Tucked away inside Baylor Scott & White’s Richard D. Haines Medical Library are the remains of a massive collection of wax body parts and food items created by staff artists.
At one time, the collection numbered more than 3,000 pieces, which were frequently used in teaching and in traveling exhibits, said Jeff Swindoll, facility librarian.
“It’s still one of the largest collections of wax medical models in the United States,” Swindoll said. “We still have about 1,300 pieces.”
The collection was created between 1932 and 1955 by husband-and-wife artists Kenneth and Margaret Phillips. The models — commonly known as moulages — won numerous awards at exhibitions and medical conferences around the county.
The Phillips’ came to Temple in 1924 from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Kenneth had received training in the Department of Art in Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School in the early 1920s. Margaret also attended the prestigious Chicago Institute of Art, Swindoll said.
Dr. Arthur Carroll Scott, one of the founders of Scott & White, met the then-single duo in Minnesota. Scott had travelled to Mayo Clinic to meet with prospective medical artists about becoming illustrators in Temple.
After several interviews, he offered the position to Kenneth Phillips, but he ended up getting a two-for-one deal. Kenneth and Margaret married before moving to Texas.
“Kenneth went to work illustrating medical papers and creating animated films for the hospital, and Margaret cared for their growing family at first,” Swindoll said. “But in 1932, she began making wax models of body parts, food, and diseases in various stages of growth. She made about one model every week.”
Hospital administrators were impressed, and by 1935 she was employed full time and worked alongside her husband making models for exhibits and educational purposes.
Models were constructed using beeswax, paraffin, cornstarch and talcum powder. When a specimen arrived in the art department, Margaret would make a quick watercolor sketch while Kenneth prepared plaster of Paris and heated the wax mixture.
The plaster was used to create a mold of the subject. Once dry, the mold was filled with the wax mixture to create the wax moulage. Margaret then cleaned the figure and painted it with oil paints, using her sketch as a guide.
According to Swindoll, most of the collection consists of pathologic moulages of tumors and diseased organs from the digestive, circulatory, urinary and reproductive systems. Moulages of diseased gall bladders contained actual stones removed from patients.
The 26 dermatologic moulages in the collection represent cancers, fetuses, deformed hands and gangrenous feet, he said.
“The dermatology department at Scott & White was formed in 1946, and these moulages undoubtedly provided a lifelike aid to physicians for the education of students, residents and medical staff,” Swindoll said.
There were also wax models of food items that were used by the hospital’s dietary department, some of which were used to educate diabetic patients.
Unfortunately, time has not been kind to much of the original collection. While many of the moulages are being stored in acid-free archival boxes, some pieces are on display in the medical library.
“Parts of the collection were lost to poor storage and the Texas heat,” Swindoll said. “Rumor has it that some of the food moulages were looking ‘dirty’ and were put in a dishwasher. They didn’t realize the ‘food’ was made of wax.”
Although many of the original pieces have been lost, Swindoll said the hospital values the collection as historical artifacts.
“Kenneth and Margaret Phillips were truly artists who were dedicated to creating these products,” he said. “Their dedication shows in the finished project. They sketched, painted and occasionally attended surgeries to make sure their moulages were an accurate representation of the original organ.”