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Dr. Ralph Katz with samples from his vodou flag collection

Dr. Miriam Robbins with samples from her animation-cels collection

Vodou Flags: Long May They Wave

Vodou (aka voodoo), a system of spiritual rituals and practices brought to Haiti from West Africa in the 18th century, is typically portrayed in the popular culture as a manifestation of the "dark arts." But it was the tangible, worldly artistry of vodou flag makers that made a collector of Dr. Ralph Katz, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion.

When Dr. Katz visited Haiti for the first time, in 1987, to conduct research, a colleague told him about a clandestine operation run at a warehouse-like art store named "Pierre, Pierre," where he could buy original vodou flags. Today, his collection includes 26 richly sequined, beaded, velvet cloths that were used at vodou ceremonies to summon a specific god. The flags typically use a "veve," a term for intricate religious line drawing symbols specific to each 'lwa' (or god spirit) that resemble Native American sand drawings.

"While both light and dark forms of magic are traditionally part of vodou," says Dr. Katz, "there is only rare use of the 'dark forms,' and then only to impose social penalties on miscreants. The real magic is in the craftsmanship that goes into these flags. The artists who created these ravishing artifacts are a dying breed, but their art has finally begun to attract the esteem it deserves among the educated middle class in Haiti after decades of being shunned as a 'peasant belief.' In fact, the most recent former dean at the University of Haiti School of Dentistry bought and displayed a vodou flag in his office while he was dean."

Dr. Katz's vodou flag collection has been exhibited at the University of Connecticut's College of Fine Arts and at Trinity College in Connecticut, as well as locally at Baruch College in New York City.

When Your Dentist is a Bunny Rabbit, Who Needs Laughing Gas?

The incredulous patient demanded an immediate explanation from his dentist. "Whataya mean I have a bad bite?" exclaimed the patient. "I don't even have teeth!"

A routine checkup? Not exactly. Daffy Duck was the patient, Bugs Bunny his dentist, and the scene was a cartoon rendering of a dental examination that Chuck Jones, the legendary animator and director of Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and other classic cartoons, conceived for a series of limited edition, hand-painted, dental-themed animation cels, so called because they were painted on cellulose acetate.

The eight dental cels that Jones created between 1987 and 1999 featured Porky the Pig, Marvin the Martian, and other classic Warner Brothers characters. Dr. Miriam R. Robbins, clinical associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Radiology and Medicine, acquired all eight of the cels, along with others that featured characters from the Animaniacs, The Flintstones, and Rocky and Bullwinkle. Four cels hang in her office at NYUCD and the others are displayed in her apartment in lower Manhattan, where she maintains a collection of some 100 cels (not all dentally themed).

Collecting animation cels has been a lifelong passion. When she was 13, Dr. Robbins discovered an animation shop near her home in Hastings, New York, where she could purchase images of her favorite TV characters. "These hand-painted pictures are truly a lost art," she explains. "Today, computer-generated cartoons are the standard."