I could have just sent the moose back and said it was as good as it was going to get. As luck would have it, I had been searching around the leather crafters in Auckland to see what species of ungulate (hoofed mammal) hide I could locate and found a very helpful leather crafter in South Auckland who said he had some deer hide offcuts that I could have if I wanted them.
This presented some opportunities, and also some decisions. I could use the deer fur to fill the gaps in the moose’s face but, as conservators, we try only to preserve what is still there and make it last as long as possible, not re-interpret history for viewers. For example, if you take an antique car and replace the worn out engine, the rusted out body parts, the cracked leather seat and repaint the peeling old paint, at what point does it stop being an antique car, and start being an artist’s interpretation of an old car? Using the deer hide would make it “restoration”, where we try to make something old look like it did when it was new.
However, there are cases where, as conservators, we are allowed to add fill material and cover over gaps, especially if it helps support and stabilise the original artefact. The fills I was thinking of fell in the grey area in between conservation and restoration, but they would improve the display of the moose immensely.
Getting to work
First, I outlined the size and shape of the holes in the moose’s face on a sheet of plastic. Taking care to note the grain direction, length, and colour of the fur, I used this outline to cut fills of deer hide. I shaved down the thickness of the leather to make it easier to fit the piece to shape and hide the edges. Using ethanol-soluble fabric dyes, I tinted the fur to match the various shades on the moose’s face more closely. The deer fur was more speckled in appearance than the moose fur, but at museum light levels, and from the distance in the display cases, this would be difficult to see.
Then, with much regret, I had to destroy the beautiful work of the previous conservator. She had tacked the fur down over the edges of the losses in the skin to make them less visible, but I had to lift the edges up in order to slide the deer hide patches underneath to help disguise the join. I finished up by adhering the patches in place.
I left the holes in the upper areas of the moose face unfilled, partly because those holes were smaller, but mainly because those areas would be less visible from the angle of viewing.
So when Te Whiwhinga, Imaginarium, opens in February, hunt out the moose in Curious Collections display cases and take a very close look. See if you can tell which parts of the moose are actually deer!