Under Construction, August 2011
Alaska Native and non-Native cultures have made extensive use of mammal fur for all manner of clothing, gear, and artwork. And one can hardly enter a museum, airport, or mall anywhere in Alaska without encountering stuffed mounts of iconic Alaskan animals. The website for the Alaska Fur ID Project includes information about the mammals most often used on artifacts in Alaskan collections.
2. POSSIBLE CAUSES
The most common white stuff we have seen on Alaskan taxidermy is arsenic. Arsenic is one of the more common pesticides found as residue on many types of objects. According to the National Park Service, arsenic compounds were frequently applied during the 18th – 20th centuries in the form of soap mixtures and sprays to preserve biological specimens and ethnographic objects (Conserve O Gram 2/3 2000,1). To identify arsenic, the National Park Service recommends to
“Look for powdery or crystalline deposits at the base of feathers and hairs, around eyes, in or at the base of ears, around mouth or bill, along ventral incision, at base of tail, and on foot pads. On ethnographic objects, inspect crevices and seams where arsenic may have collected. Even if deposits are not evident, all natural history specimens collected and prepared before the 1980s should be tested for the presence of arsenic.” (Conserve O Gram 2/3 2000, 2)
On fur, the most common white materials are associated with insects. Frass, webbing, cocoons, bug parts, shed larval skins and the like are often found in association with hair loss and even holes chewed through the hide. Occasionally there will be small widely spaced hard blobs adhered to the shaft of the hair down toward the skin, and I have been led to believe that those accretions are more likely from bugs that were bothering the furry creature while it was alive. You may also see adhesives associated with tear repair from the skin side, such as BEVA 371 film and Reemay (a spun bonded synthetic fabric that is thin and web-like).
_____(2010) “Appendix: Common Museum Pesticides” Pesticide Mitigation in Museum Collections: Science in Conservation: Proceedings from the MCI Workshop Series . Smithsonian Contributions to Museum Conservation. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press Editor: Charola, A. Elena;Koestoer, Robert J. pp. 71-72
National Park Service’s Conserve O Gram on arsenic: http://www.cr.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/02-03.pdf
4. EXAMPLES IN ALASKA