Glass Eyes

Photo by Valerie Sonnenthal

Andrea Hartman turns century-old prosthesis glass eye into artful brooch. Photo by Valerie Sonnenthal.


I grew up in a world of Manhattan interiors, and they all seemed to have collections of one sort or another. There are collections we inherit, and those begun in childhood that form a lifelong passion; there are collections connected to names, interests, and off-chance finds. There are collections for fun, and those which are serious, but all collections teach us something about the world and never fail to inspire, no matter how quirky.

Andrea Hartman turns prosthesis glass eye into artful brooch.

Andrea Hartman turns prosthesis glass eye into artful brooch. (Photo by Valerie Sonnenthal.)

When I attended my neighbor Sarah Glazer’s Poets of New England talks, I ran into Nancy Weaver. Her brooch caught my eye. She was across the room and the light reflected from what seemed to be an eye staring back at me. Indeed, Nancy was wearing a unique, Dalí-esque brooch. When I asked about her unusual jewelry, she told me she had inherited a glass-eye collection from her father and had commissioned West Tisbury beader Andrea Hartman to make her a brooch, which she received in April. Andrea makes pins, usually with shells, and her beaded vessels can be seen at Shaw Cramer Gallery. Working with a glass eye was a welcome challenge.

Although I go to Nancy Weaver’s Vineyard Haven home to see her glass-eye collection, I am enchanted the minute I cross her threshold and enter the eclectic home she shares with her husband, Dave, a Steamship Authority captain. As Nancy scans her home she exclaims, “Oh there’s one. I put the glass eye in a vertebrae, a fossilized vertebrae.” It sits on a windowsill against a background of lush outdoor greens. Nancy grew up in North Carolina, where her parents and a brother still live and where the glass-eye collection lived before Nancy’s father passed it on to her. Nancy takes me to the kitchen to show me where she keeps her Andrea Hartman brooch, sitting on top of her Apple router.

Nancy’s dad is an ophthalmologist; so is her brother, and so were her grandfather and great-grandfather. Her great-grandfther had this cabinet of glass eyes for his patients. When Nancy asked her dad why her ophthalmologist brother wasn’t getting this collection, he replied, “Well he can’t get everything.” Nancy fondly remembers her mom’s spool cabinet and was always fascinated by “the cabinet with all of its little compartments,” and this reminds her of it. Nancy tells me this cabinet of glass eyes is called a prosthesis case, “like there are prosthesis legs; there are prosthesis eyes.” Originally owned by Jacob Gray Dorsey, Nancy’s great-grandfather, who started his practice in Wichita, Kansas, in 1894, the collection passed down to his son-in-law Theodore Walker Weaver, Nancy’s grandfather, in 1912. That’s when her uncle Jack Weaver joined the practice, sometime in the 1940s, with the collection passing to him in 1950. “Then my dad, who is the youngest of seven kids, got the collection.”

Nancy received the collection from her father in 2002; she has no recollection of ever seeing the collection until her father inherited it. As we open drawers, you can see a variety of eye colors and sizes. “For Andrea, I tried to pick one that matched my eye color.” Nancy pulls open an empty drawer and adds, “I’m sure he kept it cleaner, but you can see how it looks like a spool cabinet.” Nancy lives in a compact home and tells me, “Anything my parents wanted to give us, well we just don’t have any room, so this was perfect for us.” She continues, “I went to school as an artist and liked conceptual art, so I always thought this whole vision thing — it wasn’t by accident they were ophthalmologists — they really believe in vision and how important it is to people. Seeing, perception — I think that’s what art is a lot about. I am not an ophthalmologist, but I love seeing, in the biggest sense of the word. So this is a conceptual thing, and I had the idea I should make a pin or something even though I don’t wear jewelry.” Nancy continues, “If it was okay with my dad, I would have Andrea makes pins for family members so they would have their heritage, but I haven’t seen him since I got the pin, so when I show it to him, we’ll talk about it.”

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