Remembering Robert Blake

Bob Blake at work in the Division of Medical Illustration during his time with Civilian Public Service Unit #61, ca. 1943This week the Archives honors the life and work of medical artist Robert Blake, who recently passed away at the age of 98. Blake came to Duke in 1941 as part of Civilian Public Service Unit #61. The picture on the right shows Blake during his service with Unit #61. He contributed illustrations to the unit newsletter and his artistic ability was noticed by medical artist, Elon Clark, who hired him on as part of the Division of Medical Illustration after the war.

Blake remained at Duke through his retirement in 1983. During his long career, he contributed artwork for medical exhibits, such as one on Accidental Poisoning for Dr. Jay Arena; calligraphy for Duke medical diplomas; and countless illustrations for Duke physicians. Blake, alongside Elon Clark, also helped pioneer a lab for facial prostheses at Duke in the late 1940s. His technique involved making a plaster case of a real nose or ear on a person; a departure from the plastic model typically used. This technique created realistic texture that perfectly complemented the person’s face.

Outside of Duke, Robert Blake enjoyed painting rural scenes around Durham and displaying his work in local venues and around campus. He continued painting well into retirement, producing as many as 60 paintings a year.

Drawing of nurses by Bob BlakeTo us at the Archives, Blake and his work are a highlight of our collections and a source of inspiration. We have many pieces of original art by him, several of which have been featured in exhibits in the Medical Center Library. Two of his pieces are currently on display in the library as part of the exhibit Head to Toe: Medical Attire Past & Present. Pictured on the left is one of the images on display. To see more images of Blake’s artwork, please visit MEDSpace. Information about additional resources, such as material on Civilian Public Services Unit #61, the Division of Medical Illustration and oral histories with medical artists Bob Blake and Elon Clark are also available on our website. 


Really an inspiring source.
It was to know about such great personality and a medical artist 'Robert Blake'.


My father had a lithograph of a church in Charleston given to him by his secretary in the 1960s. My wife and I have enjoyed the lithograph for about 35 years. I had read about Bob Blake and never noticed the signature on the painting. I was quite surprised when I made the connection.

Rebecca Williams's picture

Very cool to hear! 

I used to be on Bob's Christmas card list. His personally drawn lovely lithographs of winter scenes were so beautiful I saved them. I resurrected them this year, reframed them, and am enjoying them again 40 years after the fact. Such a lovely artist.

Rebecca Williams's picture

I'm sure those are beautiful! Glad that you are still enjoying them.

We have his painting labeled Duke Med. School Entrance hanging in the orthopedic office where I work in Shelby Ohio. Beautiful piece from 62'


Some one in your orthopedic office must have gotten their training from Duke's Orthopedic Department because they were all given one of my father's reproductions when they finished at Duke.

Kennard J. Blake

My husband inherited 4 of Bob’s paintings.. they are absolutely beautiful, complete with months and year along with his signature.

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