The Eyes Have It: When Art (Unnoticeably) Imitates Life

Eye Shop

Eye Shop

Any time we see someone missing a body part or a prosthesis independent of a body, we tend to do a double-take to stop and stare. After all, it is pretty unusual to see an empty eye socket or an eye prosthesis held in the palm of a hand. I was a medical social worker the first time I came face to face with a person missing an eye. Nursing homes can be pretty lonely places for people who are ill, but who do not have dementia and have no one to talk to. This patient lost an eye due to cancer, and he was very open about discussing how his prosthesis works.

Eye Maker's Work Table -- Rod Allday

The first artificial eyes were made from clay by the Romans and worn outside the eye socket with a cloth attachment. Sounds like it would have been very stare worthy, huh? The Venetians — who else? — were the first to make glass eye replacements. Today, eye prostheses are made from acrylic and are crafted and painted by hand. The iris and pupils are hand painted, and red thread is attached to represent veins. This one-of-a-kind status can make an eye prosthesis cost upwards of $3000. But it is worth it to some who want a “normal” appearance.

So there are degree programs for ophthalmologists and optometrists, but are there degree programs for ocularists, the fashioners of artificial eyes? Nope. If you want to pursue this career, you should attend the American Society of Ocularists conventions where they have classes in this career. You must also complete a 10,000 hour (whoa!) apprenticeship with an accredited ocularist and pass certification exams before you can receive a Diplomate of the American Society of Ocularists designation and set up your own shop. If you are in college and are interested in becoming an ocularist, science, psychology, art and sculpting, as well as communication classes will help you.

Some good skills to have for this career: ability to measure accurately as you have to guarantee fit of the prosthesis; you must be able to discern between gradations of color; being color-blind will make this career difficult; fine motors skills as the prosthesis is very small and requires delicate, precise movements to fabricate it; and patience, as the prosthesis must be perfect and feel comfortable for the wearer.

Look here to see an ocularist at work. Go to the American Society of Ocularists to read more about this interesting career.



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