Elizabeth Newhall (Buchsbaum)

Added on by Doug Dowd.

(1909-1938) American Illustrator

I have written about Elizabeth Buchsbaum before. (See The Pleasure of Lucidity, on informational images more broadly, from 2008.) 

In that context I wrote: [how remarkable is] Animals Without Backbones, published in 1938 with a revised edition in 1948 by the zoologist Ralph Buchsbaum. At the time I got my water-damaged copy of this book in an estate sale, I was quite taken by the informational illustrations inside. I have since discovered that Professor Buchsbaum was assisted in the preparation of his tome on the squishy and the spiny by his sister, Elizabeth Buchsbaum. The Professor lavishes significant praise on the various photographers who supplied images of glistening undersea woo but mentions his sister only in abbreviated terms. But as it turns out, Elizabeth was a genius of elucidation. 

She articulates extremely complicated internal and external form with ease and grace, using nothing but variable line weight and a little stippling to establish surfaces, volume, and structures... [Her] hydra, particularly, astonishes because she is able to provide internal structural information in detail, even as she communicates the fact the animal in question is a floppy squirmy thing. The cutaway sections move along the volume of the curving arms.

Her work in the book ranges from the diagrammatic to the fully pictorial. The latter images appear in chapter heads. I imagine that she had experience as a printmaker, as her command of graphic form and positive/negative transitions is quite striking. 

From "Lucidity": Elizabeth Buchsbaum was born in 1909, and may have gone by the name of Elizabeth Newhall. I would like to know more about her. If anybody has any more information, I would like to hear from you. I think she is a surprisingly distinguished articulator of form for these purposes, and I bet she had a diverse and intriguing career. 

That invitation scared up a few notable comments, some of which continue to roll in even today. 

A family member named Brad Buchsbaum (precise relation unstated) to report that

"Elizabeth Buchsbaum sadly died in childbirth not long after the publication of Animals Without Backbones in 1938." 

How terrible. What a talented woman to pass away so young, and in such circumstances. As many as 1 in 100 women died in childbirth into the 1930s, but the figures plummeted soon thereafter. 1938 seems very late.  

Brad continued: "You are not alone in admiring her drawings. Indeed, M.C. Escher's famous flatworms were based on Elizabeth's drawings in Animals Without Backbones (according to Ralph Buchsbaum who visited Escher in Holland in the 50's.)"

I have only recently been contacted by the medical illustrator Tim Phelps of the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine program at Johns Hopkins, with whom I share a geeky appreciation for the brilliance of Ms. Buchsbaum. 

As for other works, Elizabeth Newhall (her married name) painted a public library mural and was a member of the Hoosier Salon in Indiana. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Elizabeth Buchsbaum, Animals Without Backbones (2nd edition). Written by Ralph Buchsbaum. 1st Edition published in 1938, 2nd edition in 1948 by University of Chicago Press. 

Elizabeth Buchsbaum, Animals Without Backbones. Interior structure of a hydra. 

Elizabeth Buchsbaum, Animals Without Backbones. Detail, Hydra. 

The clean-looking scans on this page are from a copy of AWB in the offsite stacks at Washington University. This slightly crappy-looking scan is from the water-damaged estate sale copy I bought years ago. I posted this image in 2008. Brad Buchsbaum's mention of MC Escher's planaria and the Ralph Buchsbaum connection to same was provoked by this image.  

Elizabeth Buchsbaum, Animals Without Backbones. Invertebrate Chordates, chapter header illustration. 

Elizabeth Buchsbaum, Animals Without Backbones (. Illustration of the parasitic life cycle of a freshwater clam.

Elizabeth Buchsbaum, Animals Without Backbones (2nd edition). Cutaway diagram inside a worm.

Elizabeth Buchsbaum, Animals Without Backbones (2nd edition). Starfish innards.