Monday, August 31, 2009

Wellcome to London

I apologize now that I was not allowed to take photographs at the subject of this weekend's London exploration, the most unique and stomach-twisting museum I've ever been to: The Wellcome Foundation.

We went to see an exhibition called Exquisite Bodies, which chronicled the history of anatomical models. It was part curiosity, part history of public health, with a healthy dash of circus freak show thrown in for taste.

The exhibition was fascinating (and free! I Love London!) but the real event was the exhibition about the foundation's namesake, Sir Henry Wellcome. He accrued an eccentric collection of oddities from the far flung corners of the world, the likes of which belonged more, I think, in the pages of a Steven Millhauser short story than in a modern and surgically clean gallery in London. Here's a list of some of my favorite items:

torture chair with seat and back of blades
19th-century yet graphic painting of a birth
Buddhist/Shinto shrine
various reliquaries
scarificator
bleeding bowl
Lord Nelson's razor
Charles Darwin's walking stick (ivory shaft with a whalebone skull on top)
patches of tattooed skin
a copy of the 'Pain-Killer Polka'
Napoleon's toothbrush
brass corset
Chinese shoes for bound feet
collection of glass eyes
ram's head snuffbox
a mummy curled in the fetal position
Nepalese ceremonial headdress in which the top is the top of a human skull
shrunken head
guillotine blade
fragment of Jeremy Bentham's skin
lock of King George III's hair
gall bladder
Victorian chastity belt
phrenological skull
large range of surgical instruments
artificial limbs
leper clapper
and a chamber pot with the following poem inscribed:

On Your Marriage:
This Pot it is a Present Sent
Some mirth to make is only Meant
We hope the same you'll not Refuse
But keep it safe and oft it Use
When in it you want to Piss
Remember them who sent you This.

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