Monday, December 27, 2010

A 10 year-old's take on hospital stay, c.1950

In 1950, the sister of 10 year-old John Davidson was admitted to Lakewood Hospital for an appendectomy. John chronicled her stay in drawings, both real and imagined. On the front of a sheet of paper, entitled “My visitors today,” he depicted the daily routine of nurses, meals, recuperation, and visits by family and pastor. On the reverse John caricatured a far different nocturnal hospital experience, entitled “What goes on when your asleep.” In these drawings John envisioned multiple instrumental interventions, with tools more suited to workshop than hospital. John’s sister must have been amused by his imaginings, for she kept the sketches and almost a half century later they found their way into the archives at the Dittrick.

Dittrick 1993.42.2 obverse
Dittrick 1993.42.2 reverse

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hospital Handi-Notes c.1950

For the coming holiday season I thought that something kid-oriented should be in order. One of the more charming items in the Dittrick archive is a c.1950 boxed set of Rust Craft greeting cards for hospital-bound children. We are normally inclined to think only of get-well cards sent to the infirm and ill. The cards depicted here turned the table, and were intended to let young hospital patients keep others apprised of their well-being, and hopefully improving health. Such cards provided family and friends with an update on their recuperation.

All this struck me as pretty remarkable, yet a tad surreal. What poor kid could/would provide family and friends with a meaningful report on their recuperation? And was this something “normal” in the sphere of greeting cards? The search to learn something about these cards resulted in a phone chat with Anne Stewart O’Donnell, a decorative arts scholar steeped in greeting card history. Anne cited The Romance of Greeting Cards (1956) by Earnest Dudley Chase as a key source, but it offered little illumination regarding this genre of cards. A bit more looking online confirmed that the cards could be credited to Marjorie Cooper of Three Little Kittens fame, as well as a full oeuvre of artwork for Rust Craft Greeting Card Company and other publishers of children’s books in the baby boomer era. Should I learn more, I’ll pass it along. For the moment, I will post these images and hope that you enjoy the charm of Cooper’s artwork.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Anatomica Aesthetica exhibition at the Cleveland Institute of Art: images from the opening on November 5.

Images from the opening of Anatomica Aesthetica, November 5, Reinberger Galleries, Cleveland Institute of Art.

Anatomica Aesthetica showcases more than a decade of work by contemporary fine-art photographers from the Mütter Museum and the H. F. Aitken biomedical llustrations from the Dittrick Medical History Center. The exhibition includes images from the Mütter Museum’s renowned historical photography collection alongside contemporary images that extend the boundaries of traditional photographic subject matter. Guest curator Laura Lindgren brought together aesthetically diverse photographers including Shelby Lee Adams, Max Aguilera-Hellweg, Gwen Akin and Allan Ludwig, Candace diCarlo, Dale Gunnoe, Steven Katzman, Mark Kessell, Scott Lindgren, Olivia Parker, Rosamond Purcell, Richard Ross, Ariel Ruizi Altaba, Harvey Stein, Arne Svenson, William Wegman, and Joel-Peter Witkin. The H. F. Aitken collection comprises some 2000+ sketches, drawings, paintings, prints, and books from the estate of Hamlet Frederick Aitken (1872 - 1939), an artist and medical illustrator from Massachusetts. Maggie Pierce, a senior in the CIA biomedical art program, selected fifty works from the Aitken collection to be featured in this installation.

The exhibition runs from November 5 to December 18, 2010.

Related events include:

December 8

Amanda S. Almon, C.M.I. Associate Professor and Head of the Biomedical Art Department at The Cleveland Institute of Art and Adjunct Assistant Professor in anatomy at Case Western Reserve University, will provide a brief history of Biomedical Art, and the important role artists play in imaging medical science, in conjunction with Anatomica Aesthetica from 12:30-1:15pm. Meet near the entrance to the Reinberger Galleries.

December 15

James M. Edmonson, Chief Curator, Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, College of Arts and Sciences, Case Western Reserve University and curator of Anatomica Aesthetica along with co-curator Maggie Pierce, senior in the Biomedical Art Program at The Cleveland Institute of Art, will give an informal gallery talk followed by a book signing for Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine, co-authored by John Harley Warner and James M. Edmonson. 12:30-1:15pm. Meet near the entrance to the Reinberger Galleries.

Photos courtesy of Robert Muller, Cleveland Institute of Art.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Anatomica Aesthetica: Mütter Museum Photographs and H. F. Aitken Illustrations from the Dittrick Medical History Center

A joint exhibition by the Dittrick and Mütter museums to be held at the Reinberger Galleries of the Cleveland Institute of Art, November 5, 2010 – January 2, 2011

Opening and reception November 5. Anatomica Aesthetica brings together art and medicine, as found in the collections of the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia and the Dittrick Medical History Center in Cleveland.

From the Mütter comes an exhibit curated by Laura Lindgren (Blast Books) showcasing more than a decade of work by contemporary fine-art photographers. This exhibition includes images from the museum’s renowned historical photography collection alongside contemporary images that extend the boundaries of traditional photographic subject matter. Guest curator Laura Lindgren brings together aesthetically diverse photographers inclu ding Shelby Lee Adams, Max Aguilera-Hellweg, Gwen Akin andAllan Ludwig, Candace diCarlo, Dale Gunnoe, Steven Katzman, Mark Kessell, Scott Lindgren, Olivia Parker, Rosamond Purcell, Richard Ross, Ariel Ruizi Altaba, Harvey Stein, Arne Svenson, William Wegman, and Joel-Peter Witkin.

From the Dittrick comes a display of art from the H. F. Aitken collection comprising some 2000+ sketches, drawings, paintings, prints, and books from the estate of Hamlet Frederick Aitken (1872 - 1939), an artist and medical illustrator from Massachus
etts. The Aitken collection reveals the professional emergence of biomedical illustration just as surgery and medicine were put on a new scientific basis around 1900 in medical centers such as Baltimore, Boston, and Cleveland. During his career, Aitken worked with leading figures of American surgery and anatomy, including Harvey Cushing, Frank H. Lahey, and John Collins Warren, as well as the leading medical illustrator Max Brödel at Johns Hopkins University.

Through the display of a selection of Aitken’s artwork, curated by CIA student Maggie Pierce, we are able to witness the career of a medical artist in unique detail, and to better understand the emergence of American medical illustration in this pivotal period.

Guest curator Laura Lindgren's lecture will be followed by a public opening and reception: Friday, Nov. 5 from 6 PM to 8 PM . Free and open to the public. Handicap access available.

Contact the gallery for more information on its public programs.

For Dittrick coming events, visit our website and Facebook page.

Friday, August 20, 2010

All roads lead to Copenhagen. At least they do for medical museum folk in September.

The Medical Museion originated in 1907 as the Medicinhistorisk Museum (Museum of the History of Medicine), to mark the 50th anniversary of the Danish Medical Association. In 1917, the University of Copenhagen assumed control of the collections, and today the museum is a part of the Institute of Public Health at the university''s Faculty of Health Sciences.

In 1946 the museum moved into the building complex at 60-62 Bredgade street, which housed the Royal Danish Surgical Academy (1787). King Christian VII founded the Academy in 1785 as an independent institution dedicated to the education of surgeons. Peter Meyn (1749-1808) designed the Academy building, which was inaugurated on 25 October 1787.

This scale model shows the layout of the 18th century hospital complex where the Medical Museion resides today. The square structure on the left is the original hospital, now a decorative arts museum (well worth visiting), while the Medical Museion sits at lower right, the second structure in.

In anticipation of the September meeting of the EAMHMS (European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences) in Copenhagen, I thought that I’d share my impressions and pictures of the Medical Museion, the hosting institution. Colleagues, friends, and readers of the Dittrick blog might only have learned about the Medical Museion in the past year or two. I know that I was pretty ignorant of the place until about six years ago, and only came to appreciated the scope of the Medical Museion endeavor after Thomas Söderqvist spoke here in 2005. Even with this information in hand, my visit there in 2006 brought still more surprises and new-found respect for the creative venture underway at the Medical Museion of the University of Copenhagen.

My first contact with anyone from the Medical Museion came in June 2004 at a meeting at Dartmouth University, “Scientific Instrument Collections in the University." That meeting, hosted by Rich Kremer (Dartmouth) and David Pantalony (Canada Science and Technology Museum), brought together curators and directors of university-based museums from across the North America and Europe. I knew perhaps less than one quarter of the attendees, so it was a great occasion for networking.

Among them I met Frank Allen Rasmussen, representing the Medical Museion and then responsible for the institution’s collections, archives, and library. Frank told me about ambitious plans for the Medical Museion that aimed to document biomedical technology developments in the period 1955-2005, with the generous support of Novo Nordisk Foundation, a research foundation. Frank spoke of a grand venture and I admit that I thought that he sounded a bit over-the-top and grandiose. Well, I was wrong.

Thomas Söderqvist, Ph.D., Director of the Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen

The University of Copenhagen engaged Thomas Söderqvist to lead this endeavor and he in turn assembled a team of bright young postdocs to tackle several spheres of modern biomedical technology, ranging from imaging to the foetus, and from endoscopy to the history of transplantation. The scope of this venture seemed pretty ambitious, so I made a note to follow their progress. That wasn’t very hard because Thomas had started a blog to document their doings, called Biomedicine on Display, and kept us informed about their developing efforts.

A quick read of his blog and I was hooked. Soderqvist clearly had a vision and a mandate to do something pathbreaking and I wanted to learn more. To that end, I invited him to give the Handerson Lecture at the Dittrick. His presentation, The Rise of Biomedicine and the End of the Modern Medical Museum, outlined the challenge of collecting and presenting medical innovations in an era of black-box technology, even disembodied computer-based instrumentation. Collecting itself is daunting and sometimes involves dumpster-diving in search of instruments on the verge of obsolescence and yet not considered “museum worthy”. Engagement with the arts comprised another exciting new avenue for making meaning of modern biotechnology, as did the encouragement of serious historical scholarship by the postdocs on Thomas’ team. Clearly, there was a lot going on in Copenhagen.

Wanting to learn more firsthand, I made it a point to swing by Copenhagen in 2006 after the EAMHMS Congress in Riga, Lativia. Specifically, I offered to present a seminar on our work with the Percy Skuy Collection on the History of Contraception [I had a pretty hard time explaining how Americans led in the bioscience of contraception, and yet the topic has also been a hot-button political and moral issue in our society].

Upon arrival at the Medical Museion, Thomas introduced me to his team of postdocs and staff, and then said he’d be busy for a while. Would I like to take a look around the place on my own, and we’d reconnect later? You bet! This sounded just great to me – to have a free rein to check out the place -- exhibits and collections behind-the-scenes -- on my own.

Boy, what a revelation. The Medical Museion is huge in terms of the artifact collection, with strong representation in 18th and 19th century material. Its home, originally a surgeons' academy or guild hall (not unlike the Josephinum in Vienna), housed a distinguished building incorporating a beautiful lecture amphitheater, flanked by an array of rooms turned into museum gallery space. As I wandered about the place it dawned upon me that this was a totally under-appreciated collection, far more important than I ever imagined. Yes, I knew they were doing important work collecting and interpreting contemporary medical technologies, but I had no clue how broad and extensive it is. Happily, I strolled through the period rooms and galleries usually visited on guided tours. With Thomas’ keys in hand, I headed into the recesses of storage above the main galleries. The collection storage (stores to the British) went on and on. I felt privileged and grateful for the experience. My images will convey the sense of discovery and wonder, I hope. Without doubt, the Medical Museion is one of the most important and comprehensive collections of medical technology – both retrospectively to the 18th century and on through to today – that I have visited as a medical museum curator over three decades.

Ion Meyer, Head of Collections and main conservator of the Medical Museion

After my visit, I reflected on what Thomas et cie have achieved, and how it needed to be shared with my medical museum colleagues. Yes, Thomas’ blog showcases many aspects of their accomplishments, but an open dialogue remained to be enjoyed. To that end, I leaned hard on him to host the EAMHMS Congress in 2010 and he finally relented and acquiesced. So… It’s off to Copenhagen in September, and when back I will report on what more we saw and learned. Check out the Congress info here.

Jim Edmonson

(all photos taken by me in 2006)

and some more Copehangen images:

Danish Museum of Art & Design (Kunstindustrimuseet).

Nyhavn (New Harbor)

Amalienborg Palace

Rosenborg Castle (Rosenborg Slot)

Monday, June 21, 2010

An innocent abroad, or Howard Dittrick’s visit to the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, 1928

I just finished reading Frances Larson’s wonderful book about Henry Wellcome and his collection, An Infinity of Things: How Sir Henry Wellcome Collected the World (Oxford, 2009). Larson deftly recounts Wellcome’s remarkable saga, from poor kid from Minnestota to a rich, knighted businessman in Britain, amassing a great fortune in the pharmaceutical industry. Initially, Wellcome collected curios to convey the air of an established gentleman, an exercise made easy by having honed his skills of presentation in the drug trade. But over time Wellcome’s collecting morphed from hobby to obsession, and by the time of his death in 1936 his collection easily exceeded a million objects, packed in thousands of unopened crates in London warehouses. Larson’s telling of this story is sensitive and insightful, and situates Wellcome within the collecting mania of the wealthy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s a complex tale, and well worth the read.

Learning more about Wellcome’s story compelled a new look at his impact upon Howard Dittrick. In 1928, Dittrick travelled across the Continent, through Italy, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Holland, and, finally, Britain. Along the way he saw the major medical history museums and chatted with their caretakers, including Dr. G. A. Wehrli of the Medizingeschichtliche Sammlung der Universitat Zurich in Switzerland and L. W. G. Malcolm at the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in London and C. J. S. Thompson, formerly of the Wellcome, but now at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. From these men he gained invaluable insights into purposes and functioning of medical history museums. Dittrick was later fond of recalling the admonition of Sir Arthur Keith, of the Royal College of Surgeons, "never to treat any donated historic material as junk."

I went back to Howard’s travel diaries to see what impression the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum (1913-32) made upon him.
Dittrick had only been curator at the Cleveland museum for two years, and in that sense remained a neophyte. After arriving in London, Dr. and Mrs. Dittrick did some general sightseeing and then he called at the Wellcome Museum on May 25: “Met Mr. Malcolm & went over Museum. Many pictures & paintings used. Set up of pharmacy shops of periods are Turkish, Old time Barber Surgeon…”

Dittrick’s travel diary goes on for several pages, making note of a seemingly random litany of odd and offbeat things that attracted his attention and that he deemed worthy of note – a curious trephine, Leper’s clapper, copper cupping instruments from India, and so on. Dittrick returned the next day, May 26, again taking note of the curious and the remarkable. He carefully transcribed text from labels: “ ‘The Evolution of the Lancet. The fingernail was the earliest form of lancet… The medicine men of many countries savage races also use the nail as a lancet and the same custom exists even today among country practitioners in Europe.” On May 29, in the afternoon, Dittrick returned to the Wellcome, jotting down notes on a panoply of the curious and the strange, from rhinoceros horn cups thought to neutralize the effect of poisons, to the academic gown of Sir William Osler, and to medals and amulets for the plague.

On the morning of May 30 he met with Wellcome’s curator Macolm for a more substantive interaction. Dittrick recorded details of collection care and management in his diary: “In labeling instruments he uses ordinary tube paint & gold size painted on with a fine brush. See small notebook for complete scheme of classification. Had conference with Mr. Malcolm, & he asked me to write on my return for any requests. He wants model of Perkens Tractors and a quack treatment by Radium by Wireless.” So at this early juncture an exchange between Dittrick and Wellcome’s agents was in play, and correspondence in the Dittrick Museum accession files testifies to its continuance, even if only on occasion – Dittrck wrote chiefly soliciting help in identifying or documenting unusual items.

What Dittrick could not apprehend, but Larson’s book makes clear, is that Wellcome’s collection had already gotten far out of hand. What took almost forty years to collect would take another forty years to put in order – some by donation to the Science Museum where it can be seen in the Wellcome galleries, some remaining part of the Wellcome Trust and can today be seen in their gallery on Euston Road, and much dispersed to ethnographic collections or sold at auction.

Upon return to Cleveland Dittrick set about implementing the Wellcome’s classification system, became inspired to seek out new, exotic material for his museum, and aspired to create collections and galleries inspired by the visit to London. Like Wellcome, this process would not be finished in Dittrick’s lifetime. Perhaps this was their inescapable fate. For as Larson concludes, “… neither knowledge nor a collection can be finished. …There is always more to know, and there is always more to buy.”

Jim Edmonson

Dittrick's hotel bill