Martin Finch brought science to drawing board

  • Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2012 - 7:09 PM

Martin Finch

Martin Finch always thought he was going to be a doctor, but that all changed during his junior year of college when he sketched a dissection of a frog and a chicken for his biology class.

The professor was so impressed with the drawings that he suggested Finch consider a career in the niche profession of medical illustration.

Finch took that advice, and over the next several decades, he went on to have an illustrious career, including almost 30 years at the University of Minnesota and around 40 books of work in all fields of medicine as he tirelessly sought to help physicians, patients and even jurors better visualize and understand the human anatomy.

He died Nov. 11 after years of battling serious health problems. He was 76.

Finch, of Golden Valley, loved science, said his wife, Barbara. During his career, Finch became renowned for his pen-and-ink drawings. And he was undeniably passionate about his work.

"He was at the drawing board all the time," his wife said.

The New York City native originally attended Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania in pursuit of a medical career. But, after explaining to his parents, much to their chagrin, that he didn't want to be a doctor, he started taking art classes. He graduated in 1958 with a bachelor's degree in biology and fine arts.

Finch, who was known for his extensive vocabulary, once said a medical illustrator was the "corpus callosum of art and science," referring to the fibers that connect the left and right sides of the brain.

After earning his bachelors, Finch received his certificate in medical illustration from Massachusetts General Hospital's School of Medical Illustration. Later in life, in 1977, he got his master's in health care education from Central Michigan University.

After getting his medical illustration certificate, Finch went on to accept a position at the hospital at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. He later worked for the National Institutes of Health.

In 1968, he accepted a job at the University of Minnesota's Medical School. During his 27-year tenure, he served as director and instructor of the medical art and photography department and ultimately became an associate professor for surgical sciences and director of biomedical graphic communications. He retired from the school in 1995, but not before he was honored with an exhibition of his work in 1986.

Finch first introduced a computerized color slide technique to the University of Minnesota, said Arnold Leonard, a former professor and head of the pediatric surgery department. The technology helped with illustration presentation.

"His passion and enthusiasm and persistence set the standard," Leonard said, though he added that despite his accomplishments, Finch remained humble and mentored other illustrators.

Finch served as president of the Association of Medical Illustrators in 1983-84. He was honored with the association's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

After his retirement from the university, Finch continued to work, this time in the courtroom as he depicted what he called "pain and suffering" by using medical records to illustrate injuries and other tasks.

In 2010, Finch became the first medical illustrator to donate his life's work to the Vesalius Trust Collection at the Lloyd Library and Museum in Cincinnati. He contributed more than 200 pieces of original illustration.

Besides his drawings, Finch was also committed to his community. At one time, Finch served as president of Temple Israel in Minneapolis. He gave much of his time to other areas of Temple Israel life, the Shalom Alliance, Mount Sinai Hospital and many other community organizations.

Finch also was a great athlete who enjoyed basketball and softball, and as he got older, tennis.

Finch is survived by his wife of 52 years, Barbara; his son, Steve; his daughter, Helaine, and two granddaughters. Services have been held.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495 Twitter: @stribnorfleet

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