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The art of anatomy - The Galveston County Daily News : Lifestyle

November 27, 2014

The art of anatomy

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Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2012 12:49 am | Updated: 2:37 pm, Wed Jan 2, 2013.

A medical historian from England and a medical anthropologist from Galveston have combined forces for a unique exhibit.

“Abstract Anatomy: The Wall Diagrams of William Keiller, MD (1861-1931)” and “Photographing Pediatrics, 1900-1940” are on display now at the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch. The exhibit was curated by Paula Summerly, a visiting scholar at the institute, and produced by Jerome Crowder, an assistant professor.

“These are two different shows kind of speaking to each other,” said Crowder, who has researched and taught at Institute for the Medical Humanities for two years. “One of them is about the early 20th century conception of anatomy, from somebody who is teaching anatomy with these big huge drawings — about what the perfect body looks like — and then across the hall from that are these images of ill bodies, deformed bodies ….

 “These photographs and anatomical drawings of perfect bodies in some ways speak to these photographs of imperfect bodies.”

 The Keiller side of the exhibit features almost abstract images pulled from his drawings. Chains and hooks often sketched by Keiller around his forms have been taken out, focusing the viewer’s attention on the aesthetics of color, line, shape and form.

 “I wanted to do something slightly different with his drawings, rather than represent the whole,” Summerly said. “I wanted to draw the viewer in, almost changing the drawing in some respect from being a scientifically labeled diagram to an abstract piece of art.”

The accompanying label beside each framed piece shows a small reproduction of the complete drawing. The label also includes a quote from Keiller and the title of the original drawing.

 “It’s been a labor of love for me,” Summerly said. “I thought it was important in terms of UTMB medical heritage to bring some of these images out into the world.

 “This is just kind of a snapshot, a collection. My main motive was to generate interest about Keiller, his life, his work, this rich collection of drawings.”

 As a visiting scholar, Summerly methodically researched the surgeon/artist who taught anatomy long before digital imagery and PowerPoint slides. She combed The Daily News archives at Rosenberg Library and more than 200 original Keiller drawings dating from 1898 to 1929 at the Blocker History of Medicine collections at the medical branch.

 Such fieldwork opportunities are what drew Summerly, a native of Newcastle upon Tyne, to Galveston. 

“I’ve absolutely loved it,” she said.

 “To me, it’s a home from home. I was brought up on the northeast coast of England, which has a shipping history, and also the Victorian architecture.”

 Crowder, a medical and visual anthropologist, teamed with Summerly to design a visual side to her research on Keiller and to photograph the drawings.

 “This is just a different way of understanding how we see the body and how this one person’s understanding of anatomy and the beauty of the body as he related it through these drawings helps us understand our own bodies,” he said.

 “Here she has come in from Europe and England and done this investigation, this archaeology of sorts, and found these incredible images ….

 “I thank her for showing us our history.”


At a glance

WHAT: “Abstract Anatomy: The Wall Diagrams of William Keiller, MD (1861-1931)” exhibit showcasing a series of images reproduced from original drawings by the University of Texas Medical Branch’s first professor of anatomy. Also featured is a second exhibit, “Photographing Pediatrics, 1900-1940,” with a series of clinical photographs taken by staff at a dispensary and outpatient clinic in Chicago. Some of the infectious diseases and hereditary conditions shown in the photos are rarely encountered by modern-day physicians.

WHEN: The exhibits are on display now, during business hours, through the summer. There will be a formal opening event at 5 p.m. Jan. 15.

WHERE: The newly named Avery-Winkler Artway, outside Suite 2.301 Primary Care Pavilion, The Institute for the Medical Humanities, 400 Harborside, Galveston

WHO: Paula Summerly, Ph.D., visiting scholar, is the curator of “Abstract Anatomy.” Jerome Crowder, Ph.D., assistant professor, is the producer. Summerly curated “Photographing Pediatrics” in 2010 in Chicago, and the exhibit is on loan from Northwestern University.

FEEDBACK: Visitors are asked to sign the comments book in the The Institute for the Medical Humanities office.

INFORMATION: Contact Donna Vickers, email davicker@utmb.edu, or phone 409-772-9396.


William Keiller, surgeon/artist

 In 1891, Keiller was installed as the first professor of anatomy at the newly founded medical department of the University of Texas-Galveston.

 A native of Midlothian, Scotland, Keiller studied art at the University of Edinburgh and received medical diplomas from the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

 Using pencil, charcoal, ink, watercolors and pastels, Keiller made large scale and life-size drawings of cadavers, bone and muscle from dissections, slides and illustrations copied from medical textbooks and journals. The large wall diagrams were displayed in his classroom in “Old Red” and, from 1925, in the new Laboratory Building (later renamed the Keiller Building). 

SOURCE: Dr. Paula Summerly, “Abstract Anatomy” exhibit information panel