Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins
American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY
The Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins houses one of the most extensive and lavish permanent exhibits ever to go on display at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). The AMNH initially retained Wildlife Preservations (WP) to consult on the feasibility of moving some taxidermy specimens from the old Hall of Primates to the modernized Hall of Human Origins. A Colobus monkey female and young were selected as test specimens and were the first to be restored.
After those successful initial restorations, WP undertook the artful preservation of several additional primate specimens, which showed signs of extensive degradation. Over the years, their pelts had faded under exhibit lights, and a significant amount of dust and residue had accumulated on them. George and his team stabilized broken limbs and digits and meticulously mended numerous cracks and splits. Some specimens presented a greater challenge -- facial features needed to be altered and original eyes replaced with more anatomically accurate ones.
When these primates were initially mounted, the animals were portrayed as snarling or vicious. The inaccurate poses and over exaggerated facial expressions of these examples of "Victorian" taxidermy are often very difficult to alter. Most of the original beeswax, which had been utilized to build up the shrunken tissue of the faces, was removed, allowing the skin to then be relaxed and repositioned into a more realistic likeness. In most cases, the entire face was then reconstructed to depict a more scientifically accurate representation of the species.