Monday, July 23, 2007

Iconographic Swan

On Friday, we received a donation of 24 boxes of papers, photographs, books, and objects from the personal files of Dr. Kenneth Carl Swan, M.D. Along with more than three boxes of apparatus and instruments that had been delivered to us a few weeks ago, these materials will become the Kenneth Carl Swan Collection here at Historical Collections & Archives.

The boxes are very full, and very heavy, but there were a few loose items. This one certainly caught my eye--at first, I thought (hoped?) that it was a portrait on velvet. Even though the painting is on a paper surface, it does not fail to delight with its vivid and unusual symbolism.

Swan, past chair of the American Board of Ophthalmology, has been depicted as a swan a with human head, perched atop the human eye. The eye, flanked by its lashed lids, shows a small bleeding cut (lower right); a bubbling cauldron sends its steam up through the iris. Swan's love of sports is counterbalanced with a pile of what appears to be money (indicating success, I should think, and not greed). His long associations with Sigma Chi and with the Elks are also represented. I'm curious about the object that appears to be a toilet plunger, grasped in the swan's wing: was he an adept handyman, or is this perhaps some ophthalmological tool unfamiliar to the eyes of the layman? Perhaps one of the many boxes holds the key to this elaborate iconography....

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