Evaluating Color and Fading of Red-Shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus cafer) Feathers: Technical and Cultural Considerations

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Pearlstein, Ellen; Keene, Lionel;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 55, Number 2, p.81-94 (2010)


Fading behavior of undyed feathers has not received much attention in conservation literature and as a result feathers are categorized with other natural materials as being fugitive to display lighting, based on anecdotal evidence. The authors investigated Red-shafted Flicker feathers, which have carotenoid-based colorant systems and significance in North American native regalia, to demonstrate how lighting guidelines could be informed by a multivariate approach that considers material sensitivity, properties of value, and use before entering a museum collection. Ornithological literature reviewed demonstrates that feathers are highly differentiated in their sources of coloration, which include chemistry, structure, diet, age and gender, all resulting in varying responses to illumination. The authors explore the value placed on color by original fabricators, and how use and attitudes toward color contribute to the collections for which we assume stewardship. Red-shafted Flicker feathers were exposed to equivalent photometric doses in order to compare results from window-fading and microfading to Blue Wool Standards. Results indicate color changes more stable than Blue Wool 1 and 2, with ultraviolet radiation playing a significant role in fading. Microfading is beneficial for measuring color change because the variability within and between feathers is eliminated as the sample site remains unvaried.