Celebrating 60: Karen’s Favourite Artefact

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

By Karen A., Visitor Host

Working at the Oshawa Museum, I have the opportunity to see and learn about new artefacts everyday. Walking through the door of Henry House, I enter into the 19th century, gradually reversing back into a simpler period where social media, computers, electricity, and yes, indoor plumbing does not exist.  Although I adore every room in Henry House, the parlor catches my eye and I delicately walk in careful of the perfectly placed tea set awaiting upon the tabletop. What I find most magical about the Victorian parlor is the design and style which is opposite of the 21st century in every way. The Henry House parlor is a place to relax quietly while sitting and reading, enjoying the elegant pieces of art that surround the room.

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My favourite artefact in the parlor is the wax flower dome that sits upon a table in the parlor. The flower dome was a trend in the Victorian period becoming so popular almost every house obtained one. Made of the wax, the flowers were designed beautifully in various colours to demonstrate wealth and prestige.

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Detail of 012.10.1, after conservation

Although the history of the flower dome is interesting, what is also special about this artefact is the scientific side of it. Flower domes needed to be created in particular ways to that once the wax was hardened and put in place, then the dome could be placed perfectly on top. One would need to cut the glass to specific measurements for the preservation of the wax and the flowers. What I find most unique about the flower dome is the ability to preserve the wax to continue to have it on display for generations to come.


To find out more about our favourite artefacts, visit the Oshawa Museum and see our 2017 feature exhibit: Celebrating 60: Sixty Years of Collecting, opening April 18, 2017!

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For more on the Wax Flower Dome, read our blog post, or listen to Curator Melissa Cole in our Podcast

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