat sometimes crawls into the exhibit from the attic of Dyche Hall. These bats, which have probably always lived in the museum’s attic, are small brown bats about the size of an adult’s hand. At some point years ago, these two became stuck in the exhibit, and no one knew.
Conservation assessment team member Tara Hornung hails from Colorado, so rocky surfaces and mountains are familiar terrain. Today we could see her scaling the surface of the Panorama’s “mountain,” the plaster, wood and wire form on which several mountain goats, bears and birds are displayed.
“It’s not like rock climbing,” she said. Instead of granite, she moved across plaster edges that threatened to crumble if she went too close to the edge. What might look solid to museum visitors peering in is often a loosely supported structure underneath.
But while working on the mountain goats, she had a good view of the Panorama from up high. Visitors waved from the Panorama overlook on the 6th floor. “It looked like I was king of the mountain for a while today.” If the king of the mountain wore a protective suit and held a vacuum cleaner, anyway.
One of the challenges has been to figure out how to plug in the special vacuum units that the conservation team is using. Unlike a home, these can’t be plugged in and then drag a cord across the floor. A cord could damage the plants, or even snag an animal mount.
To solve this puzzle, exhibits director Bruce Scherting went up into the attic above the Panorama. Using outlets near the Panorama’s upper lights, he plugged in extension cords and fed them thirty feet to the floor. But that led to another issue: the cords might chip the paint at the top of the exhibit if staff pulled them along the surface. Pieces of hose, cut into two-foot lengths and eased over the cords turned out to be the perfect solution. The hoses hooked on the lip of the exhibit and dangled the cords to the floor, where sandbags held them in place.
One of the most challenging aspects of working inside the museum’s Panorama exhibit is its fragility. In fact, Ron Harvey has described it as “working inside a painting.” But instead of straddling the brushstrokes of Van Gogh, the assessment team is carefully maneuvering across plaster “rocks,” along narrow foot paths, and between animal mounts.
Nancy Bixler described the work as physically demanding and requiring a three-dimensional consciousness.
“It looks easy from the outside, but it is a huge challenge,” she said. “You can’t lean on anything and you must keep your balance as you move around the animals and plants.”
The team wears Tyvek suits, booties, and respirators over their street clothes to protect against particles in the air that may include arsenic or lead. With every step, they must assess where their feet will fall, and make sure that they don’t step on the dried grasses — one misstep and the grasses turn to dust.
The contorted positions would make anyone sore at the end of the day. Perhaps we should consider yoga sessions in the Panorama to stretch out at the end of the day?
Today we welcomed the first members of the our conservation assessment team to the museum. There have been meetings about safety, protocols and troubleshooting. The team will be led by Ronald Harvey, owner of Tuckerbrook Conservation of Lincolnville, Maine. He and his associates, together with KU museum studies students and volunteers, will survey the state of each of the Panorama’s animal mounts, plants and backgrounds. They will lightly clean the animals, which have endured years of exposure to fluctuating temperature, humidity and light. The onsite assessment is scheduled to be completed Friday, April 4, and will result in a report about the exhibit’s condition by July.