The AMNH's Giant Blue Whale Just Got its Annual Cleaning

The iconic blue whale model that hangs in the American Museum of Natural History is the institution’s crowning jewel—and one that needs to be shined every once in a while.

The 94-foot-long fiberglass and polyurethane replica is getting its annual cleaning this week; a process that takes one man, two days, and a whole lot of vacuum power. When we stopped by on Wednesday morning (September 7), Trenton Duerksen was hard at work vacuuming the layer of dust that had accumulated on the whale over the course of the year. While he was largely focused on the animal’s head at the time, the entire 21,000-pound model will eventually get the soft brush treatment.

Aside from the annual dusting, the blue whale also received some comprehensive surgery when the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life was renovated in 2003. While it’s been an awe-inspiring display since its installation in 1969, the replica has had its issues. It’s hard to believe, but during the time when the project was conceived and executed, few people had seen a blue whale (the first full-body photos of a live animal wouldn’t be taken until the mid-1970s), so specimens from whalers had to be used as models. That led to bulging eyes and other inaccuracies in the shape and color of the mammal.

"In 1969 we’d walked on the moon, but no one knew what a blue whale looked like," said Melanie Stiassny, Axelrod Research Curator in the Museum’s Department of Ichthyology (a.k.a. fishes).

All that and more was corrected during the early aughts renovation (which Stiassny oversaw), so now the giant blue whale just needs an occasional cleaning.

Duerksen is a first-time blue whale duster, and while it might seem like a pretty straightforward job, a previous cleaner told us the task requires strong shoulders and arms, and a good sense of spatial reasoning. Well worth the effort to keep a New York landmark—and what it symbolizes—shining bright.

"It’s a denizen of the open ocean, it brings the whole ocean together," Stiassny said. "And everything on the planet depends on the open ocean."

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Art Lovers in England, Rejoice: France's Famous Bayeux Tapestry is Coming to the UK
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of France’s most prized national treasures, the Bayeux Tapestry, is officially heading to England for exhibition. The loan will mark the first time the fragile 11th century work has left France in nearly 1000 years, according to The Washington Post.

French president Emmanuel Macron announced news of the loan in mid-January, viewed by some as a gesture to smooth post-Brexit relations with Britain, ABC reports. The tapestry depicts the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, a historically important event replete with guts and glory.

Stretching for 210 feet, the Bayeux Tapestry’s nine embroidered panels tell the tale of Harold, Earl of Wessex, who swore an oath to support the right of William, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne once King Edward (a.k.a. Edward the Confessor) died without an heir. But after Edward's funeral at Westminster Abbey, Harold breaks his oath to William so he could be crowned king instead. Believing he was the rightful ruler, William—today remembered as William the Conqueror—decides to wage war and ultimately defeats Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

The historical narrative has endured for centuries, but the tapestry's provenance has been lost to time. Experts think that the artwork may have been created in England, shortly after the Battle of Hastings, although it’s unclear who designed and embroidered the scenes. Its original owner, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, may have commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. He became Earl of Kent after the Battle of Hastings, and this new title would have afforded him access to skilled artisans, The Guardian explains.

The Bayeux Tapestry is currently on display in the town of Bayeux in Normandy. It likely won’t leave France until 2020, after conservators ensure that it’s safe to move the artwork. According to The Telegraph, the tapestry might be be displayed at the British Museum in 2022.

[h/t The Washington Post]

© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]


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