The mere mention of 19th-century surgery may conjure up grotesque images of gore and doctors begging for a malpractice lawsuit, but this is a perception that one University of Oregon graduate aims to debunk.
Faith Kreskey wrote and did extensive research for the exhibition No Harm Intended: A Medical History of Lane County, which studies the county’s medical history through the medical devices and cures used from 1840 to 1940.
The exhibit is on display until March 31 at the Lane County Historical Museum (730 W 13th Ave), where Kreskey works as the exhibit’s curator.
“That time period covers some of the biggest changes in American medicine,” Kreskey said via email. “Medical practices of the past are often dismissed as simply wrong-headed, but I wanted to present a more comprehensive view that provided context for the decisions medical professionals made.”
Kreskey’s research for the exhibition began by looking through the LCHM’s collections to locate any materials related to the county’s medical history. In doing so, she found a life-sized anatomical teaching mannequin made of chromolithographed paper. Other museum employees claimed to have never seen this before.
“I have let odd objects or unusual subjects guide my curatorial and research choices, and I am quite proud of my ability to follow through on slightly offbeat ideas,” said Kreskey, who graduated from the UO with an M.A. degree in art history in spring 2012. “Things that are unusual or odd spark the imagination; it creates a view of the past as something that was vibrant and alive.”
The LCHM has a collection of 50,000 photographs and more than 10,000 objects. Mari Baldwin with PeaceHealth Laboratories facilitated the loan of some equipment from the 1930s and ‘40s to the museum, which enabled a component of the exhibit about testing and laboratory science.
Kreskey, a Reedsport native, said much of the museum’s collection of medical equipment and ephemera has not been displayed before this exhibition.
Akiko Walley, assistant professor of Japanese art in the department of the history of art and architecture, was Kreskey’s primary thesis advisor at UO. She said that Kreskey’s contribution to this little-known subject of Lane County’s medical history is significant.
“In addition to being informative, I thought the exhibition was wonderfully well-paced and the objects on display were fascinating,” Walley said. “It is such a rare experience to go through an exhibit, think of a question reading a text panel and have that very question answered in the next panel.”
Dr. Lee Michels, a retired radiologist based in Eugene, said that No Harm Intended offers some interesting context for the development of medical advancements.
“It was fascinating to be reminded of the technological progress of medicine,” Dr. Michels said. “There was quite a bit of enthusiasm for electro-magnetic shocking, which has fallen completely out of disfavor. It really talks to medical enthusiasms. … You can understand back then how the scientific method wasn’t something that was regularly applied to medicine.”
While an intern at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art from fall 2011 to spring 2012, Kreskey conducted research on the exhibition Circular Journeys and Leaping Play: The World of 19th Century Japanese Chutes & Ladders which was on display in 2011-2012. From fall 2012 to spring 2013, Kreskey selected prints for a JSMA gallery rotation titled Impressions from the Vault: The Rare, the Beautiful, and the Bizarre.