Conservation of our Wax Floral Study

By Melissa Cole, Curator

If you had a fine home during the Victorian Era, (1860-1880), you most likely had a Parlour Dome, at least one, in your Parlour.  These oddly fascinating pieces could contain anything from artful displays of flora, fauna, and food made from wax, paper, human hair, wool, muslin, feathers, seashells, and buttons.  Sometimes there were even real animals such as canaries, pheasants, and even terriers that had been preserved by skilled taxidermists that enchanted the Victorians.  The hand-blown, removable domes with their still life interiors may seem weird by today’s standards, but one must understand that the 19th century was an exciting period of exploration, innovation, and experimentation.

The Oshawa Community Museum recently received a Wax Floral Study as a donation.  I had been looking to acquire an arrangement like this to place in the parlour of Henry House.  This particular intricate wax floral arrangement is made from beeswax, silk, wire and feather, the model contains a large arching spray that is 31 cm wide and 41 cm in length.

012.10.1 - Floral Wax Study
012.10.1 – Floral Wax Study before Conservation Treatments – note the condition of the base, and the number of fallen flowers

Correspondence with the donor indicates that this piece was on display for many years in her grandmother’s parlour, a room she was not allowed to play.  As a child she was always interested in the flower arrangement that sat in this room. It is estimated that this particular Wax Floral Dome is from 1910; therefore it is possibly over 100 years old.

When the Wax Floral Study arrived at the museum many of the flowers were cracked and some pieces had broken away and fell to the bottom of the dome.  This is to be expected considering the age of the wax flowers.

Close up of 012.10.1
Close up of 012.10.1, before conservation

Overtime exposure to fluctuating temperatures causes the wax to soften, peel and crack, and allowed dirt and dust to permeate the surface of the arrangement, and over time more dust accumulated.

The project was carried out in stages over a year. Wax model conservation is a slow and painstaking process and the extreme fragility of the objects makes their conservation difficult.

Small pieces of the broken wax were analysed to determine the composition, so that suitable materials could be chosen for the repairs. Conservator, Miriam Harris had to research what type of glue would be suitable for repairing the wax flowers.  Each individual wax flower was cleaned and restored.  The arrangement was carefully packaged for transport back to the museum.

The Waxed Flower Study is currently on display in the parlour of Henry House and can be viewed by visitors to the Oshawa Community Museum.

012.10.1 - Floral Wax Study, after conservation, on display in the Henry House Parlour
012.10.1 – Floral Wax Study, after conservation, on display in the Henry House Parlour
Detail of 012.10.1, after conservation
Detail of 012.10.1, after conservation

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