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.

Archives Month

October is American Archives Month, and UCSF Archives and Special Collections is celebrating with a number of events in the coming weeks to showcase our work as custodians of Health Sciences and UCSF History.

Wed October 3: #AskanArchivist Day

Join us and countless other repositories and Archival Institutions on Twitter using the hashtag #Askanarchivist

Pose your burning questions and curiosities about our collections, services and archives work in general.

Follow us on Twitter @ucsf_archives

 

Wed October 10:

ARCHIVES TALK: Medicine as Mission: Black Women Physicians’ Careers, 1864-1941

Join UCSF Archives & Special Collections as we explore the little-known history of African American women physicians’ careers in medicine from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. Through an extensive survey of the careers of all known African American women who practiced medicine in this period, a complicated portrait of both accomplishment and constraint emerges. This talk demonstrates that black women physicians succeeded in carrying out their demanding “missions” of attempting to address what we currently term “health disparities” in African American communities. Simultaneously, however, professionalized, scientific medicine in the twentieth century increasingly limited career opportunities available to black women physicians.

Speakers

Meg Vigil-Fowler, PhD is a historian of medicine who studies the intersecting histories of race, gender, and professionalization in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She received her PhD from UCSF’s Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine earlier this year and is currently writing a book on the earliest African American women physicians.

Renee Navarro, MD, PharmD is the Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Outreach, charged with creating and maintaining a diverse university environment where everyone has an opportunity to excel. In her new role, Navarro will collaborate with faculty, staff and students to develop and carry out a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion at the campus – and in recruitment and retention of faculty, students, trainees and staff.

Aimee Medeiros, PhD is an Assistant Professor, History of Health Sciences at UCSF. Medeiros’s work focuses on the reciprocity between diagnoses, preventive care measures, and societal expectations of the body in medicine. Medeiros’s current projects include, Too Young to Die: The History of the Children’s Hospital in the U.S. and Health Sciences Data Laboratory (HSDL), which will complement Big Data efforts by generating historical medical data preserved from non-digital formats.

 

Saturday October 13: SF Archives Crawl

Join UCSF Archives & Special Collections, California Historical Society, San Francisco History Center, Society of California Pioneers, and Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University for San Francisco’s second Archives Crawl. The theme for the Archives Crawl is Immigration and Migration to California and we are celebrating in October, which is Archives Month!

Archives Crawl is designed to celebrate archives in the city and encourages guests to explore and engage with institutions that collect archival material. Visit institutions you may not have visited before, pose questions, learn more about what an archive is and what archivists do.

Find the UCSF Archives & Special Collections team at the SFPL Main Branch Library1pm – 5pm

More details visit the San Francisco Archives Crawl site.

 

Wed October 31

UCSF Archives Halloween Open House: Oddities of the Past

Get in the Halloween spirit and join UCSF Archives and Special Collections on October 31st and view selected pieces from the historical collections in the UCSF Library 5th Floor Reading Room. You will see “medical oddities” of the past including surgical kits, bloodletting tools and more!

Also make sure to drop by the Makers Lab Haunted House anytime from 10am-6pm.

 

Ongoing exhibit: Open Wide: 500 Years of Dentistry

 

 

 

 

 

Pairing Art with Artifact: The Development of Open Wide

This is a guest post by exhibit curator Sabrina Oliveros

Open Wide: 500 Years of Dentistry in Art, which formally opens on September 27 with a reception at the UCSF Library, features a wealth of artworks that depict how perspectives on dentistry, and dentistry itself, have changed over the centuries. The pieces range from satires and caricatures to religious prints and anatomical plates, and they come from artists as different and distinguished as George Cruikshank, Honoré-Victorin Daumier, Francisco de Goya, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, and Marc Chagall.

Remarkable as the art may be, they only comprise half the treasures – and tell part of the stories – in Open Wide.

For this exhibit to find its form, it needed to pair art with artifacts.

Which artifacts could go on display with which artworks? Early project research meant to answer this question.

Which artifacts could go on display with which artworks? Early project research meant to answer this question.

Gateways to learning

Many of the prints in Open Wide had been exhibited from 2003 to 2004 in a show of the same name at the University at Buffalo. When UCSF loaned the artworks from their owner, Dr. Morton G. Rivo, the goal was to expand on the original show using items from Archives & Special Collections. If an artwork illustrated a specific moment in the history of dentistry, the artifacts could elaborate on that moment, helping contextualize what the art showed and turn it into a touchpoint for learning more about the profession.

With some pieces, this task was rather straightforward. The etching Der Zahnzieher (c. 1631-35) by Jan Joris van Vliet (c. 1610 – after 1635), for example, shows a tooth-puller at work; on the wall behind him is a bleeding bowl. Bleeding bowls – which were used to catch drops of a patient’s blood during bloodletting procedures – are among the many historical objects in UCSF’s collections.

Displaying a bowl beside Der Zahnzieher not only added three-dimensionality to the print. It opened an opportunity to discuss why the bowl is in the image and what a tooth-puller used it for (bloodletting was once believed to relieve toothaches). Its presence in the print also suggests that the tooth-puller might have been a barber-surgeon, the kind of tradesman who would have certainly owned such a tool. What is a barber-surgeon and why is this distinction significant in dental practice? Questions and answers can go and on – indicating just how a single artifact can become a gateway into the history of dentistry.

Juxtapositions

The breadth of UCSF’s collections also allowed for other kinds of juxtaposition.

Take one case on the library’s third floor, which contains the print Easing the Toothach (sic). Created long before anything we now use as anesthesia, the image shows a patient who is in such pain that he pulls off his dentist’s wig during treatment. Antique vials of Novocain and an ether gas mask – forerunners of modern local anesthesia – surround the print. In contrast to the bleeding bowl display, the artifacts here expound on the development of dental practice by showing what is absent from the art, not what is visible in it.

Easing the Toothach (sic), by a follower of James Gillray (1757-1815), is the centerpiece of a display on pain management artifacts.

Easing the Toothach (sic), by a follower of James Gillray (1757-1815), is the centerpiece of a display on pain management artifacts.

Another piece on the third floor, the hand-colored engraving Tugging at Eye (High) Tooth (1821), helps showcase a different facet of UCSF’s collections.

 The colorful scene, set in a well-decorated dentist’s office, is by George Cruikshank (1792-1878), one of the most prolific artists during Britain’s golden age of caricature and satire. It shows a dentist furiously at work on a hapless patient, surrounded by his books, dentures, and instruments like teeth-scrapers, a mirror, and a mallet. This piece could have been displayed with similar tools in UCSF’s vaults, again lending three-dimensionality to the office Cruikshank depicts. But there was more to be mined from the print.

Cruikshank lined the dentist’s shelves with titles like Miseries of Human Life, Tales of Terror, and Frankenstein – a tongue-in-cheek suggestion of what the distressed patient is going through. Funny as these were, they raised a few questions: what kinds of books would (or should) have been on a professional dentist’s shelves? And which books shaped the practice so patients would become more comfortable in the chair?

Following this line of thought, the case thus features rare books from the 18th and 19th centuries that advanced knowledge about dentistry. They include the first modern textbook on oral surgery, the first work on orthodontics, and the book that introduced terms like molars and cuspids.

The final third-floor display entitled “The Dentist’s Bookshelf.”

The final third-floor display entitled “The Dentist’s Bookshelf.”

An appropriate addition

Beyond artifacts and rare books, Open Wide also exhibits selections from UCSF’s Japanese woodblock print and School of Dentistry photograph collections. Yet in a university library’s show about dental art and history, perhaps some of the most meaningful materials from the Archives are yearbooks from the school’s early decades.

The Chaff yearbooks displayed on the fifth floor were published from 1897 to 1909 by the junior class of the UC College of Dentistry. They include some truly eye-catching art: one illustration depicts a procedure as an intense sporting match, complete with a referee, spectators, and blow-by-blow commentary; another shows two patients atop a trophy or pedestal, looking like they barely survived a fight. (Its caption? “Patience on a Monument.”)

Such images proved interesting – and unthinkable not to put on exhibit – because they offer historical records of how dental students themselves viewed their profession. More than that, their perspectives surprisingly echo the wry and comical tone of many artworks loaned for Open Wide.

As far as pairing art and artifacts go, there couldn’t have been a more appropriate match than that.

"It is indeed a funny world, But hard truth mingles with the Chaff. It takes some study ere a man May know exactly when to laugh".

A verse from the 1900 volume of Chaff helps explain the spirit behind some yearbook art.