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An incisive display of toothy things

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

By Katy Buchanan, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It seems appropriate that in a month of teeth-chattering cold, a small exhibit of dental molds collected by Andy Warhol has gone on display at The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side.

Matt Wrbican is the assistant archivist at The Andy Warhol Museum who put together the display entitled "Tooth Fairy: Andy Warhol's Collection of Dental Models." (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette)
It's also a nice bit of serendipity that the month is home to the feast day (Feb. 9) of St. Apollonia, the patron saint of sufferers of toothaches.

Stretching the coincidence a tad further, it is also National Children's Dental Health month, and, if you have animal companions, National Pet Dental Health month.

None of those are why assistant archivist Matt Wrbican wanted to put the molds on display. It's just that he had seen them among Warhol's myriad collected objects long ago and the time seemed right.

So now he has a bit of mystery on his hands.

"Part of their appeal to me is that I don't really know what they are," Wrbican said.

There are 144 objects in the exhibit, all purchased one summer day in 1982.

Warhol's assistant Jay Shriver came across a business called the Columbia Dentoform Corp. on East 21st Street in New York. He and Warhol went in, handed over $484 and came out with the molds. The company has been in business for nearly a century.

"We don't really know why he collected them," Wrbican said, except that they probably are, in part, a reflection of his well-known interests in anatomy and health.

Most of the molds have a soft aluminum-pewter metallic sheen. There are molds with teeth missing, molds of gums, molds with removable teeth. And Wrbican actually was able to learn what some of them were used for: Hinged molds, complete with pink gums and soft tongues, were fitted inside model heads that dental students used for practice.

But what to make of a large plaster gum with removable teeth that bears an odd resemblance to a giant pod stripped of its peas? Of a mold with no teeth?

Wrbican smiles.

"If there's anyone out there who knows what they are..."

If you want to hazard a guess, the molds are on display through July 7. By which time we hope our teeth will have stopped chattering.

For more information, call the museum at 412-237-8300 or visit www.warhol.org .

Katy Buchanan can be reached at kbuchanan@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1523.

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