Friday, February 10, 2023

The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History welcomed a team of experts to campus for museum conservation work including conservation of the zebra in Mammal Hall, a Collections Assessment for Preservation (CAP Assessment), and the start of scientific testing and assessment for the conservation needs of both the mural and the foreground in the Laysan Island Cyclorama.

Museum staffers were joined in various efforts by objects conservators Lisa Goldberg and Ron Harvey, architect Jeff Hirsch, and art conservator/educator Nina Roth-Wells. Their visits were supported by funding from the Foundation for the Advancement in Conservation (FAIC), donor support for the Laysan Island Cyclorama Fund, and portions of travel expenses were shared by the Stanley Museum of Art, who also utilized the conservation expertise of Ron and Nina while they were on campus.

First, Lisa and Ron arrived to carry on work on the zebra in Mammal Hall. Lisa originally began this work in 2021, stabilizing the specimen and repairing seams and other damage. A combination of humidity treatment, pinning, adhesive, and soft wrapping guided their efforts. The zebra was originally mounted by famous American naturalist and taxidermist Carl Akeley, and came to the University of Iowa from the Field Museum in 1931, originally collected in 1896. Akeley is known as the father of modern taxidermy, credited with bringing artistic sculpture to the craft. 

Lisa and Ron work together on the conservation of zebra in Mammal Hall at the UI Museum of Natural History.
Ron works on pinning hide of zebra in Mammal Hall at UI Museum of Natural History.

Next, Jeff arrived and began the working with Lisa in preparing the CAP assessment. In this study of our collections, building, and building systems, the CAP is useful in identifying priorities for collections, developing long-range preservation plans, and serving as a fundraising tool for future collections projects. To gather information for their report, Jeff and Lisa needed access to all the galleries, offices, collections spaces, and other nooks and crannies in the building, including the attic and the subbasement. Their investigatory work was further supported by interviews with staff and Facilities Management. Their preliminary findings were shared with Provost Kregal. The final report will be prepared in the 6-8 weeks following the conservators' visit.

Lisa Goldberg interviews staff on collections access areas to gather information for CAP assessment
Jeff Hirsch interviews staff and FM to gather information for CAP assessment
Assessors meet with FB in subbasement of Macbride Hall to better understand infrastructure for assessment report.
Preliminary findings from conservators are shared with Provost Kregal in Mammal Hall of Museum of Natural History

 While the CAP assessment work proceeded, Ron shifted focus to the Laysan Island Cyclorama along with Nina. Nina was commissioned to assess the state of the mural, while Ron would assess the foreground. The pair ran tests on on relative humidity, dew point, UV, footcandle, temperature, residue, chemicals, deterioration and more. Their work will be included in the general CAP findings, but also marks the start of conservation work which the museum and the UI Center for Advancement have been fundraising for since May of 2022. Presently, just over a quarter of the way to the ultimate goal, the dedication of donors to the Laysan Island Cyclorama Fund has been remarkable in allowing the conservators to be on campus at the same time as the CAP assessors.

Nina Roth-Wells converses with museum director Liz Crooks in preparation for assessment of cyclorama mural
Conservators examine mural and foreground in Laysan Island Cyclorama for conservation assessment
Nina examines east wall of cyclorama mural
Nina examines east wall of cyclorama mural
Ron uses instrument to read levels of humidity and light inside the cyclorama
Nina Roth-Wells samples mural in Laysan Island Cyclorama


Ron swabs adolescent albatross to sample for chemicals and deterioration.

To learn more about the conservation of the Laysan Island Cyclorama, visit