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Objects of Intrigue: A Woman’s Anatomy in Wax

article-imageWax model of a somatotype showing obesity created by Marjorie Winslow (1946) (from the Museum of Health Care at Kingston. Used with Permission)

Wax anatomical models are common curiosities in medical museums, but the Robertston Collection of wax moulages at the Museum of Health Care in Kingston, Ontario, is especially unique in its focus on the bodies of women. When the moulages were created in the 1930s, there was a major lack of models for teaching and training doctors on obstetrics and gynecology. So a forward-thinking Dr. Edwin Robertson enlisted a Canadian artist named Marjorie Winslow to create a whole series of models showing female anatomy and anatomical procedures. The catch was, she wasn’t allowed to sketch in the clinic, and had to rely on memory. 

Dr. Pamela Peacock, Curator at the Museum of Health Care, told us more about the Robertson Collection:

The Robertson Collection of wax moulages at the Museum of Health Care preserves an important moment in the history of medical teaching aids. The use of anatomical and pathological models in the development of understandings of the body can be argued to go back to Neolithic times with the creation of female figurines, such as the Venus of Willendorf. Wax anatomical figures for medical training became popular during the Renaissance and continued for several centuries, until the discovery of various plastic materials eclipsed wax in the twentieth-century. The Robertson Collection is uniquely placed at the juncture of this transition from wax to plastic and offers an important entry point to a subject that touches on educational practice, materials history, and material culture.

Dr. Edwin Robertson became chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Kingston General Hospital in 1939. In this position he expressed frustration at the lack of anatomical teaching specimens that represented women of prime reproductive age with a variety of health concerns; typically, female cadavers were scarce and tended to be women past their reproductive years. Dr. Robertson contracted local artist, Marjorie Winslow, to observe patients in clinic and operating settings and to sculpt models representing their anatomy and pathologies. These models were used to educate medical students. In addition to the wax moulages, the Robertson Collection at the Museum of Health Care also features plaster and foam models used in training physicians to assist in the birthing process.

article-imageWax model of a stage in a vaginal hysterectomy operation by Marjorie Winslow (1940) (from the Museum of Health Care at Kingston. Used with Permission)

Marjorie Winslow, a recognized Canadian artist, created three types of moulages: obstetric models, gynecologic pathologies, and female somatotypes. For ethical reasons Winslow was not allowed to sketch while in the clinical rooms, but had to rely on her artistic eye and skills to sculpt accurate models from memory. Each preliminary model produced was reviewed by Dr. Robertson for accuracy before Winslow finalized the piece. Winslow was quite prolific, but only 128 moulages survived after a fire destroyed many pieces while in storage prior to transfer to the Museum of Health Care in 1996. The Winslow moulages are a unique part of Canada’s medical education history.

In 2013 the Museum of Health Care benefitted from the generosity of the Canadian Conservation Institute, which selected two moulages for restoration. One somatotype and one obstetrical model (both pictured here), both gravely damaged by cracks and missing materials, were tested, stabilized and conserved for the benefit of future visitors.

More of the Robertson Collection of wax moulages at the Museum of Health Care can be viewed online (search for “Marjorie Winslow”).


OBJECTS OF INTRIGUE is a feature highlighting extraordinary objects from the world’s great museums, private collections, historic libraries, and overlooked archives. See more incredible objects here >