Feather conservation

During my curatorial traineeship I attended and blogged about my experience learning different techniques on a feather conservation course. The course was taught by conservator Allyson Rae and was informative and exciting. So exciting, in fact, that I was itching to try out some of the techniques I had learnt on some of the damaged taxidermy in the Manchester Museum Zoology stores.

It’s occured to me that I never posted about the results of my efforts. I worked on three toucans that had been soiled by industrial soot (a common problem in older museum collections up North as a legacy of the city’s industrial heritage.)

The technique I used was a combination of feather reshaping, dry cleaning and wet cleaning. The tail of one of the specimens was not only quite damaged, but a sticky white substance was making the feathers clump together. I used a product called groomstick to slowly ease off the white substance, then carefully wrapped the tail in dampened tissue and left it overnight.

The same specimen was filthy around its yellow breast feathers, so I set to work using a wet technique to clean them. Using a combination of IMS and water, I gentled dabbed and brushed the feathers while protecting the skin underneath with a layer of card. Eventually the soot was drawn out. Here are the results, which I’m rather pleased with!

3 responses to “Feather conservation

  1. Hello, I am a colegue conservator at a museum in Brazil. The collection I care for is formed by mammals, birds (including one of the toucan especies you worked on above, the toucan araçari, from Latin America), reptiles, insects, an herbarium. I have just find your blog, and it has given me great hopes that I will be able to clean te very dirty diorama birds we have at the museum. Here we do not have specialized teaching on how to care for natural history collections unfortunately. That is why I would very much like to exchange a bit with you in the hope of acquiring more information on how to treat our birds, if of course you agree. I will leave you my address just in case: isacosmo@itaipu.gov.br

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Isabela! Sorry I took so long to get back to you. I have a few papers I collected during my traineeship on basic feather conservation if you want me to send them to you? You might also want to contact The Institute of Conservation, who are better placed to give advice that I. They also run courses and workshops sometimes http://www.icon.org.uk/index.php

      • Hi there! I am preparing to treat the birds on the collection. I have decided to test IMS on a couple of feathers I got from living birds on the museum gardens, and see what happens… Do you have electronic files of the materials you have? I would be very much obliged if you could send them! Will help me with the first basic steps, since I donot have any experience on this field. I will also contct the ICON as you suggest — even for getting informed about courses. Thank you so much for your reply!

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