LAWRENCE — Beginning Monday, March 10, visitors to the KU Natural History Museum will see a research team conducting a major evaluation of the historic Panorama of North American plants and animals.
As part of a monthlong assessment of the Panorama’s condition, Tuckerbrook Conservation LLC of Lincolnville, Maine, will survey the state of each of the Panorama’s animal mounts, plants and backgrounds, as well as 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.
The Tuckerbrook team includes Ronald Harvey, who brings more than 30 years of experience to the Panorama’s conservation, including work with dioramas at the Milwaukee Public Museum and the state capitol building in Augusta, Maine. He will be joined by Joan Gorman, senior painting conservator at the Midwest Art Conservation Center of Minneapolis, Minn. She will review the background paintings and any other painted surfaces within the Panorama. Alfred H. Hodson III, a historic structural engineer, will examine the physical structure of the exhibit. KU students will assist the team.
The museum is featuring two special events for the public to learn more about the Panorama during the ongoing conservation assessment. At 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, the museum will welcome children and families to explore the nature of museum dioramas by creating their own take-home dioramas using a wide variety of materials. The event, scheduled during spring break for the university and area schools, is free.
At 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 26, the museum will host a free public lecture at the Commons, “Behind the Glass,” which will include presentations by Ronald Harvey and Bill Sharp, co-author of “The Dashing Kansan,” a biography about the Panorama’s creator, Lewis Lindsay Dyche. Dave Kendall, executive producer at KTWU/Channel 11, will introduce the program. The lectures will be preceded by a dinner in the Panorama Gallery; a limited number of tickets for the dinner are available for $30 each by contacting the museum at (785) 864-4450.
The Panorama, one of Kansas’ American cultural treasures, was originally part of the Kansas pavilion at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where it was immensely popular, being visited by as many as 20,000 people per day.
During a previous, three-day visit to the Panorama in December, testing of the animal mounts by Tuckerbrook revealed arsenic, lead and mercury, toxins commonly used in taxidermy in the past. The conservation team will be dressed in appropriate protective gear during the month-long conservation assessment.
Fund-raising for the conservation assessment began in 2012, when KU alumna Janet Martin McKinney and her husband, Kent, of Kerrville, Texas, contributed a generous challenge grant of $50,000, which was matched through the generosity of the museum’s many friends and contributors. The total raised to date for the conservation effort is $110,000.
The assessment report from Tuckerbrook will be used to develop a comprehensive conservation and reconditioning blueprint for the Panorama. The museum plans to invite the public to contribute its ideas for the Panorama through a series of community conversations to be held in the fall of 2014.