Visit with a Netter

When it comes to explaining what I do in grad school, the most common response other than "Oh, so you draw guts!" is "Like Netter, right?" Instead of getting the blank stare when I elaborate (We can do A LOT more than just illustration if you haven't figured that out yet.), I usually just say yes and go on my way. This past Friday, the UIC Biomedical Visualization graduate program welcomed Frank Netter's daughter, Francine, to have a talk about her famous father. She explained to the crowd Frank's childhood and how he was interested in art, and naturally good at it, at a young age. He started out with humble beginnings and a strong influence from his mother to become a doctor, though he preferred art. They came to an agreement that he could study art at the National Academy of Design if he promised to go to medical school in the future.

After Frank's mother passed away, he gave up art to follow his mother's dream for him and went into medicine. When studying, he realized that subjects were learned much faster when drawings were made, as did his peers and professors. When he was done with school and working at Mt. Sinai hospital, the Depression came forth and health care was unfortunately too expensive for most, so few patients came in for care. To keep him from being bored, and to make money to survive, he went back to his art by creating illustrations for medicine. Like many individuals starting out in the art field, he began with low wages, but when he was able to increase his charges (even more than he was expecting as well because of a miscommunication of a series of illustrations he was going to do for a total of $1500, but client responded and agreed to $1500 for each illustration), devoted himself to create images of science.

At the beginning of his formal medical illustration career war shook the world. Instead of being drafted, Frank volunteered for the Army and was set up in a studio by the Army Medical Museum. Though bored at first, he was later contacted to redesign the Army's First Aid Manual to make user-friendly as Francine mentioned that it was a huge clunky book that did not do much help when in the field. He make the book a small size and filled it primarily with his illustrations (which by the way were painted by students at the Society of Illustrators in New York, because Frank was unable to do because that was considered manual labor which an officer of the army was unable to do). With the much-needed benefit of a hand-held reference, Frank was assigned to create more on other subjects such as survival in the arctics and tropics.

When the war was over and was done with his service, CIBA contacted Frank t0 create medical illustrations for medical pamphlets which were later comprised in a book and sold out completely for two printing sessions. With the demand from this project, Frank was asked to illustrate the entire human body in a series of atlases of the systems of the body. Though Frank estimated it would take him 10 years to complete, it ended up taking up the rest of his life. As I have realized myself, creating art always takes longer than expected.

Hearing Frank's story from his daughter was very inspiring to hear and see. His life, her life growing up being around his work, his process of work, and seeing his sketches was helpful and educational. I am very happy that I allowed time in my day to experience this talk about one of the well-known medical illustrators.

Photo courtesy of mesotheliomacg.com. Anterior view of lungs in situ. 1995. Frank Netter.

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