H.J. Heinz's 100-year-old ivory eagle gets a cleaning

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A majestic life-size ivory eagle that H.J. Heinz purchased in Japan a century ago is being returned to its original splendor at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

And visitors can watch the process.

The Pittsburgh ketchup magnate bought the eagle in Yokohama in 1913 during one of several trips he made to China and Japan. When the sculpture arrived at the Carnegie Museum in 1913, assistant director Douglas Stewart deemed it "the finest specimen of its kind in the world." It was valued then at $5,000.

The eagle was a favorite of natural history museum visitors until it was retired some time in the mid-1990s. It is being restored in preparation for an exhibition that will open March 30 at Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland. The exhibition will combine ivory sculptures collected by Mr. Heinz from the natural history museum with Japanese prints from the art museum collection.

The bird has a 48-inch wingspan and hundreds of feathers, some the size of a quarter or guitar pick and some as long as a fork, said Jonathan Gaugler, Museum of Art media relations manager. The eagle, believed to have been made in the late 19th century and entirely of elephant ivory, and the custom case that was constructed for it when it came to the museum, weigh about 550 pounds.

Work on the eagle will take place Thursdays and Fridays and on Martin Luther King Day in a classroom behind the Alcoa Hall of American Indians. It is expected to take six weeks.

Conservators assessing and cleaning the eagle will be led by natural history museum conservator Gretchen Anderson, who said most of the cleaning will remove particulate air pollution that accumulated during Pittsburgh's industrial era.

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Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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