Legacy of Australia's last glass eye maker Paul McClarin there for all to see at National Museum

Legacy of Australia's last glass eye maker Paul McClarin there for all to see at National Museum

Legacy of Australia's last glass eye maker Paul McClarin there for all to see at National Museum

Updated 29 August 2017, 14:25 AEST

The skills of Paul McClarin are no longer available in Australia, but the results of his vocation are there for all to see at the National Museum in Canberra.

Making glass eyes for his vision-impaired clients was much more than a trade for ocularist Paul McClarin.

He saw it as his vocation.

"His feeling, very much, was that he was restoring people's dignity, people's sense of self," said Dr Sophie Jensen, senior curator at the National Museum of Australia (NMA).

"Because they could look you in the eye and know that they looked completely like themselves."

McClarin was a glass blower who made scientific instruments when he emigrated to Adelaide from Belfast in 1978.

But he found his true calling after a chance encounter with German-born craftsman Erwin Scheler, who had been invited to Australia in the 1930s to meet a growing demand for glass eyes.

"Mr Scheler saw that [McClarin] ... was someone who really did feel a passion for this particular trade, and so he started to work with him and he learnt all that he could from him," Dr Jensen said

McClarin travelled twice to the German town of Lauscha, where glass eyes have been made since the 19th century, to perfect his skills.

Glass eyes on show at NMA

A glass cabinet at the NMA contains 77 examples of the artificial eyes made by McClarin and demonstrates the process, including the use of thin strands of red glass to replicate the eye's blood vessels.

"It was important for Paul that people see this and weren't horrified by it," Dr Jensen said.

"There's a ghoulishness which I think he wanted to dispel."

McClarin retired due to ill health and died in 2011.

He was unable to find anyone to continue his work.

Though most artificial eyes are now made from acrylic, some people, due to allergies, require glass eyes which are still manufactured in Germany.

Dr Jensen said the NMA was fortunate to have "the beautiful items" McClarin created as part of its collection.

"It talks about people bringing skills and [the] transference of skills between different countries," she said.

"It gives us a glimpse into how these trades have changed and evolved over time and the place that they hold in Australian society and culture at any given moment."