Saturday, February 14, 2015

Art Prop Pests or Found Object Funk

Ugh, so I'm moving my studio around and cleaning - yes it happens to an artist too - when I discovered a little mound of "dust" on the table under a set of old antelope antlers that I have for still life reference. That's not good. That's in effect... cooties! I'm grateful to myself that I store items and supplies crafted for sale in sealed containers, but I worry for items such as my bear skull that were displayed very near those antlers that MUST be infected with a carpet beetle of some sort. Thankfully they seemed to prefer my specimens that still hold fur. This experience is something to keep in mind if you're prone to taking into your studio found objects and gifts from Nature. Personally I am mindful of the possibility of pests already, but it still happened to me! I've learned that even dried insects that one might be tempted to add to a collage or assemblage can hold tiny parasites that would be happy to munch away on your artwork unseen until damage is done! So now the battle has begun and my kitchen freezer is filled with baggies of bone, antler & fur as I hope to remove this invader and preserve props that have become special to me. The set of antlers came from a taxidermist years ago so I felt no need to take the same preventative measures that I would with an item gathered from the wild. But with arsenic having become illegal to use in taxidermy preparation every specimen added to your collection of oddities should be treated as a wild card.


When I collect a dried insect or reptile from the wild, which I often use in my artwork, I first seal the specimen into a plastic zip bag and place it in the freezer for at least a month. Freezing should kill off pests on items that can't be treated with heat such as fragile insect wings that are commonly used in jewelry making these days. Before using it I will often spray it with a careful mist of rubbing alcohol or a cotton swab of the same if it won't damage the specimen, and though I don't know for sure if it helps with pests it does clean any remaining blood or residue well. Old fur coats and pelts can be dry-cleaned and that will take care of any parasites that they might hold. Woody items such as branches and leaves can be heat treated in the oven; times and temps will vary based upon the individual item. Bones can be boiled or baked. Metal items should be washed because they can hold some cooties too, but don't use a dish soap because it will kill a beloved rusty patina... boil and/or just use a gentle hand soap with really hot water (being careful not to get a tetanus tempting cut). IF you do find little piles of dust or tiny little worms on animal based products that you've brought into the house removing the offending article, cleaning the area, and putting the thing sealed into a deep freeze should do the trick.

Hopefully this blog post will help some of you. It certainly made me feel better to know that there are things that I can do and that discovering a few cooties isn't the end of the world, or the end of my antlers!

*Original art images ©Tree Pruitt T. E. Pruitt, unless otherwise indicated. Contact the artist prior to ANY use please.