• June 2010

Medical Illustrator Marie Dauenheimer teaches us about "Inner Beauty"

By Hope Katz Gibbs

The field of medical illustration got its start in the U.S. in 1894 when a young German artist named Max Brodel landed a job at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He’d been drawing away at the famous Institute of Physiology at the University of Leipzig when he met some American scientists who were fascinated by his skills.

They quickly saw the benefit of having Brodel turn their surgical techniques into art, as a way to teach other doctors and medical students. At first, Brodel thought he’d teach the doctors to draw. But he soon realized it would be easier to teach artists about medicine. In 1911, he helped found the medical illustration department at Hopkins.

Seventy-two years later, Virginia illustrator Marie Dauenheimer was one of only several dozen in the world to benefit from Brodel’s plan.

About Marie

The leg interested her most. So every Friday for a year, Marie Dauenheimer hoisted the gray body part from the tank of formaldehyde in the cadaver room at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

To Dauenheimer, the lesson in gross anatomy was anything but gross.

“At first, I was scared I’d faint when I saw the dead bodies,” says Dauenheimer, who graduated in 1982. “But I didn’t. When you are very interested in a subject, you go beyond the fear.”

It was a career in medical illustration that Dauenheimer was working toward, and her fearless foray into the limb lab was only the first part of her journey. In 1983, she enrolled in the graduate program in the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute in Baltimore—one of only five accredited schools in the U.S. that mix art and medicine.

With only about 900 artists working in the lucrative field of medical illustration, Dauenheimer is among an elite group.

Before starting her own freelance business, she worked in her native New York for a Long Island-based company called Consultants in Medical Education. She also taught anatomy at the Parson’s School of Design.

In 1991, she married Washington-based anthropology professor Sam Dunlap, and moved with him to Reston, Virginia. It turned out to be a great career move, for being based in the Washington, DC area put her in the backyard of dozens of top-notch clients in the medical world—including the National Institutes of Health, the American College of Cardiology and PBS’s medical program, “Health Week.”

Just as the health field has made big technological advances in the last decade, so has Dauenheimer.

For instance, in the start of her career she often found herself chronicling complex procedures inside an operating room. From the vantage point of a tall stool, she stood and sketched for up to six hours as doctors operated on a patient.

Today, however, there is less to see stool side. More doctors are inserting fiber optics through small incisions and performing the rest of the operation by watching it on a high-resolution black and white screen. As a result, they just send Dauenheimer a tape of the operation in the mail. She uses it as reference to do her work.

High technology has also provided her with new marketing tools. In addition to creating illustrations for magazines and books, she does medical animation for videos and CD-ROMs.

Despite all her high-tech success, her favorite thing to do is pull out her colored pencils, watercolors, and a sketch book, and draw the great loves of her life: her daughter Lilly, and two Bassett Hounds, Max and Stubby—and, of course, her garden.

In the early morning, she can often be found amongst her flowers and herbs drawing botanical illustrations. “The botanical stuff doesn’t pay as well as medical illustrations,” Dauenheimer admits, “but it’s food for the soul. Plus, I get to use green—a color I don’t usually use when I’m painting body parts. Well, not unless it’s a really sick body part.”

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