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Insightful occupation.

Insightful Occupation

While some artists envision their work, Mary Fran Griffin eyeballs hers. Griffin, a self-employed "ocularist," makes artificial eyes.

Griffin, who was once an illustrator at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, has been designing plastic eyes for the past 12 years - five at UAMS and seven on her own.

"Originally, there were what was called suitcase eyes," she explains. "You opened a suitcase and there were all these eyes and you simply picked out the one that was the closest color and had the best fit."

The process today is more personalized. Griffin says the eyeballs are custom fit and painted to suit the clients' needs.

She says she doesn't know how many eyeballs she sells in a given time, but she stays busy because making and fitting an eyeball is an individual process.

Only two visits are needed to create an eyeball. On the first visit, which she says generally takes half a day, she makes an impression of the eye socket and begins building the eyeball. The only equipment she needs are a grinder (like those in a dental laboratory), cooking pot, plastics and pure pigment paints. To prevent the eyeball from fading, the paints are suspended in the plastic.

On the second visit the client meets with Griffin for an hour or two and then returns that afternoon to pick up the eye. She says especially hard-to-fit sockets and shields that cover the original eye to hide imperfections usually take three visits.

She charges about $800 for an artificial eye and $1,000 for a shield. Most of her clients are referred to her by doctors and through other clients.

Cancer is the culprit for about one-third of the eyeballs that are lost. Another third lose their eye to accidents.

"The most common reasons are BB guns, bottle rockets, rocks thrown from lawn mowers and freak accidents. Accidents are pretty much controlled in the workplace and industry, but there are a few loggers who have accidents," Griffin notes.

She adds the last one-third lose an eye to "other disease," a broad category that includes diabetes.

Griffin, who also worked as an illustrator for children's books in New York, says she became interested in eyes after designing eyeballs for dolls. "I loved it and decided to design human eyeballs. And since I was originally from Little Rock, I came back here."

She also designs ears, noses and other facial parts, but says she is too busy with the eyeballs to do much of it. It sounds like where Griffin's work is concerned, the eyes have it.

PHOTO : THEATRICAL SUPPORT: Simplex Truss Systems is changing the way retailers display merchandise.

PHOTO : VISIONARY ENTERPRISE: Mary Fran Griffin, a self-employed ocularist, practices a very unusal craft.
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Title Annotation:Venture; designing artificial eyes
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 22, 1990
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