Friday, March 04, 2011

Not Stories from the Clippings

OCAC Project Update

I love to pronounce the name of the school "O-KAK" but the real name, of course, is the Oregon College of Art and Craft. However, there was a time when my form of the pronunciation was in vogue. According to their Web site, " OCAC has been championing artmaking through craft since 1907... As the only private art college west of the Mississippi to offer an accredited BFA in Crafts, OCAC is a superb laboratory for the invention of modern craft... As OCAC enters its second century of fine art and craft education, the College is poised to be at the center of the next chapter of the contempory craft movement."

It is therefore, a priviledge to be working with the 28+ artists who have graduated from this college with such an illustrious profile. And one might imagine that it is, indeed, a challenge for an artist to draw an accession number from a hat and have that accession number be attached to an historical medical artifact.

Some of these items are dated to the 16th century and are extremely fragile and priceless; many are sharp, some imposing, even dangerous, one might say. Other items are from the the civil war and the Spanish American War and used to amputate gangrenous appendages. Another, a German field kit, used on the battlefield in WWII, heavy, brilliant and formidable. Drugs, handmade and odiferous from the horse and buggy days, when physicians had no other options but to use what was at hand, lie in leather saddle bags, little changed from that time. And there is electro-therapuetic apparatus for treating nervous conditions and who knows what else. There is a porcelain-melting dental furnace that heats to over 2,000 degrees farenheit and fracture splints, curveous and provocative, strange book plates with hieroglyphic images on filament thin material. And there are facial deformity casts, blood sucking cupping sets, a mason's apron, yes doctors have lives outside of the office, and a bubbling pneumothorax machine, scarey in it's entirety, complexity and size. And I musn't leave out the lead nipple protectors.

These are the objects that the book artists, the sculptors, metal artists, jewelry artists, painters, collage artists, photographers and textile artists have to work with. But as it turns out and by the luck of the draw, metal artists ended up with the drug kits, and textile artists ended up with the heavy machinery, and jewelry artists drew sharp objects.

It has been interesting and fun to see them interact with their pieces. I provide them with some backgound... like, "the best surgeons were those who could cut fast and accurate... you see, there was no anesthesia at this time"; or "yes, people used to drink radium..."; or a woman put that around her neck and the physician would administer an electric shock to alleviate hysteria!

They are taking photos, handling the pieces, laying them out, trying them on and just letting the object speak to them. I can hardly wait to see what they produce. Can you?

I will be announcing the opening of the show, but there are more stories to tell as the artists come to the History of Medicine Room to be surprised by simplicity of design, ingenuity and invention in the early days of medicine.

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