»Is that actually real?« is probably the most frequently asked question we hear as staff at the Natural History Museum. Surely things are no different in other natural history museums. All objects in the collection are a piece of nature and tell their own story, often over many decades or even centuries.
In order to be able to adequately develop and preserve the collections, it is not only the appropriately trained scientific staff that is needed, but also craft specialists who deal directly with the biological material and ensure that the collected specimens are preserved for eternity - taxidermists. They ensure that animals are preserved so that they can be added to the appropriate collections - indispensable for making, caring for and, if necessary, restoring specimens.
In the more than 260-year history of the Natural History Museum in Rudolstadt, a large number of taxidermists worked on the design of the exhibits. Some curators prepared for the collections themselves, especially when it came to the conservation of insects. Often, however, external preparators were commissioned to set up purchased skins or the preparations were purchased already set up. It is remarkable that a large number of dermoplastics by Philipp Leopold Martin also found their way into the Rudolstadt collection.
In addition, the curators purchased teaching material, especially from Schlüter in Halle (Saale). Due to the increasing popularity of scientific research and thus of biological education, the popularity of the specimens also grew steadily. It was not until 1969 that the Natural History Museum at Heidecksburg Palace had one, and later at times even two, full-time zoological taxidermists.
Today, the work of our taxidermist in the museum workshops produces many new specimens. However, the animals that end up in our museum are often part of a sad statistic, as they all too often lost their lives as accident victims on roads, rails and power lines. The museum's function as a repository for dead animals in the Saalfeld-Rudolstadt district constantly brings new additions to the collection, which, after scientific data collection, either enrich the skin collection or are prepared as dermoplastics for the permanent and special exhibitions. The museum's collection thus provides historical but also current data on the fauna of the surrounding region. But exotic species can also be found in the collection. What was considered a rarity in the time of Friedrich Karl of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt (and was therefore particularly sought after!) now finds its way into the collections and exhibitions via animal parks, zoos or breeders.
A somewhat more specialised insight into the preparation of a large dermoplastic can be found here - a project in which our taxidermist was able to support the work at the Natural History Museum in Leipzig.
The zoological collection of the Natural History Museum comprises several thousand prepared objects collected since the 18th century. One of our most important tasks is the care and preservation with regard to the historicity of these specimens. Working methods and materials must therefore be chosen in such a way that their original condition is not altered or that the work is reversible. Centuries of the collection's history have left their traces and damage on some specimens. Each exhibit requires its own damage analysis and a resulting restoration concept.
The most frequent damage is caused mechanically and by external, natural influences. Many materials and preparation methods used over time were not effective for long-term conservation. Incorrect handling and storage is another damage factor. Typical are feather tangles, severed body parts or heavy soiling. In addition, there is damage caused by insect infestation, cracking due to climatic fluctuations, fading due to exposure to light and brittleness.