: Conservation

Paddy the Pangolin: Conservation of a Taxidermy Museum Specimen

Madalyne Epperson, 3 August 2023

Written by Madalyne Epperson, MA Conservation Practice student, Durham University – on placement at National Museum Cardiff.

Natural history collections are often central to our understanding of evolution, population genetics, biodiversity, and the environmental impacts of pesticide use and climate change, among other things. For this reason, caring for these collections is of great importance. A taxidermy tree pangolin – named Paddy by the conservation team - was brought to Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales in 2017 in need of attention. Paddy was collected on August 4th, 1957, by researchers during Cambridge University’s French West Africa Expedition. According to the expedition diary, Amgueddfa Cymru had asked the researchers to retrieve a pangolin to make a museum specimen, as was common practice at that time. The mounted pangolin was feared lost after the expedition’s drying tent went up in flames on August 25th, 1957. Paddy was terribly singed by the fire, which greatly disheartened the expedition team. It is perhaps for this reason that Paddy never made it to the museum when the expedition concluded. It was not until 2016/2017 that Paddy was found in Staffordshire in the home of one of the expeditions members and sent over to the museum.

Condition Prior to Conservation

Analysis was conducted to learn more about Paddy’s preparation, and his condition was assessed before interventive conservation treatments were undertaken. X-radiography revealed an iron wire extending the length of the specimen, while scanning electron microscopy with elemental analysis (SEM-EDX) confirmed no arsenic, mercury, or other pesticides are present. After being left on top of a wardrobe for 60 years, Paddy was covered in dust, cobwebs, and other contaminants. He was also coated in smoke residues from the fire that melted the keratin scales on his face, torso, and tail. Larvae casings found on and within the specimen suggest there was a carpet beetle (AKA wooly bear) infestation as one point, although no signs of an active pest problem were found. Arguably the most imperative concern was the split in Paddy’s chest, which was liable to grow if not addressed properly. 

Conservation Treatment

A conservation vacuum and soft bristle brush were used to remove loose debris, including fuzz, insect casings, and dust, from Paddy’s surface. Cosmetic sponges were proposed and tested as a means of removing engrained dirt from the specimen’s scales, but they were not as effective as expected due to the coarse nature of the scales. A dilute solution of Synperonic N non-ionic detergent in 50:50 water and ethanol on dampened cotton swabs proved very successful at removing the stubborn contaminants. Once Paddy was cleaned, ethanol on cotton swabs was utilized to clear any remaining surfactant residues.

After Paddy was clean, attention turned to the split in Paddy’s chest. Bridges were made from Japanese Tissue paper and secured using Evacon R, a neutral pH, non-plasticized ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) copolymer emulsion. Tweezers and dental tools were used to manipulate the adhesive-soaked strips of Japanese Tissue paper into the split until the entire gap was sufficiently filled. Once the adhesive was dried, Winsor and Newton acrylic paints were used to tint the Japanese Tissue. The so-called “six-foot, six-inch” rule was followed during the color-matching process. This will allow the gap to be identified upon close inspection but ensures it does not detract from the specimen while on display.

The decision was made to remove the section of iron wire protruding from Paddy’s nose. Although the wire is part of the preparation history of the specimen, there was concern that the wire may snag and cause damage in the future. A small hack saw and wire cutters were utilized to quickly remove the wire. Care was taken to cut off as much of the wire as possible without affecting the organic material surrounding it. The cut wire was very bright and shiny, so the end was obscured using Winsor and Newton acrylic paints.

Paddy is now ready to meet his adoring public! Pangolins, generally, are considered the most trafficked animal in the world. Their defence mechanism (i.e., curling into a ball) makes them easy for poachers to collect and transport. They are primarily harvested for their scales, which are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine. Now that Paddy is presentable once again, he can be used to help educate and raise awareness for these wonderfully odd and endangered creatures. 


Pan Golin. 2018. GabonExpeditionPart1. [online video] Available on Youtube  

(Accessed 30 May 2023)

You can find out more about the vertebrates collections at the museum here. If you'd like to find out more about the stories behind some of the Natural Sciences collections and the work we do, why not check out our articles pages.

Installing The Lost Words - Partnership in Action

Lisa Childs, 28 July 2023

In June of this year Ulrike Smalley, Aled Williams and I travelled to Trawsfynydd, Gwynedd, to assist in the installation of Geiriau Diflanedig -The Lost Words at Yr Ysgwrn. This shared exhibition is the result of a partnership between Amgueddfa Cymru, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Awdurdod Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri. 


Celebrating the relationship between language and the natural world, and the spark of imagination that can spring from it, this display of works on paper together with a small number of items could not be better suited to its location. Yr Ysgwrn’s cultural centre, housing a gallery, café and learning space sits in the stunning landscape of Eryri. A converted stable, it is part of the farmstead that was the home of Ellis Humphrey Evans, better known by his bardic name, Hedd Wyn. 

Raised a farmer, Ellis was encouraged in his poetry writing by his parents.  He won his first bardic chair aged 20 and would win a further four before his death nine years later on the Western Front. He died never knowing that he had achieved his ambition of winning the chair at the National Eisteddfod. The beautifully carved oak chair was transported by train and then horse and cart to his childhood home, where it has remained on public display ever since. Hedd Wyn remains a symbol of that lost generation of men who went to war and never returned. His former home, however, has remained a place of discovery, education and sometimes pilgrimage for those wanting to know more about his life and of the things he held so dear.

Hedd Wyn was often inspired by the beauty of his natural surroundings. The images created by artist Jackie Morris in Geiriau Diflanedig -The Lost Words draw on much of that same beauty, celebrating its presence and lamenting its potential loss. Her watercolour and goldleaf paintings focus on objects and creatures from nature including the magpie, conker, otter and wren, and are truly beautiful. The artworks are accompanied by poems written by Robert MacFarlane and translated into Welsh by Mererid Hopwood. 

Before our team could begin installing Geiriau Diflanedig -The Lost Words, the original stone walls of the gallery were faced with painted MDF board to hang the 25 works. Aled and Ulli discussed and organized the layout while I condition checked the items. With some assistance from Naomi and Kevin at Yr Ysgwrn, the works and the accompanying poetry panels were positioned and hung, sealed open-top school desks laid out with objects from the natural world, overhead lights adjusted, mirror plates covered and painted, vinyls adhered, floors swept, glass polished, and giant wicker dragonflies suspended from the ceiling.

We repeated the process at Oriel Y Parc gallery and visitor centre in St Davids in Pembrokeshire, where the other half of the exhibition is installed with the addition of specimens from Amgueddfa Cymru’s natural history collections.

If you are heading to North or West Wales over the next 9 months, please take the time to visit these sites. You will not be disappointed.

The conservation of Édouard Manet's portrait of Jules Dejouy

Adam Webster, Chief Conservator Art, Natural Sciences & Preventive Conservation and Rhodri Viney, Digital Producer, 17 January 2023

After decades in a private collection, and under layers of dirt and yellow varnish, this tender portrait entered the Amgueddfa Cymru collection in lieu of tax in 2020. We were fortunate to receive funding from TEFAF, The Finnis Scott Foundation and the Friends of Amgueddfa Cymru to conserve the painting and frame.

The painting was cleaned and conserved in our own paintings conservation studio and the frame in a private studio. The process was transformative, the true colours, subtlety of brushwork and tonal values being gradually revealed as the surface coatings were removed. We also repaired and strengthened the weak edges and removed the unsightly bulges from the canvas.

We carried out all the professional documentation necessary for such treatment, but also made a time lapse video of the treatment and recorded interviews with the conservator and curator at key stages in the process. These will be displayed at Amgueddfa Cymru alongside the painting from the beginning of 2023 and will feature in our online content. We hope this will demystify the process for our visitors and even provide a bit of mindfulness along the way!


Adam Webster and Rhodri Viney making a film about the restoration of Manet's portrait of Jules Dejouy.

The restoration process took several months, and we wanted to document as much of it as possible. The first piece of filming relating to the portrait took place in June 2021, so this was a long production by our standards.

The process started in earnest in June 2022. We set up a timelapse camera to capture the transformation that recorded over several months, and I visited the conservation studio regularly to interview Adam on the latest progress. It was a pleasure and privilege to see the portrait change with every visit. I also made a significant dent in their teabag supply - the conservation team are very hospitable!

We filmed nearly 3 and a half hours of footage in the studio, and you can see the edited results in the film above. I hope it does justice to the amazing conservation work done by Adam.


The Llangorse Textile: Mounting a Delicate Fabric

Eleanor Durrant - Conservation Work Placement, 14 January 2022

In September 2021 I was given the chance to work with the Llangorse Textile as part of my master’s degree placement at the museum. The Textile, is dated to the 10th century, made from linen and silk, and is embroidered with fine motifs; however it was discovered charred and waterlogged after the crannog in which it was found had been destroyed by fire. It is very delicate and vulnerable to harm owing to the fire damage. For more information on the Llangorse Textile, please see the list at the end of the article.

The project I was set was to create new mounts for the undecorated pieces of the textile that aren’t on display, so they can be stored safely. They had been previously stored on boards with specially cut out depressions and covered with mesh and film to protect them. In the years since, the fragments had shifted slightly and so I was charged with making new mounts to keep the fragments safe.

Empty mount with stitched in label (Photo: E. Durrant)

The new mounting method had already been devised by the conservators at the museum (and used to display the decorated pieces of the Textile in the Gweithdy Gallery at St Fagans) by the time I arrived. Following this method, I cut out pieces of board to fit the shape of each textile fragment so they could be slotted together like a jigsaw puzzle. This was an important part of the process because this method of mounting allows the pieces to be moved around and reinterpreted.

The board was covered in specially dyed jersey fabric which has a slight knap that holds the textile fragments to the surface without the need for sewing to secure it, as this would damage its fragile structure. This was then trimmed, and a calico backing sewn down to neaten it.

A completed box of newly mounted Textile pieces (Photo: E. Durrant)

After the mounts were made, then came the daunting part – transferring over the pieces of textile from their old mount to their new ones! I consulted the original conservation notes to ensure loose pieces were located in the correct position; a tricky exercise as the Textile is an almost uniform black colour owing to the charring. Instead, the direction of the warp and weft of the small pieces, as well as their shapes were used to position them correctly. This was the part of the process that took the longest and required the most scrutiny!

Empty mount with stitched in label (Photo: E. Durrant)

All museum objects have assigned numbers, so that they are easily identifiable and therefore the next task was to create labels for the Textile. Because the pieces are so fragile, I created small tags and sewed them to the calico backing of the mounts so they can easily be tucked away when being stored or displayed but can also be accessible in the event they need to be consulted. This means that the tags won’t drag across the surface of the Textile. For added security in case the tags got lost, I also wrote the numbers on the calico backing.

Finally, it was time to think storage. As the problem with the old storage method was slippage, that was the main factor that needed to be addressed. The nap of the jersey halted movement to a degree, but it wasn’t enough. Therefore, I packed an archival box with foam and pinned around the freshly mounted textile pieces; the heads of the pins holding the mounts in place. The foam will help to reduce shock and by placing pins around the pieces I have ensured that they can’t move within the box.

A completed box of newly mounted Textile pieces (Photo: E. Durrant)

It was a thrilling opportunity to be able to work on such a unique piece of Welsh heritage and I would like to thank all the museum conservation staff for being so welcoming and sharing the wealth of their knowledge.

Further Reading/References:

Amgueddfa Cymru. 2007. The Llan-gors textile: an early medieval masterpiece. Available at: https://museum.wales/articles/1344/The-Llan-gors-textile-an-early-medieval-masterpiece/ [Accessed 4 January 2022]

Lane, A. and Redknap, M. 2019. Llangorse Crannog: The excavation of an early medieval royal site in the kingdom of Brycheiniog. Oxford: Oxbow Books

United Nations International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements: October – Sulphur

Christian Baars, 23 October 2019

2019 is the 150th anniversary of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (see UNESCO https://www.iypt2019.org/). The "International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT2019)" is an opportunity to reflect upon many aspects of the periodic table, including the social and economic impacts of chemical elements.

Sulphur is the fifth most common element (by mass) on Earth and one of the most widely used chemical substances. But sulphur is common beyond Earth: the innermost of the four Galilean moons of the planet Jupiter, Io, has more than 400 active volcanoes which deposit lava so rich in sulphur that its surface is actually yellow.


The sulphate salts of iron, copper and aluminium were referred to as “vitriols”, which occurred in lists of minerals compiled by the Sumerians 4,000 years ago. Sulfuric acid was known as “oil of vitriol”, a term coined by the 8th-century Arabian alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan. Burning sulphur used to be referred to as “brimstone”, giving rise to the biblical notion that hell apparently smelled of sulphur.


Sulphur rarely occurs in its pure form but usually as sulphide and sulphate minerals. Elemental sulphur can be found near hot springs, hydrothermal vents and in volcanic regions where it may be mined, but the major industrial source of sulphur is the iron sulphide mineral pyrite. Other important sulphur minerals include cinnabar (mercury sulphide), galena (lead sulphide), sphalerite (zinc sulphide), stibnite (antimony sulphide), gypsum (calcium sulphate), alunite (potassium aluminium sulphate), and barite (barium sulphate). Accordingly, the Mindat (a wonderful database for all things mineral) entry for sulphur is rather extensive: https://www.mindat.org/min-3826.html.


Sulphur is the basic constituent of sulfuric acid, referred as universal chemical, ‘King of Chemicals’ due to the numerous applications as a raw material or processing agent. Sulfuric acid is the most commonly used chemical in the world and used in almost all industries; its multiple industrial uses include the refining of crude oil and as an electrolyte in lead acid batteries. World production of sulfuric acid stands at more than 230 million tonnes per year.


Gunpowder, a mixture of sulphur, charcoal and potassium nitrate invented in 9th century China, is the earliest known explosive. Chinese military engineers realised the obvious potential of gunpowder and by 904 CE were hurling lumps of burning gunpowder with catapults during a siege. In chemical warfare, 2,400 years ago, the Spartans used sulphur fumes against enemy soldiers. Sulphur is an important component of mustard gas, used since WWI as an incapacitating agent.


Sulphur-based compounds have a huge range of therapeutic applications, such as antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antidiabetic, antimalarial, anticancer and other medicinal agents. Many drugs contain sulphur; early examples include antibacterial sulphonamides, known as “sulfa drugs”. Sulphur is a part of many antibiotics, including the penicillins, cephalosporins and monolactams.


Sulphur is an essential element for life. Some amino acids (cysteine and methionine; amino acids are the structural components of proteins) and vitamins (biotin and thiamine) are organosulfur compounds. Disulphides (sulphur–sulphur bonds) confer mechanical strength and insolubility of the protein keratin (found in skin, hair, and feathers). Many sulphur compounds have a strong smell: the scent of grapefruit and garlic are due to organosulfur compounds. The gas hydrogen sulphide gives the characteristic odour to rotting eggs.


Sulphur is one of the essential nutrients for crop growth. Sulphur is important to help with nutrient uptake, chlorophyll production and seed development. Hence, one of the greatest commercial uses of sulfuric acid is for fertilizers. About 60% of pyrite mined for sulphur is used for fertilizer manufacture – you could say that the mineral pyrite literally feeds the world.


Use of sulphur is not without problems: burning sulphur-containing coal and oil generates sulphur dioxide, which reacts with water in the atmosphere to form sulfuric acid, one of the main causes of acid rain, which acidifies lakes and soil, and causes weathering to buildings and structures. Acid mine drainage, a consequence of pyrite oxidation during mining operations, is a real and large environmental problem, killing much life in many rivers across the world. Recently, the use of a calcareous mudstone rock containing a high proportion of pyrite as backfill for housing estates in the area around Dublin caused damage to many houses when the pyrite oxidised; the case was eventually resolved with the “Pyrite Resolution Act 2013” allocating compensation to house owners.

Conservation of museum specimens

Because iron sulphides are highly reactive minerals, their conservation in museum collections poses significant challenges. Because we care for our collections, which involves constantly improving conservation practice, we are always researching novel ways of protecting vulnerable minerals. Our current project, jointly with University of Oxford, is undertaken by our doctoral research student Kathryn Royce https://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/graduate/research/kroyce.html.

Come and see us!

If all this has wetted your appetite for chemistry and minerals, come and see the sulphur and pyrite specimens we display at National Museum Cardiff https://museum.wales/cardiff/, or learn about mining and related industries at Big Pit National Coal Museum https://museum.wales/bigpit/ and National Slate Museum https://museum.wales/slate/.