#AMIdiversity - Pioneer Profile: Marsha Jessup, MS

By Jill K Gregory, MFA, CMI

Marsha Jessup Studio Image
Marsha Jessup, MS (1971)
at her drawing table
at the University of Michigan.

As part of its #AMIdiversity initiative, the AMI is excited to highlight the career of Marsha Jessup, a pioneer in the field of medical illustration.

Marsha was AMI President from 1989-1990, served on the Board from 1983-1988, was Chair from 1986-1987, and Vice Chair from 1984-1986. She was the Meeting Planning Chair for the 1990 AMI Meeting in Philadelphia and received the Outstanding Service Award in 1991. Marsha was also the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI) President 1975-1977; Vice President and Training Committee Chair 1973-75; a co-editor of the first edition of the award-winning GNSI Handbook of Scientific Illustration; and a grant reviewer for the Smithsonian Institution International Exchange Program. After many years of work in governmental and higher education settings, Ms. Jessup retired in 2006. Please enjoy highlights of our conversation below. The full interview is available to AMI members in our newsletter which can be accessed here.

Who were your mentor(s) and where did you receive your training?

My mother, fine artist Georgia Mills Jessup, was my first mentor and her circle of artist friends and art professors were early inspirations. When my sister and I were young children, my mother often took us to the Howard University art studios, where she worked on her oil painting assignments. We would sit in on watercolor classes while she was busy with her courses. Years later, my sister and her future husband (both MFAs from Howard) and I, took watercolor and design courses from that same professor.

Like my mother, I attended Howard University for my undergraduate studies, I received a BS in Zoology with a minor in allied science and art. While there, I introduced myself to Mrs. Nadia Page, the Howard University College of Medicine’s medical illustrator, who was a 1951 graduate of the Art as Applied to Medicine program at Johns Hopkins. She was the first professionally-trained African-American medical illustrator in the United States. My mother knew of her from the anatomy chairman, who allowed my art major mother to take medical school gross anatomy courses.

"While there, I introduced myself to Mrs. Nadia Page, the Howard University College of Medicine’s medical illustrator, who was a 1951 graduate of the Art as Applied to Medicine program at Johns Hopkins. She was the first professionally-trained African-American medical illustrator in the United States."

I attended the University of Michigan for my graduate studies, earning a Master of Science in Medical and Biological Illustration in 1971. Attending the Michigan program turned out to be the most enriching and fortuitous educational experience I could have possibly had. I made lifelong friends there and it later facilitated my being hired by the then CMDNJ-Rutgers Medical in New Jersey. The Rutgers Medical School Dean, who was also the Surgery chairman, had previously been a surgery professor at the University of Michigan and Professor Gerald Hodge had illustrated all of his publications when he was there. Upon learning that I graduated from Hodge’s program and was working at NIH, he hired me with the salary I requested and a faculty appointment (assistant professor level) in his Surgery Department.

Can you share a milestone in your career?

I was highly active in the field during the transition from traditional to digital media in the 1980s and 1990s. In my 1990 AMI Presidential Address, “The Medical Illustrator: Artist, Scholar, or Artisan”, I highlighted the influences of my artist/mother who took gross anatomy courses to improve her figure drawings and chemistry courses to develop her own ceramic glaze formulas. This was to dramatize how natural it is for artists to embrace science and technology to advance their skills, craft, and scholarly pursuits. I hoped to allay concerns about embracing new technology (computer graphics and imaging) in our work with a historical overview of the art/technology nexus and the work of the scientific and medical illustration communities I evolved within. The latter led to my interests in helping to advance our profession’s skills, craft, and scholarly activities with a fearless embrace of new visualization technologies as a natural progression for the medical artist.

In 1991, I received the Alumna-in-Residence Award from the University of Michigan. This award celebrates a female alumna who has reached an important level of achievement in her profession and one who is widely recognized and admired by her peers. I was invited to visit the Michigan campus for four days, during which time I gave several lectures to students and faculty and conducted a series of private critiques to current medical illustration students. It was truly an honor to be recognized in this way by my alma mater.

You were on the cutting edge of medical illustration’s transition into the digital realm. Can you describe some of your experiences in merging medical illustration with 3D, Virtual Reality, and other technologies?

In 1994, I served on the program committee of the First World Congress on Biomedical Communications and chaired the Virtual Reality Plenary Sessions. This was a combined meeting of HeSCA, AMI, BPA, and ABCD held in Orlando. My experiences with virtual reality researchers, government agencies funding VR research, and companies engaged in that activity grew out of attending the annual Medicine Meets Virtual Reality (MMVR) conference. Those meetings changed the focus of my interests and activities until I retired in 2006.

Colonel Richard M. Satava, MD, DARPA’s Project Manager for Advanced Biomedical Technology, was heavily involved with the military’s surgical simulation research, funding elements of a remote robotic-assisted surgery project, and in search of 3D computer models of anatomy with high visual fidelity. I met Dr. Satava at the MMVR conference. At that time, DARPA was funding the SRI International team’s development of a robotic-assisted remote surgery system for battlefield use. That system eventually evolved into the da Vinci Surgical System.

In our conversations, I touted the skills of medical illustrators in creating convincing computer-generated anatomical models with a higher visual fidelity to enhance the utility and outcomes of surgical planning and simulation. In 1994, Dr. Satava asked me to collect videos of these models from simulation labs across the world. Seeing videos of those models being used in surgical simulations opened my eyes to the need for anatomical models to have biomechanical properties as well. That made collaborative prospects with a Rutgers biophysicist and a computer engineering faculty member a priority for our surgeons interested in surgical planning and simulation.

So, I devised a strategy to bring surgical faculty and medical device manufacturing industry R&D teams together to foment collaborations in simulation and virtual prototyping. I contacted science officers and training managers of major medical device manufacturers to offer surgical anatomy and procedures courses at my New Jersey institution, which is currently the Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. We produced customized lectures (primarily in surgical anatomy and procedures), related cadaver dissection labs, and live telecasts with two-way audio of surgical procedures specific to a company’s interests. This all came together under the Collaboratory for Industrial Outreach and Education, which I established in 1993.

The full interview with Marsha Jessup is available to AMI members in our newsletter which can be accessed here.