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Mounted Elk Head

photo of the elk head, during treatment
During Treatment

photo of the elk head, after treatment
After Treatment

This elk was shot by Henry Sibley, the first Governor of Minnesota, who subsequently mounted it and gave it to his political acquaintance, Alexander Ramsey, the second Governor of Minnesota. Taxidermied animal mounts such as these frequently shrink with age because the animal skin cannot be fully tanned with the fur still in place. As the elk skin shrank, it tightened around the form underneath it, and eventually split open due to extreme tension, tearing a seam sewn into the lips, and causing a crack to open through the nose.

This treatment was especially difficult because the elk head was contaminated with powdered arsenic, which for many years was used by taxidermists to prevent animal mounts from being eaten by insects. As a result, careful precautions had to be taken when this was being conserved, and the conservator always wore personal protective equipment, such as eye protection, a respirator, and protective clothing. The elk was originally supported from the inside by a wooden form, with plaster supports in the nose, and everywhere else stuffed with newspapers dating to 1873. The plaster and some of the newspapers were removed and replaced with form-fitting polyethylene foam. The hide was humidified to soften it, and then cotton twill tape was wrapped around the nose to bring the tears together. The cracks were re-adhered together from the back with paper and wheat starch paste, and allowed to dry. Seams were brought together with new stitching, using black polyester/cotton thread. After preening the rumpled hair, the elk head was re-hung on the wall in its original location.