More than Meets the Eye: Restoring the Danz Collection

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Guest post by Tracy Power Objects Conservation and Lesley Bone

Funding for this project was generously provided by the Francis I. Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology at UCSF.

Since 1963, the UCSF Archives & Special Collections holdings have included the historic Danz collection of ocular pathology specimens. The set, one of 13 believed to have been made, was originally intended as a teaching tool for use in medical schools. These blown orbs, some still retaining a long delicate stem, were made in Germany, in the 1880’s, by master glassblower, Amandus Muller. Each glass eyeball depicts, in minute detail, the various diseases and defects that can afflict the eye and is a unique masterpiece of the art of glass making. 

In June 2018 the collection was examined by Tracy Power and Lesley Bone to determine the nature and scope of condition problems that these objects.  Past treatments and current breakages were evaluated, the deterioration of the glass was examined, and current storage conditions were assessed.

While the majority of the glass eyeballs were in stable condition, there were ironically a couple that were themselves suffering from glass disease. This presents with a sticky surface; as a component of the glass leaches out of the surface due to an instability in the glass mix. These surfaces readily attract dust.

Of the previously repaired items, some were in stable condition, but most were in poor condition due to deterioration of the repair materials used and inferior skills of the person or people doing the repairs. One particularly peculiar repair was filled with bright red dental wax.

 The eyeballs were stored in their original compartmented box, with light damaged (faded), velvet-covered cavities for each specimen, and a hinged lid with a glass cover.  The box was still serviceable, but the cavities for the eyeballs had wads of old cotton wool, which was not suitable for the collection since the blown balls retained the thin tubular glass extensions that had been snapped from the rod when the ball was blown. These tended to snag on the cotton.

A treatment plan was agreed upon which would include upgrading the storage container, cleaning all of the glass eyeballs, and repairing the broken glass orbs.

Improved Housing

The eyeballs were removed sequentially for cleaning, and at that time the cavities in the display box were cleaned and new, improved supports were made.  The old cotton wool was replaced with new storage materials that will not be as likely to snag the glass tips.  Small pillows were made of polyester batting in Holytex fabric.  The glass pane in the box was cleaned with detergent and water.  Several discolored areas of paper on the box were toned with conservation stable watercolors and some lifting edges of paper were glued down.

Danz collection of ocular pathology specimens
Old cotton wool was removed and replaced by individually made pillows of archival materials.

Cleaning of the glass eyeballs

Each glass eyeball was carefully cleaned.  A detergent designed specifically for cleaning glass was used for this process.  Handling the eyeballs safely was a major concern and we ended up using foam tubes to make little doughnuts for the glass balls to sit in.  The foam was held in place with toothpicks, so their creation and adjustment was relatively quick. During the cleaning we identified some additional cracks in the glass eyeballs that hadn’t been obvious until they were wet up.  This step was very satisfying as the eyeballs went from dull and cloudy to glistening after cleaning.

Cleaning of the glass eyeballs
Cleaning the glass and the compartments in the box.

Repairing of Glass Eyeballs

Before the eyeballs could be repaired, those with unsightly or failing old repairs had to be undone.  The method varied depending on the types of repair materials previously used.  Several of the repairs had been done with red wax.  The wax remained soft and sticky making it messy and it did not closely resemble glass.  The wax material was removed by gently warming it.  Some of the other old adhesives had failed after becoming brittle.  The brittle material could be brushed from the surfaces, with special care taken to not scratch the glass.  Other old repair materials were removed with solvents.

Repairing the individual eyeballs was the most challenging part of the process, as they are thin and delicate.  Added to that, the high-grade epoxy that was designed for glass conservation can take several days to fully set.  While this can be advantageous, as it allows adjustment of pieces, it also means the fine shards have to be held in place for long periods of time while the resin sets. An advantage of this epoxy is that it is very thin and can be fed by capillary action into cracks.  That property was useful for many of the eyeballs. Also this adhesive has the added advantage of being far superior to commercially available epoxy resins in terms of long-term stability and greater light-stability, therefore it does not yellow like commercially available epoxies. 

Once the eyeballs were repaired, a few had areas where the fragments of the glass were still missing. Glass eyeballs that were incomplete were filled with tinted thermoplastic resin mixtures and details such as veins, were inpainted (inpainting is the process of restoring lost or deteriorated surface decoration or details on an artwork) with commercially ground pigments in acrylic resin.

The glass eyeballs were incredible to work on.   They were beautifully made, if often difficult to look at.  Only one of the eyeballs examined was failing due to unstable glass, or a poor match between the cream under layer and the colored surface glass.  The glass blower had incredible mastery in working with glass in addition to skill in depicting the defects and conditions.  We hope that after this conservation project the glass eyeballs continue to illustrate medical conditions and inspire awe for years to come.

They Were Really Us, AIDS History Exhibit, Opens on October 1

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This is a guest post by exhibit curator Sabrina Oliveros 

When HIV/AIDS first seized the nation’s attention in the early 1980s, it was a disease with no name, known cause, treatment, or cure. Beginning as a medical mystery, it turned into one of the most divisive social and political issues of the 20th century.

On October 1, 2019, UCSF Archives & Special Collections is opening the exhibit They Were Really Us: The UCSF Community’s Early Response to AIDS. Featuring materials from the Archives’ extensive AIDS History Project Collections, the show highlights ways individual professionals affiliated with UCSF acted to address HIV/AIDS following its outbreak. Their responses included working in and with the larger San Francisco community – and continue to impact HIV/AIDS care and research today.

The exhibit title comes from a statement by Dr. Paul Volberding, who co-founded the country’s first dedicated AIDS Clinic in 1983; he now serves as the Director of UCSF’s AIDS Research Institute:

“The patients were exactly our age… all those other ways that we tend to separate ourselves meant very little when you realize that the patients had gone to the same schools, they listened to the same music, they went to the same restaurants. So they were really us… which added to the commitment that I think all of us had.”

Early milestones

The first proofs of that commitment are traced through displays on the main lobby (third floor) of the UCSF Library.

Here, papers, slides, photographs, and artifacts help outline early milestones in HIV/AIDS research and care. These include the foundation of the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Clinic at UCSF, which sought to understand the mysterious “cancer” that turned out to be AIDS; the discovery of the HIV virus in 1983 by Dr. Jay Levy; the establishment of the outpatient and inpatient AIDS clinics at San Francisco General Hospital; and the development of the holistic San Francisco Model of AIDS Care.

Pioneering and compassionate, this model treated people with AIDS not simply as patients requiring medical attention, but as complex individuals also in need of psychological, social, economic, and political support.

Excerpts from the diary of Bobbi Campbell – a UCSF nursing student who championed the People With AIDS Self-Empowerment Movement – help tell some of these individual stories. So do a selection of newsletters and other materials that lend voices to persons with AIDS.

A loaned section of the AIDS Memorial Quilt caps off the displays.

Community voices

The outbreak of HIV/AIDS devastated the city of San Francisco; it also mobilized the community. Exhibits on the first floor of the library showcase the work done by community organizations that, beyond the medical front, fought HIV/AIDS.

Reproductions of posters – mostly from UCSF’s longest-running partners, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Shanti Project – represent outreach and educational campaigns necessary to combat the disease. Materials from Mobilization Against AIDS and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) speak to the political battle that AIDS became.

How much of an impact did these advocacy groups make? A selection of letters, written to the leaders of Mobilization Against AIDS and AIDS Treatment News, offer an idea.  

Continuing care

On the fifth floor of the library, displays touch on two more milestones following the 1980s.

The first, UCSF’s sponsoring of the 6th International Conference on AIDS, is one of the many examples of how physicians and researchers have expanded their work on a global scale. Revisiting this 1990 conference is timely, as the 23rd International Conference on AIDS will take place in Oakland and San Francisco in July next year – the first time the conference will be in the Bay Area in nearly three decades.

The second milestone, the founding of the AIDS Research Institute in 1996, puts a focus on the UCSF’s continuing efforts to find a cure, and end HIV/AIDS once and for all.

They Were Really Us will be on view until September 2020: https://www.library.ucsf.edu/archives/lectures-exhibits/

California Digital Library profiles AIDS History Project

Through its newsletter CDL “highlights new collections on Calisphere that feature community voices and stories. These collections are made available in close collaboration with local community members and broaden our worldview through the diverse narratives and myriad perspectives that resonate in the collections.

Spotlight on the AIDS History Project

The UCSF Archives & Special Collections was a pioneering repository that collected materials documenting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, one of the most significant public-health events of the late twentieth century and an ongoing challenge throughout the world. 

The AIDS History Project (AHP) began in 1987 as a joint effort of historians, archivists, AIDS activists, health care providers, and others to secure historically significant resources reflecting responses to the crisis in San Francisco. Starting in 1991, the Archives received several grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to fund the survey, acquisition, arrangement, and description of carefully selected records from numerous San Francisco-based agencies and organizations whose work focused on the AIDS crisis.” Continue reading: https://cdlib.org/cdlinfo/2019/10/30/diverse-narratives-and-myriad-perspectives-new-collections-on-calisphere/