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From a WWII health pamphlet designed by Theodore Geisel (AKA “Dr. Seuss”).
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From a WWII health pamphlet designed by Theodore Geisel (AKA “Dr. Seuss”).
London’s Science Museum hosts a lovely virtual collection of objects related to medical history. The object above is described as a “pair of artificial arms for a child, Roehampton, England, 1964, noting that the arts were somehow “gas powered” (?). The chid for whom these arms were designed is understood to be a victim of his mother’s prenatal use of Thalidomide, a drug used to assist with sleep and combat morning sickness throughout the 1950s and up until 1962, when it was associated with thousands of infants born with deformed and diminished limbs. The limbs of this “jacket” were controlled by “by the child’s own short limbs or shoulders touching against sensitive valves on the inner surface of the ‘jacket’.” It’s also noted that most prosthetics of this sort were undoubtedly uncomfortable and usually discarded once the child reached teenage years.
Below are some other orthotics from the same site. Only the tip of the iceberg of what’s offered.
Child’s mechanical spinal support, England, 1940-1960
Child’s mechanical spine and head support, England, 1940-1960
Finger splint, England, 1960-1980
Leg and ankle splint, England, 1940-1960
Wrist and hand splint, England, 1960-1980
I shot these a while back while visiting the Musée Dupuytren at the University of Paris medical school and thought I’d share them here. The museum itself is somewhat hard to find (some medical students queried nearby had no idea it existed) and is entered through a series of cluttered academic offices. I was happy to get any pictures at all as photographers normally require written permission, however, the accidental jostling of a rather persistent cough caused my shutter to be repeatedly depressed resulting in these sometimes fuzzy pictures. The museum contains hundreds of preserved specimens, wax moulages representing various pathologies, and — apparently — a demon-goat and the hand of a deceased peacenik.
(photos from Empire de la Mort.)
Usually we try to reign in our morbid interests right at the point where life ends and death begins, but in this case, we make an exception for our friend artist, photographer, writer Paul Koudounaris. After years of travel and photography, Koudounaris has produced the exquisitely illustrated and painstakingly researched The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses now available for pre-order from Amazon. Here is the description from the site:
From bone fetishism in the ancient world to the painted skulls of Salzburg: an unusual and compelling work of cultural history.
It is sometimes said that death is the last taboo, but it was not always so. For centuries, religious establishments constructed decorated ossuaries and charnel houses that stand as masterpieces of art created from human bone. These unique structures have been pushed into the footnotes of history; they were part of a dialogue with death that is now silent.
The sites in this specially photographed and brilliantly original study range from the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Palermo, where the living would visit mummified or skeletal remains and lovingly dress them; to the Paris catacombs; to fantastic bone-encrusted creations in Austria, Cambodia, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Peru, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and elsewhere.
Paul Koudounaris photographed more than seventy sites for this book. He analyzes the role of these remarkable memorials within the cultures that created them, as well as the mythology and folklore that developed around them, and skillfully traces a remarkable human endeavor. 250 full-color and 50 black-and-white photographs.
Koudounaris has also launched the supplemental site Empire de la Mort where a rich foretaste of the publication’s wonders are available.
While poking around Sutured Infection’s Tumblr, we found these lovely medical themed paintings by Richard Tennant Cooper commissioned in 1912 by the Henry Wellcome for his museum of medical history.
Richard Tennant Cooper – “A giant claw pierces the breast of a sleeping naked woman, another naked woman swoops down and stabs the claw with a knife ; symbolising science’s fight against cancer.”, c. 1910
Richard Tennant Cooper: “An unconscious naked man lying on a table being attacked by little demons armed with surgical instruments; symbolising the effect of chloroform on the human body.”, 1912
Richard Tennant Cooper: “Syphilis”, 1912
And speaking of von Hagens yesterday, we came upon this…..
“Why, yes, that is a plastinated bull testicle hanging from my neck!”
It’s not often enough you are able to utter that sentence, is it? But if you and your credit card can take a moment to swing by world-famous Gunther von “The Plastinator” Hagens’ online giftshop, your chances of accepting plastinated bull testicle compliments would be greatly increased. If you buy one, of course.
Or if the bull testicle piece is a bit minimalist for you, perhaps these more ornate pig slice earrings would be to your liking? Not quite sure what part of the pig they are, but they don’t look much like bacon.
Still not flamboyant enough? Not to worry! There are countless other choices representing varying degrees baroque grotesquery in Gunther’s Consumerworld pleasure palace.
Unfortunately, the plastinated cross-sectional “Sex Act” piece below is sold. It’s a shame too because it would have made quite a striking coffee table.
Our last entry on book surgeries got us thinking about a more grisly nexus of books and anatomy, in particular: anthropodermic bibliopegy, or the use of human skin in bookbinding.
If you thought such things only existed in concentration camp mythology and The Evil Dead movies, think again. Genuine examples can be found in museums the world over. London’s Wellcome Library in London has one; Brown University in Providence, and Berkeley’s Bancroft Library each have one; Harvard has two, and The Mütter Museum boasts four examples including one sporting a tattoo.
Though reasons for the creation of such volumes were varied, the rationale is more or less apparent in many cases as with the skin from dissected cadavers used to bind anatomy books, or the skin of convicted murderers punitively employed in the binding of accounts of their trials. Less obvious, and more creepy — if one can really parse such things when it comes to books bound in human skin — would be the Bancroft Library’s example created during the French Revolution– a book of common prayer.
Nor is the practice a thing of the past, as made clear this month by the appearance of a story about a Russian writer Maksim Aleshin currently writing a book he plans to have bound in his own skin, a proposition serious enough to have already placed the book on the market. It’ll be $100,000, so start squirreling away funds now as you’re sure to have competition from other ghoulish collectors, including the small but dedicated followers of the anthropodermic bibliopegy interest group on FaceBook.
The chance to enjoy an ice cream soda with a partner attractively outfitted in an orthopedic garment is one of life’s rare pleasures. Rarer still is such a handsome depiction of said moment. But here we have it all — the awkwardly placed candelabra, the oversized tablecloth, and the strange suggestion of cross-dressing presented by the silver-haired gentleman’s bra-like garment. And for this we have to thank Bad Postcards, a must-see website for anyone eager to ogle kitschy old postcards of cheesy hotel rooms, fiberglass dinosaurs, and kittens plopped down next to geraniums — and this one originally distributed by “OTC Professional Appliances.” The note on the back further explains: “Save that roll of tape, Doctor…prescribe comfortable OTC rib belts for your rib-fracture cases…easily removable for bathing, examination, or dressing…foam rubber padded or flannel-lined.”
Our friends from OTC also bring us this image of neck traction enjoyed in the comfort of one’s own home:
The back reads: “Whether for extension or suspension, Doctor…we’re equipped to take care of your head halter needs…we can supply complete home traction kits.”
And if these don’t capture your heart, perhaps the retro goodness of this colossal walk-through heart from the Science Museum at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute will set your own non-fiberglass ticker all aflutter.
A while ago I blogged this for Laughing Squid, and am reposting it here as it clearly reflects The Art of Bleeding’s own icky medical obsessions.
Does the name Chevalier Jackson ring a bell? No? Then you’re probably not a laryngologist or obsessive fan of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum and its collection of medical oddities — in particular the flat-files in which Dr. Chevalier Jackson obsessively-compulsively aranged his 2,000-piece archive of: “Foreign Bodies Removed from the Food and Air Passages.”
But you don’t need to know Jackson or have visited the museum to appreciate the work of San Francisco artist, collector, and jewelry designer Lisa Wood, who has created her own imaginative interpretation of the eccentric doctor’s collection using dinner plates, Victorian tintypes, and various esophagus-sized trinkets.
Each of Wood’s “Swallowing Plates”, published in her book The Swallowing Plates, Objects Swallowed and Recovered From the Human Body, serve up its tiny portion of doom along with matched narrative spun from the artist’s imagination — such as that of little Marion Pickering whose game of catching jacks in her mouth, claims not only her own life but the right arm of her guilt-ridden mother who flings herself before a train.
Those interested in a more literal (yet notably poetic) account of things that go down the wrong way and the doctor who loved them, may want to consult Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them, by award-winning author Mary Cappello.