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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

Art and Science Come Together

Not every day one meets a medical illustrator, and most of us have no idea what the profession is or the depth of knowledge it entails. Artist Katherine Callingham is one of those gifted individuals who brings together science and art to educate the rest of us on the miracles of the human academy and the conditions for survival.

Medical and scientific illustration has been around for thousands of years. Early illustrations date back to ancient Egypt, India, and Greece, where physicians used drawings to record surgical procedures and medical treatment. In subsequent centuries, medical illustration became specialized, with illustrators focusing on specific areas of medicine such as surgery or pathology. With the advent of digital technology, medical illustration moved into the area of 3-D modeling and animation software to create interactive illustrations. This combination of artistic and scientific knowledge is essential for making accurate and detailed visual representations of complex medical concepts.

Artist Katherine Callingham always felt she was good at art; the creative process came easily. Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, her mother was a landscape architect and encouraged Katherine's natural notion toward art by providing her with opportunities to design logos for the family business. Katherine says, "My mom would attend life drawing sessions at Arizona State University with me; she felt it would build my art confidence. It did that and solidified my art into a sophisticated use of form in various mediums."

During Katherine's high school years at East High in Phoenix, she didn't focus on art as a career choice; her real passion was in medicine. Therefore, her coursework primarily focused on math and science classes. During this time, Katherine trained and volunteered to supervise vaccination clinics in South and Central America for a program called Amigos de las Americas during the summers. During the school year, Katherine and the other students spent fundraising so they could participate in the program. This service experience took her back to Nicaragua and Ecuador over three years.

Upon graduation, Katherine headed for Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, to complete her B.A. in Biochemistry/pre-med. Katherine shares, "My undergraduate grades did not qualify me for medical school. However, I worked a year and a half as a biochemist at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix. At that time, I started at Arizona State University for my Masters in Biochemistry." During this time, Katherine met her husband, who quickly realized she was much happier when she was doing her art and medical illustration. Katherine agreed and devoted one semester and summer toward a second undergraduate degree in graphic design to get her portfolio together.

Katherine spent time in graphic arts under the guidance of Carol Lee, who supervised her portfolio development. "I remember she had me produce a few tight botanical watercolor illustrations to illustrate my subject and medium range." Eventually, Katherine did complete her Masters in Biochemistry, and with her undergraduate work and employment experience, she began her career as a freelance medical illustrator. "I did a medical-legal illustration for law firms on medical malpractice defense. The goal was to create illustrations and diagrams to help the medical expert witness testify in court."

Katherine is also in demand as an instructor, hired by the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, Arizona. She taught courses on the desert plants of the Sonoran Desert between Alamos, Mexico, and Phoenix. A couple of times a year, Katherine guides workshops at the Museo Costumbrista Sonorense, the Alamos Casa de Cultura, the Nelita Bours Community Center, and local elementary and secondary schools. Katherine also coordinates high school workshops with the Scottsdale Sister City High School student exchange. The medium for these experiences is drawing in charcoal and acrylic on butcher paper and producing clay sculptures. Katherine especially favors working on butcher paper with students. "With the medium background of butcher paper, you can get results quickly; there is no large investment involved, perfect for students to experiment with the medium they're using, and the final result can be a masterpiece." She also believes in promoting the idea of painting partners; to this end, she attends an annual gathering in Tucson, Arizona, under the direction of New York artist Maggie Siner. The group includes both fine artists and those with a medical illustration background.

Katherine purchased an adobe ruin in Alamos, Mexico, in 2004. Once renovated, she initially used the space as a home studio. As the years passed, her home studio was transformed into a gallery with the addition of a new separate living space behind the original house for a residence. In 2019, Katherine, encouraged by Scottsdale Sister Cities, assembled an exhibit of Alamos artists and artisans to be displayed at the Mexican Consulate's Office in Phoenix, Arizona. Katherine’s recent exhibits are Artifactos de la Casa de la Cultura Museo de Leorardo Valdez Esquer in Etchojoa, Sonora, Mexico, and Religious Art in Cocorit, Sonora, Mexico. In Artist Katherine Callingham’s world, art transcends cultural boundaries, imagining the world where we live as one.


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