by Rebecca Hopman

One of the most popular cases in the Curious and Curiouser exhibition at the Rakow Library revolves around glass eyes, and it’s easy to see why. People are fascinated by eyes – real or fake. Our case includes several eye-catching advertisements and a box with samples of glass eyes at each stage of the prosthetic-making process.

We paired several of the Rakow Library’s glass eye advertisements with a box of glass eyes at different stages of the prosthetic-making process.

We’re taking this part of the exhibition one step further by having a daily eye-making demo at the Museum. Our team of flameworkers demonstrates how to make glass eyes to our visitors, explaining the techniques and the history behind prosthetic eyes while they manipulate the hot glass. They are quick to say their examples are far from the real thing, but they look pretty realistic to me!

I spoke to one of our flameworkers, Caitlin Hyde, about the demo and its connections to the Library’s collection.

Caitlin Hyde demonstrates flameworking to Museum visitors.

Several practice eyes made by our flameworking team.

RH: Why did you choose to make glass eyes for your demonstration?

CH: Our flameworking team likes to develop a demo that relates to any special exhibit happening at the Museum or the Rakow Library. When I saw the glass eyes in the Curious & Curiouser exhibit, this seemed like a great option for us. Not only are the eyes flameworked, but they are so intriguing in historical, sociological, scientific and art contexts!

RH: How did you learn to make prosthetic eyes?

CH: The specialized technical skills used for making real artificial eyes require years of study and practice, but we have been delighted with the challenge of learning, at least enough, to show our visitors the various steps of the process.

RH: Tell me about the special glass you’re using for this demo.

CH: Glass eyes are made from a unique glass originally formulated specifically for the process in the 1800s. It works well for eye prosthetics because it is less chemically reactive with human tears, and so maintains a smooth surface longer than other types of glass.

That also means it behaves differently than other types of glass when it is being shaped in the flame. You can imagine that provides an interesting learning curve for our team. Any time you switch from one glass to another there are adjustments that need to be made in how you heat the glass, how you interact with and shape the object. So, in developing this demo we’ve had the (occasionally uncomfortable) pleasure of stepping out of our comfort zone and stretching the boundaries of our technical skills.

RH: What inspired this demo and your interest in prosthetic eyes?

CH: It was the fact of the eye samples and the glass eye advertising poster being in the Rakow Library collection, along with other interesting tidbits, like the story of a glass eye smuggler, that inspired this research project and the demo.

Advertising poster for glass eyes, Queens & Co., Philadelphia, Pa., 1891. CMGL 72685.

Artificial eyes: enameled eyes in assorted natural colors: price list, Demuth Brothers, New York: Demuth Brothers, 1883. CMGL 53915.

Preis-Liste über Emaille-Augen mit schwarzer Pupille (Price list for enameled eyes with black pupils), L.W. Schaufuss (Firm), Dresden: L. W. Schaufuss, 1866. CMGL 54006.

RH: How did you develop the stories you tell during the demo?

CH: We followed a trail of technical and historical investigation that unearthed a great range of fascinating details about the history of artificial eyes made of various materials, a connection between glass eyes and the town of Lauscha, Germany, (a historic glass center) as well as some pretty unique flamework techniques.

RH: How have visitors reacted to your demos?

CH: We’ve been presenting The Curious Glass Eye demo for a few weeks now and visitors are very responsive. It’s a fun and unusual demonstration and reactions range from delight and fascination to intrigue and even the occasional squirmy, “Ooh, look! It’s an eyeball!” comment.

Eric Goldschmidt, Properties of Glass Programs Supervisor at the Museum, demonstrates several steps of the prosthetic-making process.

Eric Goldschmidt, Properties of Glass Programs Supervisor at the Museum, demonstrates several steps of the prosthetic-making process.

Detail of the eye.

 

Curious? Learn more about the exhibition by reading the monthly posts published on the CMoG blog and the LAIP blog, and follow us on social media at @corningmuseum.

 

This post is shared here with permission from the CMOG and the Rakow Research Library. 

 

profilepic_hopmanRebecca Hopman is the Outreach Librarian at The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass. She has worked in a number of libraries and archives since 2005 and received her MLS from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012. When she’s not at the library, you might find her embroidering, writing snail mail, or cheering on the Chicago Cubs. Follow her on tumblrextabulis.tumblr.com.

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