Thursday, November 5, 2015

Purposeful Art: Illustrators at MU

A new exhibition presented by the Unions Public Art Collection recognizes the art of illustration and those MU alumni who have found success in commercial and illustration art. Please visit the first floor of MU Student Center, near the Shack, to see the display from now until January 20, 2016.

Illustration at MU

The National Museum of Illustration notes that:
"Illustration is art created to be reproduced in books, advertisements, periodicals, and in the new media. Unlike other more personal forms of art, illustration most often has a range of dictated parameters: aesthetics by assignment, publishing deadlines, specified subject matter, and the restraints of dimensions and format." [

Illustration is a integral part of the practice of mass communication. Today's world is a visual one and we are surrounded by images and text on a constant stream of visual information. Illustrators are often artists who have trained in fine art and another area that informs their specialization such as anatomy, engineering, science or architecture.  Illustrators work with authors and editors to develop books, both fictional and non-fictional, that allow readers to better understand the messages in the books' text.  Students of MU have practiced illustration in their own publications including the Savitar, MU's yearbook published annually for over 100 years, and the Missouri Show-Me, a humor magazine that provides a satiric view of campus life in the mid-twentieth century. It was during his time as a member of the Missouri Show-Me staff that Mort Walker developed the style of illustration that led to the creation of Beetle Bailey. Mort Walker is only one member of the long tradition of illustrators to study at the University of Missouri.

Mort Walker (American, born 1923), "Faculty", illustration for 1943 Savitar

Monte Crews: Americana and Magazines

Monte Crews, a native of Fayette, MO, began his advanced schooling at MU in 1905. He left Missouri in 1906 to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1908, Crews moved to the Art Students League in New York City where he roomed with author Homer Croy, another MU alum.  Crews returned to Fayette in 1910, where he married and began a family. He began teaching illustration at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1927 and eventually returned to the east coast to teach at art schools in New York and Philadelphia. During his teaching career, Crews continued to sell artwork to popular magazines including Boys’ Life, Liberty, Colliers, and The Saturday Evening Post. He was also known for illustrating mass-market paperback novels commonly called “pulp fiction.” Crews returned to MU to give a lecture to Journalism students in 1914 and drew illustrations for the several editions of the Savitar in the 1900s and 1910s.

Monte Crews (American, 1886-1946), "Graduate", illustration for 1908 Savitar
A painting by Crews, graciously loaned by the Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art at Central Methodist University in Fayette, MO, is included in this exhibition.  

This image was created as a cover illustration for Liberty magazine and published on August 29, 1936.  Magazine and book covers exposed the general audience to work of popular American artists in the early twentieth century. Billed as “A Weekly for Everybody,” Liberty magazine, a peer to the Saturday Evening Post, was published from 1924 to 1950. Liberty published short fiction and articles of general interest, some items contributed by the era’s premiere writers and artists including P.G. Wodehouse, Walt Disney, Dashiell Hammett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Winston Churchill, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Leon Trotsky, among many others.

Monte Crews, Boy with Punching Bag, ca. 1936, oil on canvas, cover art for Liberty magazine, Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art, Central Methodist University, Fayette, MO

Medical Illustration: Science meets Art

According to the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI), a medical illustrator is “a visual problem solver” who collaborates with scientists, physicians and other medical professionals by “transform[ing] complex information into visual images that have the potential to communicate to broad audiences.”[i] The MU School of Medicine offered a masters’ degree in medical illustration in the 1960s and 1970s. Anatomical drawing was also an essential part of medical education at MU in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

A pioneer of medical illustration served on the staff of the MU Medical Center and School of Medicine from 1966 to 1974.  Ruth Coleman Wakerlin (1917-2010, MA ‘71) received the AMI’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. Her long career included ground-breaking work in three-dimensional modeling for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, IL. (fig. 1) In 1993, Wakerlin wrote that a medical illustrator need “research competence and drive as well as a pattern of lifelong learning…”[ii] Medical illustration is an important element in the research and education activities of medical schools.

Ruth Coleman Wakerlin (American, 1917-2010), "Transparent model of a pregnant female for Miracle of Growth exhibition, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL, 1947

Today, the staff and faculty of the MU Medical School work with Stacy Turpin Cheavens to develop illustrations for their scientific publications and simulations. Cheavens combined her interests in art and biology after receiving her BA in biological science from MU in 2000.  She has studied anatomical drawing and sculpture at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. Cheavens received her Masters of Science degree in medical illustration at Georgia Regents University, where she studied anatomy together with medical students. She is the only certified medical illustrator on staff in the MU School of Medicine. Please visit for more this intersection of art and science.

[i] “Learn About It,” Association of Medical Illustrators, accessed 20 Oct 2015,
[ii] Linda Wilson-Pauwels and Chris Gralapp. “Ruth Coleman Wakerlin: A Visionary Leader,” Journal of Biocommunication, v. 36, n. 3 (2010) E102.


Charles W. Schwartz: Picturing Nature in Missouri

Missouri wildlife became the primary source material for Charles W. Schwartz, a native of the St. Louis area. His decades-long career as a biologist and staff artist for the Missouri Conservationist established him as scholar and leader in the conservation movement. He received degrees in zoology from the University of Missouri in the late 1930s. In 1938, he married Elizabeth, a fellow student in zoology. Charles and “Libby” began a lifelong partnership that resulted in widely acclaimed books and movies, including the 1959 The Wild Mammals of Missouri. A print by Schwartz is a recent addition to the Missouri Student Unions' Public Arts Collection.

Charles W. Schwartz, Eagle in Flight with Catfish, undated

Eagles served as a symbol of strength for the Roman legions of the ancient world. The majestic bald eagle, with its white head and tail feathers and dark brown body, was adopted as the symbol of the infant United States of America by Congress in June, 1782, after it had been incorporated as a primary element in the new country’s Great Seal. Thus, the bald eagle has become synonymous with American patriotism. The Missouri State Capitol on the bank of the Missouri River dominates the background and solidifies the patriotic theme of this print

However in Charles W. Schwartz’s image, the eagle serves a dual purpose as symbol of patriotism and ecology.  The combination of the eagle and the Missouri Capitol building supports a patriotic interpretation of the scene, but the catfish in its claws speaks to the eagle’s place in the ecosystem as a predator. Schwartz’s choice of the hunting bald eagle and its catfish prey for a subject blends his dedication to conservation. The catfish also reminds the viewer of the bounty provided by Missouri’s natural amenities.

Please visit the first floor of MU Student Center, near the Shack, to see the exhibition "Illustration at MU" from now until January 20, 2016.

Blog authored by Sarah S. Jones, PhD. Candidate and Curator of Public Arts, Missouri Student Unions.