Artificial Eyes for People Who Have Lost an Eye to Disease or Injury

By Live Dr - Tue Jul 26, 3:01 am

Most craftsmen bask in glory when others admire and gush over their art, but a compliment is the last thing Christie Erickson wants.

“I don’t want the general public to know what I do is fake,” Erickson says. “It’s best if it’s not noticed at all.”

Erickson is an ocularist, or trained technician who makes prosthetic eyes. While some call it a skill, Erickson says recreating the “personality,” “emotion” and “sparkle” conveyed in a person’s eye is an art.

Each eye “tells a story and reflects a lot,” Erickson explains.

Erickson and her son Todd Cranmore are two of the six ocularists in the state of Washington and among the few hundred in the country. Because no school teaches ocularistry, people who want to enter the profession must spend 10,000 hours, or five years, of apprenticeship to become certified. The career blends the fields of art and science — as only people with a creative side and anatomical knowledge can duplicate the organ that gives the gift of sight. It’s a common misconception that prosthetic eyes are made of glass, but they’re actually designed using acrylic materials and paint. The only nonacrylic piece is the silk thread placed on the eye’s surface to simulate veins. Today, no member of the American Society of Ocularists, which includes 200 professional ocularists in the United States and Canada, makes glass eyes, according to Christine Boehm, the society’s education chairwoman. She explained that acrylic eyes last longer, fit easier and can better match the color of the original eye. “There aren’t many people left who make glass eyes,” says Boehm, who has been an ocularist for more than 25 years in Toronto. The art of eye making dates back to the fifth century B.C., when Romans and Egyptians painted clay eyes and wore them over eye sockets. In the 1500s, the Venetians crafted blown-glass eyes that could be worn inside the sockets, but the globes were uncomfortable and sometimes shattered. It wasn’t until World War II that eye makers switched from glass to acrylic, because Americans couldn’t import glass from Germany.

While prosthetic eyes were made of glass before World War II, most are formed with acryilic materials today.

To their delight, ocularists found acrylic eyes didn’t break like glass ones and the material was more flexible to mold. For several decades, stock eyes were mass produced as a one-size-fits-all concept. But production has since evolved into the handmade craft of today that brings makers and patients together to custom fit the perfect eye.


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