Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Importance of Collaboration Among Faculty

The most rewarding aspect of teaching at the University of South Carolina is the people and the potential for unexpected growth in one's research.  I was very fortunate to have met and connected with Dr. James R. Augustine of the University of South Carolina Medical School.  He is part of the Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience department.  We have collaborated as colleagues on his new textbook, and to that end, I provided illustrations for his textbook.   Our collaboration opened a whole new avenue for my research, and I am currently producing creative work about the life of Santiago Ramón y Cajal.

Comprised of several works I have created so far in my new series of art about Cajal, below is a calendar that I produced as a thank you for the many people who have assisted me in my project from the University of South Carolina, the Instituto Cajal and the National Institute of Health.  I made a limited edition of 15 calendars, and since several people in the field of neuroscience and art have asked about the calendar, I am sharing it here on this blog.

In order to facilitate an easier read, here is the text that appears on the "with gratitude" page:

I became aware of Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s research and his drawings three years ago while working on neuroscience illustrations for the new edition of Human Neuroanatomy by Dr. James R. Augustine.  I was immediately captivated, inspired and intrigued with Cajal’s artistic drawings, his scientific research and his personality (as represented in the autobiography Recollections of My Life.)  Cajal was such a fascinating and multi-talented individual.  After I had read his autobiography, there was a part of me that felt like some key aspects of Cajal, (his humor, and how he imagined himself - particularly during his childhood), were often absent from the mainstream discussions of him and his work.  One day I was lamenting this, and then it occurred to me that as an artist, I could create works that expressed biographical and metaphorical interpretations of his life and his internal world.

I was delighted to learn this past spring that an exhibition of Cajal’s drawings was on display at the John Porter Neuroscience Research Center at the National Institute of Health, Bethesda, MD.  Upon viewing the exhibition, I was completely amazed by his drawings.  Cajal’s sensitivity and line quality rival the greatest of artists. 

To understand his drawings and how they are put together, I have been making regular trips to the NIH so that I can draw the actual works.  This process has taken my understanding of his drawings to an entirely new level.  I shared insights gained from this process during the symposium held at the NIH honoring Cajal this past October and currently I am compiling those observations into an article.

I am tremendously grateful to Dr. Juan de Carlos, Curator of Cajal’s drawings at the Instituto Cajal, Madrid, for organizing and loaning Cajal’s drawings to the NIH for the exhibition.  I am truly indebted and thankful that the display of Cajal’s drawings will continue into the future.  I am very thankful to Dr. Jeffery Diamond, Senior Investigator, NINDS for his dedication and for organizing the exhibition, and also for inviting me to display my creative works about Cajal in the John Porter Neuroscience Research Center.  I am also thankful to Dr. Diamond for our numerous conversations about Cajal and also for inviting me to present at the first annual symposium held at the NIH honoring Santiago Ramon y Cajal.  It was a great honor to meet so many renowned scientists, especially those who came from the Instituto Cajal to participate, which include:  Dr. Juan de Carlos, Dr. Fernando de Castro, Dr. Laura López Mascaraque, and José Luis Trejo.  It was a delight to learn more about Cajal from all of them, especially Dr. de Carlos who took the time to view Cajal’s work with me and answer questions.

As an expression of gratitude and celebration of the New Year, I have compiled a selection of my studies of Cajal’s drawings created from viewing Cajal’s work on exhibition at the NIH and some of my creative biographical/metaphorical works about Cajal into a commemorative 2016 calendar of which I have made only fifteen copies.

I would be remised not to mention my appreciation to those at the University of South Carolina who have extended a great deal of support to my current research.  I am especially thankful to the chair of the School of Visual Art and Design, Dr. Peter Chametzky, for his encouragement, enthusiasm and support of my research trips to the NIH.  I am overwhelmed by Dr. Hanno zur Loye, Associate Dean of Research and Dr. Roger Sawyer, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for arranging additional research funding to my project for the spring 2016 semester.  I am especially thankful to USC President, Dr. Harris Pastides for providing the faculty of the University of South Carolina with access to the University plane.  The University plane has granted me a unique opportunity to study and view Cajal’s work on an ongoing basis.  This regular access has broadened my understanding of Cajal and increased the quality of my research.  I would like to thank the USC pilots, Ken Keverline and Roy Roe for their consistent excellence in service and professionalism.  Lastly, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. James R. Augustine for all of his encouragement, support and understanding over the years, and for being a truly wonderful and inspiring colleague.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Every birthday should be a blast...

...and today it is a blast from the past.  In celebration of Santiago Ramón y Cajal's birthday I decided to feature one of my oversized drawings from my graduate studies at UCDavis:  Butterflies in Her Stomach.  For Cajal, the father of Modern Neuroscience, the intricate components of neurons and nervous tissues were  “the mysterious butterflies of the soul… whose beating of wings may one day reveal to us the secrets of the mind.”  The full quote is featured below.

Like the entomologist in search of colorful butterflies, my attention has chased in the gardens of the grey matter cells with delicate and elegant shapes, the mysterious butterflies of the soul, whose beating of wings may one day reveal to us the secrets of the mind.

- Santiago Ramón y Cajal 

Dawn Hunter, Butterflies in Her Stomach, charcoal and conte on paper, 120" x 150"

Dawn Hunter, detail, Butterflies in Her Stomach

Dawn Hunter in front of artwork in her studio, UCDavis, 1992