The various aspects behind the construction of a typical Triffid Ranch carnivore enclosure encompasses a lot of different disciplines, including museum exhibit design, bonsai maintenance, and zoo enclosure construction. Since each enclosure is intended to be as much of an art piece as a structure containing live plants, a lot of issues only make themselves noticeable after years of constant exposure to heat and moisture, and sometimes they blow up in a really good way. Today’s refurbishing/materials object lesson involves the Australian pitcher plant enclosure “Antarctica In Decline”(2018)
While “Antarctica In Decline” was a fabulously popular enclosure, it had a few issues that begged for a revamp. The centerpiece (above) was a combination of tumbled bottle glass (Topo Chico bottles, specifically, which produce a beautiful lake-ice effect when tumbled for a week) and fiber-optic cabochons for eyes over a resin Cryolophosaurus skull. As originally chosen, the yes were a color that blended in with the surrounding glass, making it hard to see exactly where the eyes began. In addition, the whole construction was done with what glass I had available at the time of construction, which wasn’t much. Another year of glass tumbling produced considerably more, of a wide variety of shapes and general sizes, which allowed a renovation that combined the feel of the feathers that were probably on a living Cryolophosaurus face with that of freshwater ice. In addition, the base on which the completed centerpiece sat was supposed to be lighted, but the LED lights installed inside never worked as expected. It was time to tear it apart and start fresh.
The real problem, though, lay less with the glass than with the adhesive used to keep the glass together. Traditionally, this sort of aquarium-safe construction requires use of either silicone, which has to be done all at once because cured silicone generally won’t adhere to itself, or epoxy, which has a short time in which to apply it and major problems with outgassing while it cures. The first time around, the idea was to use a supposedly water-safe cyanoacrylate supeglue, and that glue was definitely strong enough to hold everything together. The problem was that its manufacturers had no information on longterm exposure to heat and moisture, and water’s unique properties include the ability to get into microscopic cracks and expand them into larger and larger cracks. The upshot was picking up the centerpiece when conducting enclosure maintenance and having the glass shell peel free from the skull core and collapse like a stale tortilla chip. It’s definitely time to tear it apart and start fresh.
And that’s what’s going right now., New contrasting eyes. A drastically different adhesive, with probably a light coat of thinned epoxy to help keep everything together. A revised arrangement of glass pieces on the whole sculpture to make the final face more streamlined and recognizable as a dinosaur. (I loved the number of people who saw it as a dragon, but they always got defensive when they learned about the Cryolophosaurus connection.) In addition, it was time to update the base as well, with different colors and shapes of glass so it stood out.
In any case, for those wondering why the gallery isn’t open this weekend, it’s because all day Saturday and most of Sunday belongs to restoring an old friend to new glory. When the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses start on December 4, you’ll be able to see for yourself whether it worked.