The Artist is In: A Visual Retrospective of Research, Education and Invention

HCA spring 2019 exhibit poster, "The Artist is In: A Visual Retrospective of Research, Education and Invention"


Clarice Ashworth Francone. Starr-Edwards heart valve illustration, c. 1960. Howard J. Stroud papers [2007-015].
Clarice Ashworth Francone. Starr-Edwards heart valve illustrations, c. 1960. Howard J. Stroud papers [2007-015]. Medical illustrator Clarice Ashworth Francone worked with Albert Starr to painstakingly document the revolutionary procedure and placement of the artificial heart valves. In the case of this new invention, art was essential in communicating both an invention and a new surgical procedure to surgeons around the world.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and almost no other field has the overwhelming need like the health sciences. With the constant push to innovate and solve, it only makes sense that these new solutions would come from within the ranks of the medical profession.

After meeting in 1958, the young surgeon Albert Starr and the recently retired engineer M. Lowell Edwards immediately hit it off. Edwards was interested in taking his talents to the medical arena after a childhood battle with rheumatic fever, one of the most common causes of heart valve failure at the time. While Edwards was initially fixated on replacing the whole of the heart with an automaton, Starr convinced him to instead focus his efforts on a more attainable goal: the invention of an artificial heart valve, for which need was high. While not the first to attempt to tackle the problem, their combined efforts resulted in a successful prototype in 1960 and by 1998, it was estimated that over 175,000 patients had received the replacement valves, along with a new lease on life.

After a career in family practice, Melvin Judkins returned to residency at the University of Oregon Medical School as a radiologist at the age of almost 40. He stayed on to later become the Director of Cardiovascular Radiology, as well as a professor of radiology. Here he developed a method of consistent selective coronary catheterization after heeding a call by Albert Starr for preoperative coronary arteriography for certain valve replacement patients. Finding that traditionally shaped catheters weren’t suited for the coronary vessels, he created a new range of catheters along with methods of manufacturing. Of these, the Cobra Catheter was the most recognizable.


Milton de Vries Brunkow. Zoology notes: Skull of wolf: Lateral view, n.d. Milton deVries Brunkow papers [2000-003].
Milton de Vries Brunkow. Zoology notes: Skull of wolf: Lateral view, n.d. Milton deVries Brunkow papers [2000-003].

At the turn of the century, the ability to draw was an essential skill for any medical professional. Without the convenience of cameras, mimeographs, printers, or digital imaging, one was left to their own devices when the need to convey visual information arose. Today, these skills are often taken for granted with continuous access to diagrams and life drawings in our very pockets. But drawing or visually conveying a health issue can elevate the observational skills of the attending physician and engrain fundamental concepts and ideas firmly into the mind through the process of creation.

In a 2008 study conducted by Joel Katz and Alexa Miller, and published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, students’ ability to make accurate observations increased by thirty-eight percent after taking a visual arts class. In addition, these skills enable us to transcend the language barrier. To be able to communicate a problem or procedure to a patient or colleague when a verbal explanation will not suffice is a valuable skill for any practitioner.

These artifact reproductions represent the artistic endeavors of students and professionals as far back as the nineteenth century and include sketchbooks, class notes, homework, and experimental drawings from various disciplines.

Irvin Davis. Anatomy lecture notes, 1931-1932. Irivin Davis anatomy notes [2011-006].
Irvin Davis. Anatomy lecture notes, 1931-1932. Irivin Davis anatomy notes [2011-006].
Irvin Davis, an alumnus of Reed College, graduated with a medical degree from University of Oregon Medical School in 1935. His lecture notebooks, created during his time at UOMS, are full of hand-drawn illustrations, including some color artwork.


Joel Ito. Forms of the rough endoplasmic reticulum, n.d. Robert L. Bacon papers [1997-005].
Joel Ito. Forms of the rough endoplasmic reticulum, n.d. Robert L. Bacon papers [1997-005].

While some may not practice medicine, they can still make it their life’s work. Clarice Ashworth Francone and Joel Ito are two former OHSU employees with long and successful careers as medical illustrators.  

Joel Ito worked at OHSU from 1966 to 2012 as a medical illustrator and was part of the Medical Illustration Core at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. Amongst other works, Ito provided the artwork for Robert Lewis Bacon’s and Nelson R. Niles’ Medical Histology: A Text-Atlas with Introductory Pathology, as well as Aron M. Bruhn’s Inside Human Body, which he illustrated alongside Kathleen Kemly.

For 33 years, Francone, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, worked for the University of Oregon Medical School, eventually becoming the head of its illustration department. In her career, she prepared illustrations for professors, students, and inventors, and her work included drawing the Starr-Edwards valve placement and procedure. She also illustrated a number of medical textbooks, the most well-known being Structure and Function of Man by Stanley W. Jacob, for which she provided over 600 illustrations.  Dr. Kenneth Swan, an ophthalmologist of no small renown, was even known to ask for her assistance by having her draw patients’ eye conditions during their office visits for later use. Through these works, she became known as one of the most famous medical illustrators of our time.


Archie Tunturi. Watercolor (untitled), n.d. Reid “Sam” Connell papers [2009-001].
Archie Tunturi. Watercolor (untitled), n.d. Reid “Sam” Connell papers [2009-001].

The life of a medical professional isn’t an easy one, and the ability to relieve stress is an ever-important outlet as time goes by. These images showcase the extracurricular artistic endeavors of those we rely on every day to keep us healthy and save lives. Drawing and painting can help to stimulate the mind and take us to a meditative and much needed state of reflection and self-care for those who need it most.

In addition to the personal benefits, these practices help to form and maintain a deeper connection with our patients and coworkers. There are a wealth of studies that show reintegrating the arts and humanities into health science education can help us to embrace a more caring and warm relationship with those we interact with on a daily basis, producing an empathic bond for the better of practitioner, patient, and colleague.

Featured here are the works of Archie Tunturi, a researcher and professor who specialized in the brain and nervous system here at OHSU. A prolific writer for various medical publications and presenter at multiple medical conferences, he was also an expert in building acoustics, and consulted on over 50 churches and buildings in the Pacific Northwest. It should come as no surprise that Tunturi was also a skilled artist. In addition to figure studies, Tunturi painted various pastoral, woodland, and industrial scenes using watercolors. The train yards along the banks of the Willamette are instantly recognizable in his works.

Also on display are the classroom notes of Curtis Holcomb and Thomas J. Fox, alumni of Willamette University and the University of Oregon Medical School, respectively. Their talents in caricature and doodling in the margins of their pages are on full display.

Archie Tunturi. Watercolor illustration of Portland train yard, n.d. Reid “Sam” Connell papers [2009-001].
Archie Tunturi. Watercolor of a Portland train yard (untitled), n.d. Reid “Sam” Connell papers [2009-001].

About the curator

This exhibit was curated by Historical Collections & Archives assistant, John Esh. John holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Portland State University, and will complete his M.L.I.S. from Emporia State University in 2019.