Belfast Telegraph

Portadown honours Anne Acheson who invented plaster cast for bones

By Donna Deeney

A Ulster woman who made medical history by changing how broken bones are treated is to be honoured in her home town of Portadown.

A blue plaque will be unveiled to Anne Crawford Acheson (1882-1962), a sculptor who pioneered the plaster cast treatment still used today, by her great nephew, Rev John Glasgow Faris.

After graduating from Victoria College in Belfast and the Belfast School of Art, Ms Acheson won a scholarship to the Royal College in Kensington, London, where she studied sculpture from 1906-1910.

Her knowledge of sculpture and constructing plaster casts proved pivotal during the First World War when, as a volunteer with the Surgical Requisites Association, she witnessed soldiers coming back from the front with broken limbs held together with wooden splints and a couple of bandages.

Ms Acheson suggested taking a plaster cast of the limb and when the cast had hardened, wrapping papier-mache over it, and then slipping it over the broken limb.

Later this prototype procedure was replaced by the use of the plaster of Paris she used in sculpture. This reduced the healing time while properly supporting the broken limb.

The idea was adopted and updated over the decades. It is still in use today by the medical profession.

Ms Acheson, who was awarded a CBE in 1919, also made her mark in the art world by becoming the first woman to be elected to the Royal Society of British Sculptors, and later becoming its first female Fellow.

Her talent was also recognised at home where she was made an academician of the Ulster Academy of Art, and exhibited in Brussels, London, Scotland and in the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery.

She achieved fame in the 1920s and 1930s with her sculptures of children and garden figures, which became very fashionable.

Rev Faris, who will unveil the tribute on Thursday, said the family were immensely proud of her.

"We are delighted our great aunt is being recognised by the Ulster History Circle in her home town of Portadown," he said.

"Her story isn't so well-known here but she is getting the recognition she deserves now with the blue plaque.

"There is also a documentary currently being filmed about her life and I know there will be an exhibition about her in Portadown. Although she moved in high artistic circles in London, she never forgot her childhood.

"One of the last pieces she created was a bust of my youngest brother which was when she was in her late 70s, which is also a treasured piece for him."

Chairman of the Ulster History Circle Chris Spire added: "Anne Acheson of Portadown has the distinction of being the first woman to become a full member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors, and her fame alone as an artist commends her for a blue plaque.

"However, she is to be further commended for her pioneering design work, especially towards developing the anatomically correct papier-mache splint, which helped to heal the limbs of many servicemen injured in World War One."

The blue plaque will be unveiled at First Presbyterian Church, Bridge Street, Portadown, at 11am.

Belfast Telegraph

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