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Art Notes: D-H Radiologists Reveal Saint-Gaudens Sculptures

  • Valley News video. Footage and photo courtesy Jeff Volckaert. Music via Free Music Archive: "The Moment of Truth" by Komiku.

  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock radiologists scanned molds of unfinished work -- including the Lady Victory head from the General William Tecumseh Sherman monument in New York City -- by the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. They have been sealed for more than 100 years. The scans were 3-D printed and are on display in the rotunda at DHMC in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 30, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A mold of an eagle by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens took about 35 hours for Jeffrey Volckaert to make a 3-D print of at his home. It's amongst the 16 molds that have been sealed for more than 100 years and were scanned by radiologists at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. The finished scans are on display at DHMC in Lebanon, N.H. (Jeffrey Volckaert photograph)

  • The head that was part of the "Seated Lincoln" sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens is one of 16 unfinished molds that Dartmouth-Hitchcock radiologists scanned and then made 3-D prints from. The molds have been sealed for more than 100 years. The finished scans are on display at DHMC in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 30, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock radiologists scanned molds of unfinished work by the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. They have been sealed for more than 100 years. The scans were 3-D printed and are on display in the rotunda at DHMC in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 30, 2018. In the foreground is a model of the hospital complex. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, February 01, 2018

Some century-old mysteries have been solved — and at least one new one has been opened — since the radiology department at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center received an unusual request a little over a year ago.

The request came from Rick Kendall, superintendent of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, in Cornish. He wanted to know: If a CT scanner can show what’s inside the human body, could it also show what’s inside a hunk of plaster? Could they try?

The short answer to his question is on view in the main rotunda of the Lebanon campus in a display called “Lincoln in Negative Space: The Intersection of Imaging and Art.”

Those hunks of plaster contain original molds that Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the noted 19th-century sculptor and a central figure in the Cornish Colony of artists and writers, used to cast his pieces. Like many sculptors, he would preserve his molds for future reference by sealing them between two plaster halves, said Henry Duffy, curator of the historic site.

“In Saint-Gaudens’ day, they would use strips of burlap or cheesecloth soaked in plaster that would be wrapped around and harden to make a seal that you have to break open to get out what’s in there,” Duffy said. But art historians have been unwilling to break open the molds, because of their historical significance. Since Saint-Gaudens died in 1907, others could only guess as to what was inside.

“We didn’t know if it would work. Maybe it wouldn’t read anything, and be blank,” said Duffy. “It was essentially a shot in the dark on our part.”

Dr. Jocelyn Chertoff, chairwoman of the radiology department, has heard of people CT-scanning a number of unorthodox objects, from kids’ favorite toys to ancient Egyptian mummies. As long as the Saint-Gaudens’ molds didn’t contain metal, which can disrupt the images with white markings called “streak artifacts,” she didn’t see why it shouldn’t be possible to view the long-hidden molds.

The Saint-Gaudens team brought over 16 sealed molds to scan, and it was immediately clear that Dr. Chertoff’s instinct was right.

“We could see something, and almost right away we could tell it was a bust,” Duffy said. In a matter of minutes, what started out as vague, hazy shapes clarified into detail. There were busts and heads, hands and legs, folds of fabric, an eagle.

The molds were mostly smaller pieces of much larger works, with many of them recognizable as parts of the Phillips Brooks Memorial, in Boston, which pays tribute to the 19th-century Episcopal clergyman. For Duffy, these piecemeal discoveries offer a glimpse into Saint-Gaudens’ artistic process.

“It’s interesting to see how they’re made, how a thing of that size is actually made,” he said. The molds of hands from the Brooks Memorial, for example, “show us how he made fingers. … From the mold he would put little pieces of clay in the fingers, and build it up that way to make the long narrow shape, which is an interesting working method we didn’t know about before.”

But CT-scanning the molds was the easy part. The bigger challenge was in post-processing, which started with integrating the hundreds of slices of two-dimensional images from the scan into a single, digital model of the mold. Then came “inverting” the model, so that it was no longer based on the plaster mold, but on the empty air inside of it — the “negative space” that, if replaced with a solid material, would look like the original Saint-Gaudens piece.

Much of this work was done by Kayla Denny, a 3-D specialist at DHMC. To generate this negative space model, “you just start somewhere,” she said in an interview at DHMC, where she demonstrated the process. She clicked her mouse on an arbitrary point in space, and watched as the highlighted area expanded to fill the void inside the plaster.

“It’s finding everything with similar densities,” she explained. “But you have to tell it when to stop. … I had to do some of these five or six times.”

The team didn’t initially plan to go further than creating a digital model, but Jeff Volckaert, a radiology project manager at DHMC, offered to take the initiative to the next level. Volckaert happens to have a couple 3-D printers at home — in fact, he is something of a 3-D printing enthusiast — and wanted to try making 3-D printouts of the negative space, which would reconstruct the Saint-Gaudens pieces on a smaller, but tangible, scale.

“(3-D printing) is a huge intersection of all my hobbies,” he said during a tour of the Radiology Department. “Every night when I get home, it’s ‘what do I have time to print out before I go to bed?’ ” He especially likes to make models of tanks and ships for war games, though he’s also started using the printers, which he built himself from kits, to repair things around the house.

But the digital models weren’t ready to print just yet, since the CT scan was prone to picking up bits and pieces of extra material. The head of Lady Victory, for example, had a “big old pimple sticking out of her face” that Volckaert had to shave down with another kind of software, he said. “Although I guess for all I know she could have a mole.”

He compared removing the excess material, on Lady Victory and other pieces, to “taking a hatchet to a block of cheese.”

Once he cleaned up the models, Volckaert ran them through a program that “slices” them into paper-thin layers. The 3-D printer then lays down each slice, one on top of another, in melted plastic. The printing process can take a day or longer; the model that took the longest to print was the eagle from the Brooks Memorial, which took around 35 hours, he said.

But for Duffy, one of the most exciting pieces was that very first bust whose mold came through on the scanner, which has acquired the nickname “Mystery Man.” Nobody — not Duffy, nor Kendall, nor anyone they asked — knows who the bust is modeled after. He hopes, as more people view the man’s face, that someone will recognize it.

“It’s cool because it shows us that even with very well-known artists, there are works out there that nobody knows about,” he said. “There’s always more to discover.”

“Lincoln in Negative Space: The Intersection of Imaging and Art” is displayed in the main rotunda at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon.

Also on view is the Winter Art Exhibition, featuring work by seven New England-based artists: still lifes of tea sets by Ted Arnold, of Portland, Maine; pastels, watercolors and oil paintings by Don Collins, of Lebanon; oil paintings of landscapes by Myles Danaher, of Brattleboro, Vt.; photographs by Erik Eskedal, of Wakefield, Mass.; oil paintings of animals by Sam Morgan, of Lyman, N.H.; en plein air paintings of Vermont structures by Georgie Runkle of Marlboro, Vt.; and colored pencil drawings by Corrina Thurston, of Barre, Vt. Twenty-five percent of art sales will benefit the D-H Arts Program.

Of Note

Stacy Hopkins, owner of Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction, will hold an artisanal wine tasting Friday night from 5:30 to 7:30. “The Art of Place,” a show of encaustic paintings by Quechee artist Helen Shulman, is on view, along with Hopkins’ work.

Scavenger is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., through February. To make an appointment outside of these times, call 603-443-3017.

Long River Gallery and Gifts, in White River Junction, will host chef Elizabeth Feinberg for a tasting of her Vermont Amber Organic Toffee, made in small batches in White River Junction. Stoneware paintings by Bradford, Vt., potter Bruce Murray are on view through February.

Openings and Receptions

A reception for “Vox Somnium,” an exhibition of mixed-media work by Norwich artist Laura Di Piazza, will take place at Barrette Center for the Arts, in White River Junction, Friday from 5 to 7. The show is presented in conjunction with the Vermont Pastel Society’s group exhibition and the production of Only Yesterday at Northern Stage, the theater company that calls the Barrette Center home.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, in White River Junction, will host an opening reception Friday night for the book Body Language, a collaboration of poetry and prints by Don and V. Shalvah Herzberg, both of Sharon. The reception will run from 5 to 7 p.m., with a poetry reading starting at 6. Through March 31.

“Journey,” an exhibition of paintings by Brenda Phillips, opens at AVA Gallery and Art Center, in Lebanon, Friday. An opening reception will be held Friday from 5 to 7 p.m.

AVA is also showing prints by Sheri Hancock-Tomek, of Hanover; pottery by Sarah Heimann, of Lebanon; multimedia artwork by Cecelia Kane, of Peacham, Vt.; and paintings by Craig Sterrit, of White River Junction. All four shows continue through Friday.

An opening reception for Peter Schumann, the artist behind “Post-Apocalyptic Woodcuts for ¾ Empire” at White River Gallery at BALE, in South Royalton, will run from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Schumann is also the founder of Bread and Puppet Theater, and his reception will open with a performance by Schumann & Co. Admission is by donation. The show runs through March 3.

Chelsea Public Library hosts a reception Friday night for “Photographs: A Teenage Perspective,” a show by Strafford resident and Sharon Academy senior Hadley Greene. The reception starts at 6 p.m. “Photographs” runs through February.

“Dark Botanicals and Swamp Nonsense,” a show of recent paintings by South Royalton artist Cecily Herzig, is on view at the Hotel Coolidge’s Zollikofer Gallery, in White River Junction. A reception is planned for Friday night from 5 to 7, at the Hotel Coolidge. Through March 31.

Opening receptions for the Center for the Arts’ three new micro-galleries, all on Main Street in New London, will take place Friday from 5:30 to 7. Exhibits at Lake Sunapee Bank, the New London Inn and Whipple Hall.

Call for Entries

Today is the last day to submit ready-to-hang artwork on the theme of “Sources of Hope” to the VA Medical Center in White River Junction. Submissions must be in two-dimensional media, such as paintings, photos and poetry, and no larger than 16 by 24 inches. For more information, email vhawrjArtExhibit@va.gov.

Photographers of all levels are invited to submit one or two photographs on the theme of “Something Sweet” to the Newport Winter Carnival photo contest, sponsored by the Library Arts Center. To submit, drop off framed or unframed photos at the Library Arts Center between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday through next Friday, or between 9 and 10 a.m. next Saturday.

Winners will be announced that afternoon at 1, and contest photos will be on view during Newport’s Winter Carnival festivities on Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Library Arts Center’s annex location at 15 Main St., in downtown Newport. No submission fee, but the back of each photograph must be labeled with a title along with the photographer’s name, address and phone number.

Ongoing

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. A retrospective exhibition of paintings by Nancy Taplin, of Warren, Vt., is on view until March 31.

Chandler Gallery, Randolph. “A Closer Look” features photography by Valerie Daniel, of Bethel; watercolors and mixed media work by Judy Laliberte, of Quechee; and chalk pastels by Jo Levasseur, of South Royalton. Through March 3.

Chew & Co. Design, Hanover. The egg tempera and gold leaf paintings of Windsor artist Gary Milek are on view through February.

Claremont Opera House. Rural Outright, the LGBTQ support program of Claremont-based TLC Family Resource Center, shows art by Upper Valley students in an exhibit on the theme of #KindnessInAction. Through Feb. 17.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. Thetford ceramicist Amanda Ann Palmer’s show, “Recent Explorations in Clay,” includes rustic pieces as well as items from Palmer’s “Relics” series, inspired by seed pods. Ten percent of art sales will go toward the Friends of Lyme Library. Through March 30.

Hartland Public Library. The aptly titled “It’s Cold Outside” features the work of the Odanaksis Art Group, a cluster of Upper Valley artists who gather weekly to paint, mostly outdoors. Through Feb. 14.

Hood Downtown, Hanover. “Reason’s Oxymorons,” a video installation by the French-Algerian artist and philosopher Kader Attia, dissects Western and non-Western conceptions of mental illness through a range of interviews. Through March 18.

Hopkins Center, Hanover. Judy Glantzman, Dartmouth College’s artist-in-residence, exhibits recent work in drawing, painting, mixed media collage and sculpture in clay and carved wood in “Vigilant on Behalf of Kindness.” On view in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery through March 4.

Norman Williams Public Library, Woodstock. “Paint Vermont,” by Bridgewater Corners resident and ArtisTree teacher Rae Newell, is on view through Feb. 14.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Hanover. Sisters Patti Warren, of Lebanon, and Rosalie desGroseilliers, of Hardwick, Vt., exhibit work in “The Zen of Watercolor.” Through Feb. 27.

Taylor Gallery, Kimball Union Academy, Meriden. Cornish artist and KUA graduate Jim Schubert exhibits abstract and figural latex paintings in “Ocular Means.” Sales benefit the Upper Valley Haven. Through Feb. 10.

Tunbridge Public Library. “Before the Storm,” an exhibition of abstract landscapes by the Barre, Vt., painter Jennifer Palkowski Jacques, is up through March 7. The opening reception, scheduled for Feb. 11, from 2 to 4 p.m., is free and open to the public.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at ejholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.