A French Dentist, Snow White, and a Victorian Gentleman: A Sneak Peek at Open Wide

Post by Sabrina Oliveros, Guest Curator for Open Wide: 500 Years of Dentistry in Art.

What do a famous French dentist, Snow White, and a Victorian gentleman with a pesky toothache have in common? They are a few of the harassed, horrified, and often hilarious figures you can find in Open Wide: 500 Years of Dentistry in Art, UCSF Archives & Special Collections’ new exhibit that will open to the public on August 1, 2018.

Developed around selections from the collection of Dr. Morton G. Rivo, D.D.S., former Chief of Periodontics at the UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion, Open Wide offers a glimpse into how perspectives on dentistry – and dentistry itself – have changed over the centuries. The artworks, supplemented by artifacts, rare books, and other materials from the UCSF Archives, will be on display on three floors of the UCSF Library.

You can find the artworks featuring the French dentist in the main lobby, Snow White on the first floor, and the Victorian gentleman on the fifth. Each speaks to a theme in Open Wide: developments in dental practices; symbolism and beliefs that have grown around the teeth; and, perhaps not the least, that all-too-familiar feeling of not wanting to go to the dentist.

The French Dentist

The French Dentist Shewing a Specimen of His Artificial Teeth and False Palates (1811) by Thomas Rowlandson.

If you’ve explored the UCSF Library or its social media recently, you might have already spotted the French dentist and his grinning patient in the exhibition poster, which is based on an 1811 etching, The French Dentist Shewing a Specimen of His Artificial Teeth and False Palates. The dentist of the title is Nicholas Dubois de Chémant, who was credited with the patents for the first porcelain teeth in Paris and London. The print pokes fun at a moment in history when these were all the rage among the upper classes, having been considered better than earlier ones of ivory and bone.

The French Dentist and his patient may seem very pleased with themselves, but the technology behind dentures still had to be perfected in the decades to come. You’ll find other samples of false teeth, developed through the first half of the 20th century, exhibited alongside this print.

The Toothache

An illustration from The Toothache (c. 1849) written by Horace Mayhew and illustrated by George Cruikshank.

Who would do anything not to go to the dentist? One Victorian gentleman, the protagonist of a comic strip published around 1849, certainly does. He even attempts to cauterize his own tooth with a red-hot poker and tries “240 infallible cures”– which include filling his mouth with cold water and sitting on the fireplace hob to let it boil – just to avoid a visit.

Discover whether his attempts at self-treatment amount to anything through panels that have been reproduced from the original illustrations. This Victorian gentleman’s adventures are complemented by similarly humorous cartoons from UCSF School of Dentistry yearbooks published in the 1900s.

Out Hunting for Teeth

A caza de dientes (Out Hunting for Teeth) from the series Return to Goya’s Caprichos (1999) by Enrique Chagoya.

Amidst all the amusing images in Open Wide, several prints strike a graver tone. These include three etchings depicting an 18th-century practice: pulling a hanged man’s teeth to use them for love potions. The earliest etching, by the Spanish master Francisco Goya, critiques this superstition; the second, by Salvador Dalí, mimics Goya’s and echoes some of Dalí’s sexual beliefs about teeth.

Snow White appears in the latest iteration of the scene, a commentary on Eurocentrism in art made by the Mexican-born American artist Enrique Chagoya. Here the Disney princess has replaced the young girl taking the corpse’s teeth in the original print, while another cartoon character, Rat Fink, has replaced the dead man. Superstitions about the teeth may no longer be the focal point of the piece, but it still has bite.

Goya and Dalí are not the only international luminaries represented in the show; Open Wide also features pieces by Marc Chagall, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, and Joan Miró. Aside from Chagoya, the exhibit also showcases other artists with connections to the San Francisco Bay Area, like Matt Phillips, Jeff Leedy, Art Hazelwood, and Dorothy Winslade.

Open Wide: 500 Years of Dentistry in Art will be on view until the summer of 2019.

New Archives Intern: Marissa Nadeau

Today’s post is an introduction from Marissa Nadeau, our newest intern here in the Archives. She will be working on the upcoming exhibit, Open Wide: 500 Years of Dentistry in Art.

Marissa Nadeau is from the town of Brookfield, Connecticut, and has lived along the East Coast her entire life. Transferring from a university down in South Carolina to one in Connecticut, Marissa ended up receiving her Bachelor of Arts from New York University, majoring in Art History with a double minor in Italian and Creative Writing (2016). During her time in NYC, Marissa interned in galleries and non-profits throughout the Chelsea neighborhood, most notably C24 Gallery and The Kitchen; she helped expand their social media platforms and fell in love with curatorial work by getting the chance to work closely with the team’s curator and contemporary artists. Marissa had the opportunity to study in Florence, Italy, for a semester (2015), which allowed her to adopt a global perspective of museums and the art market.

Marissa uprooted her East Coast ties and moved to San Francisco to follow her passion of pursuing curatorial work, and is currently a Masters candidate in the University of San Francisco’s Museum Studies program. She co-curated Modern Myth: South Asian Modern and Contemporary Works on Paper at the school’s Thacher Gallery in 2017, and has been interning with the Bay Area’s FOR-SITE Foundation since January 2018.

Marissa is excited for her newest role as a Curatorial Intern at the UCSF Archives & Special Collections and she looks forward to gaining a better understanding of archival best practices, while putting her theoretical knowledge to the test. She will be assisting with research, design, and installation of the upcoming exhibit, Open Wide: 500 Years of Dentistry in Art, opening this summer in the Library.

Guest Curator: Sabrina Oliveros

“Open Wide” exhibit poster

Sabrina Oliveros joined UCSF Archives & Special Collections in April 2018 as the guest curator for Open Wide: 500 Years of Dentistry in Art. Opening this summer, the show will feature selections from the collection of Dr. Morton G. Rivo, D.D.S. that were previously exhibited at the University at Buffalo. Together with artifacts, rare books, and other items in UCSF’s holdings, the artworks will show how perspectives on dentistry – and dentistry itself – have changed through the years.

Sabrina holds a master’s degree in Museum Studies from the University of San Francisco. She co-curated Reformations: Dürer & the New Age of Print at the school’s Thacher Gallery and was the curatorial intern for Company’s Coming: San Francisco Hosts the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at the San Francisco Public Library. She has also been a researcher, scriptwriter, and project assistant for Earprint, an award-winning creator of audio tours, interactives, and immersive sound experiences for museums. Lately, she has been working with the exhibits department at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Her main jobs are to shore up the Maritime Museum’s research on its WPA-era murals and to develop interpretation for exhibits.

Sabrina Oliveros

Born in New York City and raised in the Philippines, Sabrina has undergraduate degrees in Communication and History from the Ateneo de Manila. She worked for a publishing house and an online marketing firm before venturing into the museum field. Nowadays, when she’s not on exhibit-related projects, she ghostwrites articles for professionals ranging from kitchen remodelers and accountants to dog trainers and, yes – dentists.