Article Date: 11/1/2010

Fly on the Road
reflections
THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Fly on the Road

The discovery of a crushed "dragonfly" inspired works of art.

Michael Howell, Ontario, Canada

The biggest dragonfly I had ever seen — that's what I saw laying, crushed, in the roadside dust. Closer inspection revealed it was actually a pair of smashed oval spectacles. One temple was missing, and the other was bent over the frame at an acute angle, making it look like a leg. In addition, the nose pads looked like compound eyes, and the cracked lenses resembled the veins in a dragonfly's wing.

Serendipity

If you believe in serendipity, as I do, this find was no mere coincidence. For many years, I've been using beach glass to make translucent mosaics similar to stained glass pictures. I use a clear silicone adhesive to attach the smooth and colored glass pieces to a separate sheet of glass. One problem I kept encountering: outlining the contours of the object I molded in the sheet of glass. I'd tried black paint and sheets of adhesive black plastic, but these materials looked too thick against the illuminated glass. My "dragonfly" find, however, got me thinking I could solve this problem with spectacle frames and lenses, while adding a new level of optics to my work.

This bifocal "dragonfly" is made of two frames, one temple and a piece of beach glass. It took several attempts to re-create what a car had done in seconds, says Mr. Howell.

Re-creating the dragonfly

I found a display case full of wire-framed reading glasses in a dollar store. I bought several pairs ranging from +1.75 to +3.5 with an eye for mixing and matching them for different effects. To control the cracking effect of the lenses, I dipped one spectacle pair into boiling water and then transferred it to a plastic cup of ice water. The plastic lenses didn't crack. So, I laid the spectacles on a concrete step, took my smallest hammer and swung. My first hit was tentative and, therefore, did no damage. Neither did the second. The third, however, caused a tiny fracture, so I kept pounding until I achieved the desired veined effect.

In time, I was able to control my blows to achieve different patterns. My first non-dragonfly creation was a single-winged damselfly on a small piece of glass. Then, I made a large double-winged insect resting on a green plant. Next, I created a blue butterfly out of two pairs of glasses. (The lenses gave the glass just the iridescent effect I was seeking for the wings).

Jurassic bug

All the insects I made were huge — Jurassic size, in fact. As a result, I was inspired to create a prehistoric bug trapped in amber. I'd collected shattered beer bottles from beaches, but the final effect was too dark. In other words, my insect appeared trapped, all right, but in twilight. I solved this problem, however, by using a largely transparent casting resin, which I know will darken with time and sunlight exposure.

My work continues to evolve, as I try different frames, lenses and techniques. I still wonder about the person who lost their glasses on the road and how those spectacles came to be there. I'd like to tell that person that while I'm sorry for their loss, I am grateful for the fresh view those mangled glasses gave me for my artwork, and I would like to give them one of my creations in return as compensation. I will never look at glasses or insects the same way. OM

Mr. Howell has been interested in optics most of his life and taught the subject as a physics teacher.


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 628-6595, OR JEN.KIRBY@WOLTERSKLUWER.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.

Optometric Management, Issue: November 2010