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This 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.
To 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.