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.

 

 

 

Open Wide Exhibit Opening Reception and Self-Guided Tours

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 the exhibit Open Wide: 500 Years of Dentistry in Art.

Opening Reception: Thursday, September 27th, 12noon – 1pm, UCSF Library

REGISTER HERE

Join the UCSF Archives and Special Collections for the opening reception and self-guided tours exploring artworks from the collection of Dr. Morton G. Rivo, D.D.S., a former Chief of Periodontics at the UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion. These selections were first displayed in a 2003 exhibit of the same name at the University of Buffalo. UCSF’s iteration of Open Wide adapts materials from this earlier show and augments the artworks with artifacts, rare books, and UCSF School of Dentistry records from UCSF Archives. Together, they offer a glimpse into how perspectives on dentistry – and dentistry itself – have changed over the years. 

Open Wide will be on display on three floors (first, third, and fifth) of the UCSF Library at Parnassus through August 2019.

12pm Opening Remarks by Dr. Morton G. Rivo, D.D.S., former Chief of Periodontics at the UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion; Sabrina Oliveros, exhibit curator; and Sara Hughes, MA, EdD. Associate Dean of Education & Student Affairs, School of Dentistry

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.