Seeing the bigger picture
Pat Caroline said he was just 22 years old when his love affair with contact lenses began. He found himself asking what wasn't to love about the history, the collectibility and the sheer innovation behind the tiny lenses so many people wear.
"I started collecting old contact lens memorabilia as early as I can remember," Caroline said. "One day you wake up and you have a museum."
And not just any museum, The Contact Lens Museum on 2309 Pacific Ave., across the street from Pacific University's College of Optometry in Forest Grove. Caroline, his wife, Jiah Pack, and fellow curator Craig Norman scooped up the small space, formerly Gene's Barber Shop, with the hopes of sharing the rich history of contact lenses with the world.
The museum currently sports the largest collection of contact lens memorabilia in the country.
"With our large collection, the two main objectives we have are to preserve and educate," Caroline said.
The museum's convenient location, just a crosswalk away from Pacific University, is not a coincidence. As a longtime associate professor of optometry there, Caroline has built bonds with his students who now often visit the museum to talk about all of the interesting objects featured. It's important to him that they witness the history of the profession they're going into and learn from its extensive past.
"Now more than ever, we have this real passion for preservation," Caroline said. "Everyday treasures are being thrown out, and every time that happens, it's like a dagger to my heart."
Old treasures like ophthalmometers, slit lamps and dozens of lenses made of both glass and other alternative materials can be found in the museum.
Contributions from Caroline himself, as well as Dr. Don Ezekiel, who worked in the practice of lens pioneer Dr. Joseph Dallos, fill the space from top to bottom. But none of the pieces capture Caroline's heart quite like one.
"My most prized piece is probably that one right there," Caroline said as he pointed toward a complex metal apparatus at the front of the museum. "That glass contact lens-making machine is the last of its kind that we know of."
The worn but still working machine has all its original parts, dating back before the start of WWII. Visitors can watch Caroline start up its small motor as he talks them through the process of making an old-fashioned glass, and most notably uncomfortable, contact lens.
"All of these different devices and lenses bring you back to a certain era or place and time," Caroline said. "It's funny to think about them all being based from that one perfect lens — the queen bee of sorts."
If everything pans out right, Caroline may obtain that queen bee to accompany his near-perfect replica. He currently is negotiating to get it from Dr. Newton K. Wesley's old collection. Another prized piece to add to the museum's treasure trove.
"Someday, we'd love to move into one of the beautiful old homes Forest Grove has to offer so we can expand our exhibits to a grander scale," Caroline said. "But for now we're happy with our small space, allowing us to share our joy with the public."
Caroline and Pack are hoping to hold a grand opening for the one-of-a-kind museum in July.
Those interested in visiting the museum can book an appointment via phone or email through their website at thecontactlensmuseum.org.
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