Documenting the documenters: The conservation survey of the Akeley Hall of African Mammals

Judith Levinson and Sari Uricheck

Abstract

In 2002-3 the American Museum of Natural History undertook a conservation survey project to ascertain the condition of the 28 large dioramas and a group of eight mounted elephants in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals. The hall is the physical and iconic centerpiece of the American Museum. It is characterized by innovations in the production of museum exhibits, taxidermy and education that were largely made by Carl Akeley, after whom the hall is named. Results of the survey indicated that all specimens, wall paintings and foreground materials were very desiccated, largely the result of uncontrolled environmental conditions, especially high heat and UV illumination from the lighting. Other condition issues of the diorama specimens were caused by prior restoration. The mounted elephants were found to be in the worst condition due to being exhibited in the open. Recommendations for future renovation of the hall included environmental modification: replacing old light fixtures with more modern lighting technology and adding humidification to the HVAC system, in addition to treatment of the elephants.

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