Natural History, Red Rot, and Modern Materials

Our adventure in Organic Materials continued with a compelling (and sometimes strange-smelling) behind-the-scenes tour of the Delaware Museum of Natural History, our neighbor across the street!  Dr. Jean Woods and Dr. Liz Shea introduced us to the museum’s marvelous and large collection, which includes mollusks, birds, eggshells, and taxidermy animals of all kinds.  While at the museum, we had the privilege of listening to two guest speakers, Lisa Kronthal Elkin and Beth Nunan of the American Museum of Natural History, discuss their experiences working with natural history collections.

In our final classes for the block, we learned all about objects made from leather and skin (and some other less appealing animal parts such as tendons, ligaments, and gut).  This included identification of different types of leather, an introduction to the terrifying Red Rot (a type of deterioration exhibited by vegetable tanned leather), and a lab in which we tested different leather consolidation techniques.  Our class also had the opportunity to observe and assess the display of organic materials within the Winterthur Museum, and we listened to several WUDPAC second year objects majors discuss objects made from organic materials which they were working with.

We then moved on to Modern Materials.  As shown in the image below, we learned how to identify different plastics through testing, led by Bruno Pouliot and Richard Wolbers.  The block concluded with two wonderful talks from ladies on the front-lines of modern materials conservation. Mary Coughlin of George Washington University and Gwynne Ryan of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden taught us all about the challenges posed by caring for modern materials.  Now we’re on to Library and Archives, which includes bookbinding and two awesome field trips, followed by the end of the semester!

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