LINWOOD - William "Hank" Freund Jr. has a photo album of portraits, customer after customer who lost their vision or an eye to disease or trauma.
Nobody would guess that any of them has a prosthetic eye after they leave his Atlantic County optical store.
Freund, an optician and ocularist, owns Freund Brothers Opticians on New Road in Linwood's Central Square.
Besides fitting people for new glasses as an optician, Freund custom-designs and manufactures prosthetic eyes as an ocularist.
When he is finished taking his exacting measurements, making the molds, fabricating the prosthetic, custom-painting the iris and fitting it to perfection, the artificial eye is impossible to tell from the client's real one in portrait photos.
"What I'm told I do very well is listen to people and focus on what they need," he said.
It's an important part of any business.
"And often it's overlooked," he said.
Freund, of Linwood, comes from a line of opticians dating back to the 1700s, when a distant cousin's company, McCallister Optical Co., in Philadelphia, made spectacles for Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the most famous eyeglasses-wearer in the world.
His grandfather, Henry Freund, and great uncle, Adam Freund, also worked for McCallister before starting their own optician business, Freund Brothers Opticians, in Atlantic City in 1898.
Hank Freund moved the business to Linwood after his father's death in 1972.
"The population shifted to the mainland. It seemed the wave of the future," he said.
About 200 people work as ocularists in the United States, according to the American Society of Ocularists, a trade group based in California.
Society Director Cathi Guerrero said most ocularists learn from family members who pass down their trade secrets from generation to generation. It typically requires a long apprenticeship with a trained ocularist.
"It requires a high level of skill. It's art and science combined," she said.
While 3D printing holds some promise to improve the mold-making process, the finished pieces are custom works of art, she said.
"They're beautiful. They're all hand-painted," she said. "The aesthetics of a good eye can be really impactful."
The prosthetics can boost self-confidence and improve self-esteem, she said.
"I think it makes a big difference, especially in adolescence. Kids can be mean to each other," she said.
Freund grew up in Ventnor and graduated from Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa. After college, he apprenticed with his father, learning how to make and fit prosthetics that were comfortable and realistic. His father was an expert, he said.
"After World War II, there was more of a need for it. The emphasis on eye safety wasn't as prevalent as it is today," he said.
Freund recently gave a lecture about his work to an international conference in Germany, the home to his ancestors. Ocularists can prevent common conditions, such as dry eyes, by fitting the prosthetic so the person can blink comfortably, he said.
Freund fits the piece to the individual's eye socket, which typically retains muscles needed to move the prosthetic eye up and down or side to side.
Besides the new iris, Freund shapes the prosthetic to fill out the person's face, if necessary, which can droop, sag or look hollow from the void left by the accident or illness. This adds to the realism of the effect.
At the heart of the acrylic eye is the colorful iris, which Freund hand-paints with tiny brushes. But to get the fine detail just right, he seats his customers in a comfortable chair in the office next to his desk so he can add the flecks of gold or shades of hazel or the starburst patterns to match the person's real eye using the tiniest art implements.
He blends the iris with the surrounding eggshell-white color of the eyeball and even adds wispy red silk threads that radiate out as veins, visible only upon the closest inspection.
The effect is startlingly real and fools even Freund, he said.
"Sometimes, my customers come back and I'll have to ask them which eye is the prosthetic," he said. "That makes me feel good."
Contact Michael Miller:
Freund Brothers Opticians
199 New Road,
Suite 71, Central Square, Linwood
Owner: William 'Hank' Freund Jr., 64, of Linwood
Employees: Owner operated