Rehoming Schetky- Uncovering our Hidden Gems

Our new Project Assistant, Danielle started at the Museum in April. In this blog she tells us a little more about her upcoming project.

Even though I’m not from a medical background, I’ve always had a bit of a passion for medical history. Anyone who knows me will probably attest that I have a bit of a strange obsession with disease, surgery, and dissection. So, when I got the opportunity to go and work at Surgeons’ Hall, I practically danced around my living room.

Ever since I started working in museums, I’ve been a firm believer in making collections accessible – there’s no point having things if nobody ever gets to see them, right? One of my first forays into collections work was cataloguing pathology specimens at a hospital. Tucked away and almost forgotten, the collection had the potential to be a fantastic teaching resource, if only anyone knew what was down there!

What followed was a steep learning curve full of new terminology, storage and conservation challenges, and the tricky question of how to display and interpret human remains. Fortunately, this is where Surgeons’ Hall excels; the collections they have are world-class, and it’s always a treat to wander around the displays. It’s the type of place where you never stop learning, and there’s always something new to find.

I’m already discovering fresh faces to add to my personal hall of heroes: James Syme, who removed a 72oz tumour without anaesthetic in 24 minutes, Alphonse Louis, the man with the silver jaw, and of course Sir Charles Bell, whose comparative anatomy collection was a key acquisition for the college in the early days of the museum, but also painted an amazing series of oils depicting battle injuries from Corunna during the Napoleonic Wars.

James Syme

If you’ve ever visited the museum, you’re probably familiar with these. What you might not know about, however, is all the other works of art we currently have hidden away in our stores! This is where I come in; the project I’m working on now is to document and rehouse our art collections. It isn’t just portraits of old surgeons; it also includes fascinating clinical photographs, wonderfully detailed paintings and drawings of some of the specimens you can see in the museum, and absolutely beautiful medical illustrations by standout artists like A K Maxwell and J W Matthews.

The aim of this project is to make sure all these beautiful pieces are stored in a way that will ensure they will last, and to make them available online for everyone to appreciate. While we wish we could display everything we have, our galleries only have so much space! By putting our art online, it means that everyone gets to see it!

One of our key pieces is a painting by John Alexander Schetky, the namesake of our project! Keep an eye out for my blog dedicated to this celebrated surgeon and talented artist, where I’ll explore his military career, his surgical skill, and his artistic prowess. For now, rest assured that our artwork is finally about to get the attention it deserves!

Painting, oil, by John Alexander Schetky FRCSEd. circa 1810.

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