The W. D. Trotter Anatomy Museum at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, contains a collection that is truly a confluence of science and the humanities. The museum houses over 3,000 catalogued anatomy specimens and models in an elegant space whose warm aesthetics include diffuse natural lighting, wooden framed glass cabinets and rimu stairs leading to a mezzanine floor.
The models themselves are works of art as well as teachers of science. They include wax models by the Ziegler and Tramond studios, 77 authentic painted plaster models by the Leipzig firm of Steger, clastique papier-mache´models by Louis Auzoux’s factory, as well as many in-house wet and plastinated specimens, and models made of fibreglass, wax and even hand-carved wood.
We are enormously fortunate to have this teaching collection today. It has survived the trend in recent decades to dismantle similar collections due to space stress at institutions, and the accompanying push to replace physical learning methods with digital technology. However, not only is this collection now being appreciated anew for its artistic merit and the irreplaceable value of its items, but the models themselves are being freshly understood as powerful learning aids. Recent research about touch and kinesthetics indicates that learning from physical 3D objects is very effective: handling anatomy models complements and deepens all other learning experiences.
One particular iconic and endearing model is Dr. Louis Auzoux’s large (scale 1:10) clastique papier mache´ ear model. Its pull-apart design means that pieces can be removed to see deeper structures. The anatomical structures themselves are very detailed and can be clearly viewed because of the large scale. It is thought to be one of only three complete ear models in the world. The other two are displayed in museum cases and are not available to hold. Our model has been continuously used for hands-on teaching ever since it was introduced to the museum in the 1880s, and is now worn and damaged.
In 2015 Chris Smith, curator of the Anatomy Museum, investigated ways of creating a replica Auzoux ear for teaching purposes, thus allowing the original to be retired. Given the complex 3D nature of the model, with its many concave surfaces, CT scanning was chosen as the most appropriate way to map its design. DICOM images obtained from scanning were then printed in hard plastic. Unfortunately, the firm outsourced to print the scan files had not ‘cleaned up’ the files before printing, and there were significant shape distortions due to ‘noise’ or interference from internal metal wire in the parts. The two-part cochlea was beyond salvaging. Thankfully, I was able to use my skills as an anatomical scientific artist to sculpt and modify the six remaining parts until they were anatomically similar to the original pieces. I carved back the extra ‘noise’ with dentistry grinding burrs, razor blades and sandpaper, and added missing parts with epoxy filler and Kneadite ‘green stuff’. Finally, the pieces were hand-sanded to 400 grit smoothness, sprayed with plastic adhesion promoter, then intricately painted using high gloss enamels, colour-matched to the original model. Quirky details that showed Louis Auzoux’s creative problem-solving were also reproduced. For example, pipe cleaners describe the cilia hairs in the semi-circular canals, 0.22 rifle shells are used as shafts to receive long pins from the external ear part, and the long pins themselves are presented in the same material as the original – no. 8 wire.
While a lengthy and costly process, this project is providing us with the experience, expertise and networks to recreate further anatomical taonga in this collection. We hope that resources from this museum, so carefully collected and cared for by past and present staff, will disseminate beyond in-house use and inform and inspire new generations of learners, be they in science or the humanities.
Dr Louisa Baillie is working as an anatomical scientific artist for the Anatomy Department, University of Otago.
An article by Louisa Baillie and Chris Smith about this museum, its collection, and the reproduction of one of its precious items, was recently published by the New Zealand Medical Journal, a scientific journal for members of the medical profession [Baillie LJM, Smith CL. The Otago Medical School Anatomy Museum Collection: Taonga for learning in the 21st Century. NZMJ 2018; 131:72-76. ISSN 1175-8716]. This article uses some of that publication and its images, with kind permission from the NZMJ.
Read Louisa Baillie’s previous articles on Corpus: