Picking up the pieces: Stabilization and repair of a mask from Papua New Guinea

Megan Salas


This paper presents a treatment carried out at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science as part of the author’s third-year graduate internship. The object is a mask carved from wood and decorated with applied clay-like material, shells, paint, feathers, and plant fiber. The mask is a key component of DMNS’s South Pacific diorama, which includes items from DMNS’s Anthropology collection, as well as natural specimens. The mask came into the conservation lab after a large portion of the applied clay-like material (in which shells and feathers are embedded) fell off the mask and broke into several pieces while on display. In addition to the eleven fragile fragments of clay-like material that were detached from the mask, there were other condition issues like detached feathers and shells, as well as flaking paint and mold. The largest detached fragment preserved the forehead and had a long, highly mobile crack running down its center. The first step of treatment was to figure out how to safely move this fragment from its location in a storage cabinet to the workbench and then how to support it during treatment. After testing, adhesive applied to a flexible carrier material was used to stabilize the fragment so it could be transferred to a custom-made mount and then transported to the workbench. Treatment proceeded with stabilization of the detached and partially detached elements. This involved careful study of previous photo documentation, as well as the impressions in the clay left by feathers and shells to determine which pieces went where. After all pieces were reintegrated, outstanding losses were filled. Before going back on display, adjustments were made to the display mount to reduce the risk of future detachments of applied materials.

2021 | Virtual | Volume 28