Feathers On and Off the Bird: Documenting and Caring for Featherwork

Feathers create challenges for collections care because they are federally regulated, difficult to store and display, and particularly difficult to conserve and travel.

Brooklyn Museum Collection,

Feathers occur in many guises and in many types of collections. Featherwork collections include holdings in research, natural science, anthropological, historic, fine arts, and tribal museums. Featherwork sometimes resembles the bird, such as in the case of bird taxidermy. In other cases, feathers are culturally or commercially harvested and manipulated for a different presentation and use, such as in cases of fashion or contemporary art. Stewards sometimes place importance on the significance and honesty of coloration, and on the manipulations and attachment methods used for feathers, and sometimes do not! The significance of feathers varies according to the collection, and the way that collection items are documented, displayed, stored and cared for is a negotiation between institutional and/or community priorities and material needs.

This webinar will include a discussion about the ways feathers are artistically and culturally manipulated, the influence of coloration and display lighting on feather preservation, as well as providing a review of display, cleaning and pest eradication methods recommended for feathers. And, we will also discuss the documentation necessary for the shipping of feathers.

‡ Slide Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of Mme Elsa Schiaparelli, 1969


Between 1983 and 2005, Ellen Pearlstein served as an objects conservator at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Pearlstein was an adjunct professor in conservation at the Institute of Fine Arts-Conservation Center at NYU between 1991-2004. In 2005, she joined the founding faculty of the UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Material where she and her colleagues designed curriculum, outfitted a laboratory, and she began teaching graduate classes in the conservation of organic materials, ethics of working with indigenous communities, preventive conservation and managing collections. In 2008, Pearlstein joined UCLA’s Department of Information Studies, and invited students interested in library, archive, and rare book materials into her preservation and management classes. Her research includes conservation of featherwork, developing diversity within conservation, and curriculum development within conservation education. She edited Conservation of Featherwork from Central and South America (London: Archetype Publications, 2017). Pearlstein is a Fellow in the American Institute for Conservation and, recently, in the International Institute for Conservation, a winner of the AIC Keck award, and President of the Association of North American Graduate Programs in Conservation.

irene_taurinsIrene Taurins is Director of Registration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She began at the Museum in 1978, and advanced to her current position by 1981. She maintains all permanent records pertaining to over 240,000 works of art. As Senior Registrar, she oversees the movement of works of art into, out of, and within the Museum, physically and legally. She negotiates and administers the fine arts insurance policies of the institution and has been on panels and chaired several sessions at Mid Atlantic Association of Museums and American Alliance of Museums on Fine Arts Insurance. She oversees shipping, packing and customs documentation and in 1983 she organized and chaired a workshop, “Packing of Art Objects and Artifacts” for NEMC (the present day Mid Atlantic Association of Museums). She wrote the chapter on “Shipping” for The New Museum Registration Methods, in 1998 and again for MRM5 in 2010. She is a founding director of ARCS (Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists) and served as their Corresponding Secretary from 2014 to 2017.

Recorded: Thursday, October 11, 2018
Duration: 1 Hour 29 minutes


Pearlstein PowerPoint Slides


Taurins PowerPoint Slides


Feathers On and Off the Bird Handout


Bibliography of Featherwork Resources – Pearlstein