A Ceroplast at NYAM

In today’s guest post, the artist Sigrid Sarda tells us how historical collections inform her work. Visitors to our Festival of Medical History & the Arts may have seen her moulages in person, and be sure to visit her blog for information on exhibitions and more of her fabulous work.

Earlier this year, I began researching the collections at the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. I am an artist/ceroplast, which means wax modeler. The resources I discovered at the Center have been of great inspiration to my work.

Sigrid Sarda, "MRSA," 2013. Wax, Human Hair, Life-size.

Sigrid Sarda, “MRSA,” 2013. Wax, Human Hair, Life-size.

First, let me tell you about myself. For over 30 years I was a painter. Due to the death of my father and the psychological aftermath I experienced, I ceased painting. In its place, the obsession of the wax figure came into being. Since I was completely self-taught and only worked in this medium for a few years, it was necessary to learn more about its technique and history. Having always had a fascination with religious icons, the body (particularly skin), diseases, and later on death, as well as incorporating human remains such as teeth, bone, and hair in my work, I realized I needed a better understanding of the aesthetics and techniques of wax used in creating these life-size figures and medical moulages.

While exhibiting a waxwork in New York City, I met up with Lisa O’Sullivan, director of the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health at NYAM, and Arlene Shaner, reference librarian and acting curator for historical collections. After discussing the exhibited piece and my ambitions working in wax Dr. O’Sullivan invited me to explore NYAM’s collections. This was an opportunity not to be missed!

Upon arriving at NYAM, I was directed to the 3rd floor of the massive Romanesque building where Arlene welcomed me. Delightful, funny, and knowledgeable, she made me immediately comfortable in the surroundings of the library and excited to view the books housed in the collection. She checked out my waxwork, we geeked out on ceroplasts, and spoke about other artists whose work dealt with death such as Joyce Cutler-Shaw.

On my second visit, filled with anticipation, I found myself greeted by marvelous books and an actual anatomical wax moulage of a diseased infant. After the initial perusal of my work, Arlene knew what was needed for my research: anatomical images and techniques, and had the books waiting for me in the formidable reading room. As a bonus she brought out the works of M. Gautier D’Agoty, the 18th-century French artist and anatomical illustrator. I pored over both heavily illustrated and non-illustrated books for hours, amassing information for future waxworks. There is truly nothing like the feel of a beautiful book in your hands. The library has become quite the addiction, what with the wonderful staff and superb collection!

Below are images from D’Agoty and various books consulted at NYAM, and above is one of my wax moulages.