Blake, Robert L., Papers, 1943-1988

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Collection Number: MC.0048
Robert L. Blake Papers, 1943-1988

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Duke Medical Center Archives in Durham, N.C. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the FAQ section for more information.


Collection Overview

Size: 9.0 linear feet 3 document cases; 1 oversize box; 1 flat file
Abstract: Contains the professional papers of Robert L. Blake, Coordinator of the Department of Medical Illustration in the Duke University School of Medicine. Types of materials include sketches, caricatures, and drawings of medical anatomy, Duke University Medical Center people and facilities, clippings, certificates, photographs, slides, and reprints. Major subjects include Duke University School of Medicine, Civilian Public Service Unit No. 61, conscientious objectors during World War II, and medical illustration. Materials range in date from 1943 to 1988.
Creator: Blake, Robert L.
Language: English
Repository Duke University Medical Center Archives
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Information for Users

Access Restrictions
No restrictions.
Usage Restrictions
Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], Robert L. Blake Papers, Duke University Medical Center Archives.
Sensitive Materials Statement
Collections may contain Medical Center Administrative records. These include records of the officers of the University, as defined in the Bylaws, the deans of schools and colleges, and departments, institutes, and other offices as designated by the President. For a period of twenty-five years from the origin of the material, permission in writing from the director of the office of record and the Medical Center Archivist is required for use. After twenty-five years, records that have been processed may be consulted with the permission of the Medical Center Archivist.
Collection may contain Records of the Board of Trustees of the Duke University Medical Center. These include minutes and supporting documentation of the Board, its Executive Committee, and standing and ad hoc committees, and reports, studies, and the like presented solely to the Board. Records which have been existence for at least fifty years are available for scholarly research with the permission of the Medical Center Archivist. Access to records which have been in existence for less than fifty years shall be granted only by special permission, in writing, of the Medical Center Board of Trustees.
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Subject Headings

The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings and Medical Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collectionsuch as folders or items.

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Related Collections


Biographical Information

Robert L. Blake was raised in Pennsylvania and was known in his high school as the quasi-official class artist. One of his early jobs, during the 1930s, was as a fashion photographer in the clothing firm of Kraft and Phillips of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Blake photographed, but also began drawing more seriously while working near the firm's fashion artists.

In 1942, Blake arrived at Duke University as part of an alternative service program for conscientious objectors, Civilian Public Service Unit #61. At Duke University, Blake was one of many attendants in the hospital operating rooms. It was in the rooms that Blake noticed Elon Clark, then director of the Department of Medical Art and Illustration and coordinator of the Medical Art Facility. After three months in the operating room, Blake moved to Elon Clark's studio to continue drawing, this time paying more attention to anatomy than style.

Together with Elon Clark, Blake helped to create a laboratory for the pioneering work of making facial prostheses. The prostheses were used for accident victims, cancer patients, or people with congenital defects. Blake was interested in creating items that were not perfect, but which perfectly complemented the body of the person receiving the prostheses. Instead of a plastic model, Blake learned make a plaster case of a real nose on a real person to preserve the texture of the pores and natural appearance of the skin. In 1949, Blake became part of the Duke faculty, and finally Coordinator of Medical Art (around 1971) and Acting Director of Audiovisual Education, following Elon Clark's retirement.

In addition to creating simple teaching drawings and pigments for dying scars, Blake illustrated covers for University publications, created posters and signs for campus events, and lettered citations and certificates for various departments and schools. Blake was responsible for lettering the scrolls presented to the members of the Half-Century Club (Duke Alumni who graduated more than 50 years ago), a job that increased markedly each year. Bob Blake also prepared a Poison Control Center exhibit which was shown around the world during the 1960s. He used his three children as the models for pictures of children venturing into dangerous medicine cabinets or broom closets.

In his personal time, Blake continued to paint using watercolors. He showed his own paintings in various areas of the Medical Center, mostly scenes from rural and coastal North Carolina. His work was exhibited annually at the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, N.C., for more than 20 years.

Blake retired in 1983 having illustrated approximately 500 scientific articles for medical journals, drawings for over 50 textbooks. In 1988, he stated that he continued to turn out about 75 watercolor paintings per year.

As of 2003, the Department of Medical Illustration is known as the Department of Medical Art, part of Educational Media Services, within the Duke University School of Medicine. Audiovisual Education, continued by Sam Agnello, also became part of Educational Media Services.

Robert Blake was married to Hildur Blake, a nurse at Duke University. Together they had three children.

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Scope and Content

Anatomical and Medical Illustrations, ca. 1956-1979; Building Illustrations, ca. 1948-1970; Designs and Lettering, ca. 1953-1960; Clippings and Commercially Published Works, 1959-1981; Photographs, ca. 1944-1966, n.d.; Oversized Anatomical and Medical Illustrations, ca. 1948-1976; Oversized Illustrations of People and Hospital Scenes, ca. 1950-1981; Other Oversized Illustrations and Comics; Oversized Illustrations of Buildings, ca. 1948-1952; Civilian Public Service Unit #61, Illustrations and Photographs, 1943-1944, 1988; Photographic Negatives of Photographs and Illustrations.

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Contents list

Series Quick Links

Anatomical and Medical Illustrations, ca. 1956-1979

Posters contains in Box 1 have been disassembled for preservation purposes. Both posters were originally mounted on posterboard. Captions of items have been transcribed onto item labels, when applicable. Several items listed within this series have been moved to the flat map cabinet, drawer 2.


Box 1
Brain section, pencil, n.d.
Lower leg, pencil, 1965
Eye, colored pencil, (1), 1956
Eye, colored pencil, (2), 1956
Eye, pencil, n.d., (1),
Eye, pencil, n.d. (2),
Eye, pencil, n.d. (3),

Folder [Flat map cabinet: Drawer 2]
Eye, pencil, 1969
Eye, pencil, 1972
Eye, pencil, 1979
Eyelid, pencil, no date
Heart, pencil, n.d. (1)
Heart, pencil, n.d. (2)
Heart, pencil, ca. 1974
Heart, "Prolapse of non-coronary aortic cusp with aortic insufficiency", pencil, 1979
Heart, aneurysm, pencil, 1979
Heart, pencil, 1979
Breast, pencil, n.d. (1)
Breast, pencil, n.d. (2)
Breast (artery and vein detail), n.d.

Folder [Flat map cabinet: Drawer 2]
Liver and kidneys (with George Lynch)
Sacrum and rectum, n.d.
Rectum and rectourethralis M., n.d.
Urinary tract, color glossy, n.d.
Urology (for Dr. Dees), pencil, n.d., 3 items

Folder [Flat map cabinet: Drawer 2]
Unidentified [suture, kidney?], pencil, no date
Unidentified [heart?], n.d.
Unidentified, pencil, 1980
Untitled poster: photographs of sketches of eye, foot/ankle, esophagus, heart, upper leg dissection, 1965-1968
[8 items]
Poster: Growth of a Surgical Halftone, no date

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Building Illustrations, ca. 1948-1970

Duke University, West Campus, 1962
F.G. Hall laboratory, n.d.
Perkins Library, 1948
Clock tower, 1948
Woman's College Auditorium, 1948
Unidentified west campus building, 3 views, 1968-1970

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Designs and Lettering, ca. 1953-1960

News Bulletin lettering, ca. 1953
Davison Club, certificate, ca. 1969-1970
Davison Club, charter members plaque, 1970
Poison Control Center, exhibit, 1960

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Clippings and Commercially Published Works, 1959-1981

General clippings, 1959-1981
Science, 1976
Archives of Internal Medicine, 1972
Dermatology Clinic, 1978
Pamphlets, brochures, and cards

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Photographs, n.d., ca 1944-1966

Robert Blake, n.d.
Personal, n.d., 1944, 1945, 1966

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Oversized Anatomical and Medical Illustrations, ca. 1948-1976


Box 2
Aneurysm bypass, pencil and watercolor, 1976
Maxillary artery surgery, pen and ink/watercolor, n.d., 7 folders
Larynx, pen and ink/pencil, ca. 1948
Toe and nail, 1972
Liver and kidneys, by Blake and George Lynch, no date
[2 items]

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Oversized Illustrations of People and Hospital Scenes, ca. 1950-1981

Nurses, n.d.
Maternity scene with mother and child, n.d.
Maternity ward with infants, n.d.
Parents and newborn leaving hospital, n.d.
Woman's Auxiliary of Duke Hospital, n.d.
Pediatric patient getting a shot, n.d.
Nurse checking on a patient laying in bed, n.d.
"A Day at Duke Hospital", n.d.
Surgery using ultraviolet light, n.d.
Surgery preparation, n.d.
X-ray equipment, microscope, and breathing machine in use, n.d.
Chest x-ray area, n.d.
Hospital functions composite, n.d.
Chief Residents, Ob-Gyn, pen and ink,
1974-1975
1975-1976
1976-1977
1977-1978
1978-1979
1979-1980
1980-1981

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Other Oversized Illustrations and Comics

Comic, Bob Blake after Serre [anatomical man picking up skin suit no. 1374], pencil, n.d.
Comic, Medical artist, Bell Building, and Hospital, 1977
Medical students in lecture, pen and ink, ca. 1960
Book jacket label, "From the Library of Hildur and Bob Blake", n.d.
Duke Poison Control Center exhibit, layout for 5 panels, ca. 1955

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Oversized Illustrations of Buildings, ca. 1948-1952

Duke Chapel, 1944
Chapel, ca. 1948-1949
Entrance to the Duke University School of Medicine (Davison Building), n.d.
Hospital entrance, ca. 1940s
Duke University Medical Center, 1952
Unnamed hospital department, n.d.

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Civilian Public Service Unit #61, Illustrations and Photographs, 1943-1944, 1988


Box 3
Service, 1943-1944
Photographs, ca. 1943-1944
Reunion program, 1988
Reunion photographs, 1988
Slides of CPS workers in typical work scenes, with accompanying descriptions, 1944

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Photographic Negatives of Photographs and Illustrations


Box 4
Female pelvis, pen and ink, n.d.
Male pelvis, pen and ink, n.d.
Duke Hospital , 1950
CPS workers, ca. , 11 Files 1943-1944
Two people and old car [west campus?], n.d.
Robert L. Blake, frontal view, n.d.
Robert L. Blake, profile, n.d. (1)
Robert L. Blake, profile, n.d. (2)

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