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Reamer Map Returns to Yellowstone National Park After Cleanup

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, WYO. — The map is back.

The map in question is the large wooden one of the lower United States that hangs in the Map Room of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone National Park.

The map, all 17 feet, 10 inches by 10 feet four inches of it, was designed in the late 1930s—before Alaska and Hawaii became states—by architect Robert Reamer. Reamer designed or remodeled several Yellowstone structures, but he is perhaps best known for designing the awe-inspiring, log-constructed Old Faithful Inn.

When park officials secured funding two years ago to renovate the hotel in which the map resides, they decided it would be a good time to send the map away—not only to get the Reamer map out of the way of construction dust and mayhem but for it to undergo its own cleanup and conservation.

The Reamer map is made from 15 different types of wood and contains more than 2,500 pieces, Tobin Roop, National Park Service at Yellowstone branch chief of cultural resources, said last year. It comes apart into six separate 10-foot tall panels along the map’s lines of longitude, and was carefully taken down off last October, packed up and transported to the Western Archaeological and Conservation Center in Tucson, Arizona. It was returned in August in time for the hotel’s reopening.

Photo by Dana Senge
Photo by Dana Senge

WACC houses the museum services for the National Park Service’s Intermountain Region, Dana Senge, a senior conservator who worked on the map, said recently. WACC staffers provide specialized museum services to park units that don’t have the expertise, space or time to do the work themselves, she explained.

The map has had work done over the years. It was installed in 1937, she said, and was worked on in the 1960s and most recently in 1996-97.

“We cleaned all the old layers of coatings of hide glue, shellac and acrylic varnish,” Senge said. “We got down to original veneer surface and original paint. We put down shellac in a couple layers. Anything we needed to restore, we did in a separate layer separate from the original material so anyone who removes our work won’t remove the original. Part of our goal is to be as reversible as possible. We try to engineer things so that if we made a choice that degrades, it can be removed.”

The shellac used is predicted to last 50 years, Senge said.

Photo by Dana Senge
Photo by Dana Senge

Curators are careful to measure the pros and cons of each type of treatment, Senge said, and to keep careful notes for the next generation of conservators who may work on the piece in the future. Previous conservators had left detailed notes.

The conservator team researched possible treatment for about a month, and started the actual work in December, finishing up in July.

The team, which included Conservation Technicians Amy Molnar and Maria Lee in addition to Senge, put in a total of about 2,000 hours on the project.

Two factors in the map’s environment have had some effect on it. Senge said the map once hung where steam pipes ran through the walls underneath it. And the room gets a lot of natural light from a wall of south-facing windows directly opposite the map. In 2010, working with concession company Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the windows were treated with a special UV-resistant film, Roop said. The film doesn’t darken the windows, but it blocks some of the UV light coming through the windows and hitting the map.

Overall, the map is in pretty good shape.

“It’s a beautiful piece,” Senge said.” I love getting so close to someone else’s incredible craftsmanship.”

Working on a piece for so long, did the Reamer map reveal any secrets or give off a vibe?

“I just flashed to its life in the room,” Senge said. “What it’s ‘seen’ in that room, and the many, many people who have seen it and had it be a part of their lives.”

About Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney is a former Yellowstone tour guide and snowcoach driver. She lives in Livingston, Montana, where she covers the park and other news for the daily newspaper, the Livingston Enterprise.

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