Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween at the Medical Museum

Which costumes won prizes? Funniest: Roadkill; Scariest: The Devil's Minion; Most like something you'd see through a microscope: Plague. With rats, of course.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

On Traveling with Treasures

This is posted at the suggestion of a museum colleague and describes a common enough event for frequent flyers but not, perhaps, for the casual traveler. A few years ago I was carrying two secured and hardened suitcases with important artifacts, bringing them from their home in a mid-western city to a museum where they would be on display for a few months. The owners generously agreed to the display but were cautious about their transportation. They required personal couriering and insisted that each suitcase get its own seat on the aircraft with special securing straps, duly paid for, of course; the cases were not to be placed in the hold.

The airline was happy to oblige and all was set. I was scheduled to take the next to last flight out when one of those famous mid-country storms blew up and the passengers in the waiting area began to queue up to be sure they got out that evening, trying to change their flight to the next to last flight rather than risk a layover should the last flight be cancelled. They had already become openly concerned about my carrying the two suitcases, and several business travelers mentioned I could not carry both cases on board; only one bag per passenger. Rather than explain my unusual circumstances, I merely thanked them for their concern. But as the weather looked bleaker and bleaker, these fellow travelers really hit the roof when they realized the cases and I were getting on that plane and some of them weren't. It brought out an unpleasant side of many folks which seemed unusual at the time (pre 9/11/2001), but seems pretty commonplace now--treasures or not. Just in case you wondered, the cases and I sat three across; I was offered but did not accept their share of flight snacks, and we all arrived safely.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Begin with good bones

See this wonderful drawing in the October newsletter on Marcy Tilton's website.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fiber Bundles and Tracts

Anatomists are familiar with bundles and tracts of fibers (Bundle of His, etc.). And they're familiar with gastrointestinal systems. But this? Wonderful!! See the creator's site for more: Strange but Trewe. Isn't that great?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Combined Interests

An example of combined interests: A small quilt I made from images of anatomical objects scanned and printed onto fabric. The white "speck" in the upper left, near the lid of the tall jar, is a pewter fly sewn to the surfact of the quilt. My first quilt! It's been given away but it was fun to make, particularly figuring out how to make objects look "jarred."

Monday, September 3, 2007

Making the Cut

It took many years of working with a former curator at the Museum before he would be able to see me as an equal coworker and to trust me as a colleague. But one day, not long after he received the news he was terminally ill, he took me aside and told me how he wanted his brain to be sectioned and prepared in order to best show off the features he thought would be of greatest interest to researchers in the future. Later the same day, I was scheduled to present a talk to historians of medicine. The importance of the historical topic paled (I cannot now recall the topic) but I was not willing to share what the curator had asked me to keep confidential until after his death. History happens every monent, I guess, and I've never met more future-oriented scholars than some of those who work in museums.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Encountering old friends for the first time

The specimens that museum employees come to regard as familiar and even as old friends were once seen by each person for the first time. The first time I visited the Army Medical Museum it meant a trip with my father to the national mall, where the museum resided in an old red brick building (now creatively known as "the Old Red Brick") on a hot, hot, damp Washington Saturday. Deserted weekend streets. But I remember expansive black and white floors, greenery moving slightly to the whir of an old pedestal fan, and sunlit staircases graced with huge black and white photos of explosions and the casualties of war. Upstairs were rooms of cases with jars of specimens. The leg, some brains, and dozens of microscopes etched into my own brain, which must have been very young indeed. I see them now everyday, and if that first memory of seeing them is not a fresh one, it certainly is a vivid one, and it evokes wonder without fail.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A museum famed for the specimens it does not have

I work in a museum that receives visitors hoping to see things we don't have and have never had. They leave always having seen something even more spectacular than the item they asked about. But I wonder whether they wish they had seen the imaginary, and whether we should show it to them. The posts that follow are stories of life and death in a medical museum, and the artifacts and specimens that punctuate those stories.