Sculpting Lives

How an anaplastologist combines art with science

Parts of an eye, a nose, ears, fingers and a breast, of various sizes and textures, created by Daril Atkins, a trained sculptor and anaplastologist. COURTESY SHRADHA TRIVENI
31 December, 2022

Daril Atkins sculpts parts of the human body. The life of this 77-year-old sculptor-turned-anaplastologist is marked by giving helping hands to people, literally. “I am a trained sculptor,” he told me at his lab, DA Anaplastology India LLP, in Bengaluru. “As an anaplastologist, I am expected to create a masterpiece that nobody would be able to detect.”

When I entered his lab, Atkins was gazing intently at an object in his hand, with his back toward me. “Give me a minute,” he told me. Looking around, I saw parts of an eye, a nose, fingers and toes of various textures, skin tone and size—which were not merely the paraphernalia of an anaplastologist but also pieces of art, made by an artist. In a minute’s time, a sagely face greeted me.

Atkins never imagined he would become a certified clinical anaplastologist. In fact, the term anaplastology became popular only after the 1980s with the establishment of the American Anaplastology Association in Stanford University, California, under the leadership of Walter G Spohn, a contemporary of Atkins. “Ana means to restore, to make again, and plast is the use of synthetic materials,” he told me. “So, the craft of lifelike prosthetic restoration is called anaplastology.” The AAA grew from being a small group of like-minded professionals into the International Anaplastology Association—a global council for medical, dental, artistic and scientific professionals providing prosthetic restorative care for patients with absent or malformed anatomy.

As a fine-arts graduate from the MS University of Baroda in the 1960s, Atkins was confused about his career prospects. One day at his ancestral house in Gujarat, he was drawn towards a unique advertisement in a magazine which required people who could craft human body parts. This was a moment of revelation for young Atkins. By 2006, he was one among a handful of people to be recognised by the Board for Certification in Clinical Anaplastology as a certified clinical anaplastologist. With over five decades of dedication to this art and science, Atkins is practically part of the historical evolution of the field.