This is a report from conservation intern, Laura Siegfried:
Visitors to the Draper Natural History Museum may remember the sculpture, at the bottom of the spiral ramp, of a taxidermy mountain lion and a carved wooden elk head. The artists of this piece are Ray Hatfield, Dwayne Johnson, and Duane Mittlieder of Nature’s Design Taxidermy.
This sculpture has been missing a piece, a Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly that perches on the elk’s head. Preserved butterflies are notoriously fragile, so when the butterfly was knocked off the sculpture, the wings came off, and one of the four wings was lost. The sculpture has been displayed incomplete ever since.
The body of the butterfly still had one wing attached, and we had two other wings remaining. Missing was the right hind wing. Using images of Swallowtail butterflies, I figured out the best position for the wings to be placed.
The butterfly body had to be carefully held in place while the wings were put back on. I started with the right front wing, trying to make it symmetrical with the left front wing. There is a very small area where the wings attach to the body, so there was not be a lot of space to place adhesive. We needed an adhesive that would attach to a fuzzy butterfly body and be very strong due to the small surface area, so I used an ethyl cyanoacrylate adhesive.
I carefully brushed adhesive onto the connection area of the wing and held it in place with tweezers while the adhesive dried. Next, I repeated this procedure with the left hind wing, placing it in a position that seemed to match pictures of Swallowtail butterflies. At first, the adhesive did not hold, so I repeated the procedure with a little more adhesive.
Next, I cleaned the main part of the sculpture. Mostly this involved dusting the piece with a soft bristle brush, getting the dust off it. The glass eyes of the mountain lion and the elk were also cleaned. There was an opaque film on the eyes of the mountain lion. This was cleaned by using a little ethanol on a cotton swab repeatedly rubbed over the glass eye until the film did not re-form after the ethanol dried.
butterfly was then reattached to the sculpture. There is a pin that goes through the body of the butterfly that had to be threaded into a hole in the elk head on the nose. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about the missing wing, but the rest of the butterfly is back where it’s supposed to be, as part of a wonderful sculpture at the Draper Natural History Museum.