Beautiful Gross Anatomy: Clarice Ashworth Francone, Medical Illustrator

Clarice Margaret Ashworth was born March 24, 1901, in Rochester, Minnesota. After graduating from high school, she was hired at the Mayo Clinic, like many Rochester residents who lived in its shadow. Clarice was a naturally gifted artist and went directly to work in the art department. She later began her studies in earnest at the Art Institute of Chicago. Clarice returned to the Mayo Clinic art department and spent another 2 ½ years honing her skills. She spent a year of medical illustration study at Johns Hopkins University, training under Max Brödel, considered the father of medical illustration.  According to the record, she would not have been admitted to work with Brödel if it had not been for her work at the Mayo Clinic.

Clarice became captivated with the Pacific Northwest after a six-week vacation out West; so much so that she moved to Oregon in 1929. She first worked as a freelance illustrator and in 1936 began working part-time at the University of Oregon Medical School. She eventually became the head of the Medical Illustration Department where she occupied a 3rd floor studio, in the Medical Science Building, overlooking the Willamette River and its many bridges. She became affectionately known simply as Ashworth to many of her colleagues at the University. She gave most of her time to medical illustration at the school but also continued free-lance work with physicians from as far away as Hawaii. For many years, Clarice was the only medical illustrator in Oregon, and became one of the most well-known in the country.

In addition to preparing charts and diagrams for medical students and presentations by physicians, Francone illustrated a number of books; for some she is credited as co-author.  Perhaps the best known of these is an anatomy and physiology textbook, Structure and Function of Man, which she co-authored with Dr. Stanley Jacob, professor of surgery at UOMS. She prepared over 600 illustrations for the 538 page volume that was intended for medical and nursing school students.

The drawings for this textbook took three years for Ashworth to complete. It was later accompanied by A Laboratory Manual for the Structure and Function of Man by Jacob, Ashworth Francone and Walter J. Lossow.

Another volume, Atlas of Operative Dentistry by Dr. William Howard, contained 552 Ashworth illustrations; other notable contributions included a text on caesarian delivery with Dr. Raphael Dunfee and illustrations for an article written by Dr. John G. P. Cleland on anesthesia in obstetrics.

Dr. Edwin E. Osgood and Ashworth collaborated on the Atlas of Hematology, which contains over 300 illustrations, many of these in pastel.  She also illustrated two sections on neurology and genito-urinary anatomy for the classic text, Morris' Human Anatomy.

Much of Francone’s work consists of half-tones done in the dry-brush technique, carbon crayon on Ross board, with ink and white highlights added to sharpen images and pen and ink charts and diagrams. Many of her sketches were done in the surgical suites, too often she said, from the vantage point near the can of ether. Once surgery was over, she would return to her studio to flesh out the drawings.

Francone enjoyed life outside of medical illustration, as well. She was not only an author; she was a fly angler, a classical organist and an avid home gardener. A 1965 news article described Ms. Francone as a 5'4" "busy one" and "like any 122-pound housewife, with a devotion to detail and proportion. Her coiffure was neat, her shoes modest, her smile warm and frequent, with a steady hand and skills that were recognized and praised". Francone, known for her technical skills, also enjoyed sketching outdoor scenes and the great Cascade Mountains, which she called "her babies". For this she learned to use watercolors and oils.

Clarice married Alexander Francone, real estate broker, who died in 1953 of a coronary attack. Donning a canvas jacket and hip-boots, she continued to fly-fish and enjoy the outdoors, returning to the recreation areas she and her husband and son Donald used to frequent.  Clarice lived in the same home for nearly 40 years where she tended her garden that overflowed with fragrant flowers.

Beside these activities, Clarice played the electric organ with considerable skill and continued to take lessons throughout her life. Furthermore, she loved to travel. As well, she belonged to the Sam Jackson Craft Art and Buffalo Grass Society, a society whose name has, to this day, secret meaning. Beyond the obvious Sam Jackson, the name of the donor of property that makes up part of the location of the UOMS (now the Oregon Health & Science University) campus, only its members were privy to its significance. The Society, made up of 40 members of the University, called themselves, also, an "underwater" painting class.  They took instruction from the famed Charles Mulvey three nights a week and sold their works at modest prices at events such as the Rose Festival.

Ms. Francone belonged to the Oregon Society of Artists, the Wurlitzer Guild, the First Presbyterian Church, the International Platform Association and the Association of Medical Illustrators. She is listed in the Who's Who of American Women. At the time that Francone was a member of the Association of Medical Illustrators, the field was quite small. In 1962, she said that the Association had only about 125 members with no more than 50 other artists, outside of the association, in the field. There was a large demand for illustrators but the grueling time for training (about the same amount of time it takes to become a doctor) was not justified by the pay… $4.50-6.00/hour.

Before retiring in 1969, Francone was asked to contribute samples of her work to the Archives of Medical Visual Resources at the Countway Library, Harvard University.  In addition to the Clarice Ashworth Francone Collection (Accession # 1999-002), which was donated to the OHSU Historical Collections & Archives by Francone, many collections in the manuscript collections hold originals and reprints of her illustrations diagrams and graphs.

 The University held a farewell party for Clarice on May 15th, 1969 in the Medical Science Building.  Clarice Ashworth Francone died in September, 1981. 

View a selection of digitized Clarice Ashworth Francone illustrations