i visit a brain bank

Much of my research comes via anatomy books and the internet. I make the occasional trip (2 weeks ago in fact) to the Science Center. And I will admit to appreciating the Body World exhibit (as well as Gunther von Hagen’s dissection videos).  I have toured a number of labs, including Barrow’s some years ago. This week I visit a brain bank with new work in mind.

Driving to Sun City where Banner Sun Health Research Institute is located, I think about Kathleen Bartolomei (UrbanLab LLC) who connects me to Maribeth Gallagher (Hospice of the Valley), who directs me to Jan Dougherty (Special Projects Consultant at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute), whom introduces me to Dr. Thomas Beach and his research center -so that I might better appreciate the human brain in full, in part, and under the microscope.

I could title this post No Woman is an Island.

I arrive and meet Geidy, a Neuroanatomist. She will take me through the facility until Dr. Beach, who is in a meeting, becomes available.

She points out workstations each with a dry ice pad and scale, among other things.

Lab workstations

This particular lab is unique in that it requires rapid autopsy (within 3-hours postmortem) to ensure the highest quality tissue. Geidy explains, there is always an on call team to do the work. I assume donors have to live in the area. They do and she emphasizes the need for controlled brains, including enrolling a potential donor and meeting with them. She clarifies the work here is to study the aging process.

A good idea, I think to myself, because we are living longer.

The first area we enter includes a high-powered microscope and large computer screen. I don’t photograph the space because we plan to return after walking the lab. We never do come back.

Geidy announces we’ll make stops in various rooms on our way to the morgue. I’ve avoided morgues my whole life, is all that comes to mind.

I believe she identifies these refrigerators as -80°C lab freezers, which I understand now are ultra-low freezers.

Freezers

We walk through several rooms with rows and rows of tissue samples.

Brain tissue samples

Heart tissue samples

Organ tissue storage

With over 3000 people enrolled as donors, this lab has performed 1400 autopsies since 1987.

We make our way to the morgue.

I ask a particular question and Geidy says … because I am a Scientist, I would not say that. What I will say is…etc. I am aware of her ability for careful listening and mindful answering. Naturally I’m compelled to try to do the same.

Before she brings brain tissue out for me to see, she ends a part of our conversation by noting she believes they are finding better ways of diagnosing insults to the brain.

The brain appears so delicate and so beautiful. She notes pathology in the sample she holds. We talk about gray (not really gray) and white matter. 

Coronal section of the brain

When I later show my husband these 2 photos, he reacts by saying it looks like highly conductive material. Yes it is. I pose a (philosophical) question but he has no response for me.

Cerebellum

Taken aback by the cerebellum (the little brain), I know my renderings are on point.

Below is the left hemisphere of the brain. Knowing my artwork will include the normal brain and the brain with dementia, I ask Do you have diseased tissue samples?  No, she does not.

External structure – left hemisphere of the brain

Geidy points out the Corpus Callosum and notes the area is where the 2 hemispheres connect (center flat horizontal area in image below). I don’t say it out loud but I recall corpus callosum is Latin for tough body.

Midsaggital Plane – left hemisphere of the brain

Surprised that she brings out a heart (below), I see it is unusually large with (too much) visible fat. This prompts a conversation about age, aging, weight gain and weight loss.

Heart

As we exit the morgue I photograph a curtain rack sitting in the hallway. It has an image of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. I recall the da Vinci book my father gives me that is currently sitting on my drawing table at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Finding the particular visual here represents for me a nod to timing and all that is right.

Walking back down the hallway, I hope to return to the area where the microscope sets up. I am eager to look at neurohistology. We meet Dr. Beach at the entrance to his lab and introductions take place. I also say goodbye to Geidi and thank her. She tells me she’ll go to the exhibit and she’ll invite her colleagues. It’s the sort of thing they’d all enjoy.

Dr. Beach and I have a very different interaction. He is curious to know what I am doing. I share a few drawings with him and one of his colleagues. I tell him about the artist residency and my father. He shares books and images with me. He explains particulars about dementia and Alzheimer’s. We look over some scans I bring along and he talks anatomy (CAT scan) and chemistry (PET scan). He tells me about glucose and synaptic connection.

We discuss the hippocampus and at one point he explains it is involved in only a small part of dementia (Alzheimer’s). He states dementia is a global loss of thinking. It’s not just about memory, it is about language (input and output), it is about losing ones understanding of abstraction…losing metaphor…and losing mathematics. He emphasizes…the whole of the cerebral cortex…is affected.

I ask about people who specifically use their intellect. I realize quickly everyone uses their intellect but I want to understand how an avid reader and thinker might be affected by dementia.  How (I really want to say why) does it take them (anyone)? Perhaps the root of my question is more emotional than logical. His general response is simple – the more one does with their brain (their mind) the longer it will take for it (the disease) to bring them down (I paraphrase).

Can you see a cure happening in your life time? He pauses before answering and I imagine it is because he is a scientist and wants to answer in a factual way. I suppose he can’t know the duration of his life. His response is firm – Yes. We will find a cure.

In your life time?  He may have answered – within 20 years – and then maybe changed his answer to 10 years. I can’t say for sure. I am listening intently though I forget to write this detail.

I never make it to the microscope to look at histology. It’s after lunch now and we’re both ready for a break. He extends an invitation for me to observe an autopsy. My name would  be put on a call list. I don’t jump at the opportunity. I’m good here and now.

As I make the drive home, I know the brain to be a most extraordinary organ. It is not like a computer. It is not a machine. It is a living thing – enfolding life.

In my artist statement I write about my interest in both the physical body and the subtle body. Perhaps I should use the words gross (what is visible to the eye) and subtle (what is not visible to the eye). Right in this moment I understand the brain to be the best example of this.

Thank you to everyone who helped direct me to the Banner Sun Health Research Center. Thank you Geidy Serrano for the tour. And thank you Dr. Thomas Beach (Senior Scientist and Lab Head) for the opportunity to meet with you.


draw: the art of curiosity and innovation is now open and continues through Sept 1, 2018. I am 1of 3 Artists-in-Residence through Aug 3, 2018. You can find me there every Tuesday, and depending on the week, either Thursday or Saturday.
More info → Gallery at TCA


 

no woman is an island

paloverdeb

Last Spring Wright contacts me about a Palo Verde Beetle I’d just painted for an upcoming bug exhibit at the Idea Museum. I have a sister who is into bugs and anatomy, he says, and this would be a great gift. I respond, You have a sister that’s into bugs? And anatomy?  I should meet her one day. 

Today he brought the family to my studio. I meet everyone including his sister Cady. Within minutes of being introduced we are discussing anatomy. She mentions a short study at Stanford and working with cadavers. Cady Did (they call her, yes like the bug) is completely surprised when she learns the studio visit is arranged for her to receive a graduation gift.

She is home for the holidays, lives in Oregon and will be graduating from Pacific University with a degree in Occupational Therapy. Congratulations Cady. Wright is correct, the gift is fitting. Even that the composition  includes the word surprise (as in Surprise, AZ) feels appropriate.

The whole family pitched in to make this happen. Thanks everyone! It was great to spend an afternoon with all of you.

IMG_8255

Olive, Mead, Cady, Monica, Wright, Jenni, Day and Sandy

No woman, or family member in this bunch, is an island – for sure. As everyone walks out of the studio Sandy comments, I feel like I should get college credit or something for this studio visit. I wonder if she can know how much I appreciate the comment.


The blog posts titled No Woman is an Island acknowledge the people and/or organizations who support me and the work I do.

While having connected to Wright last year, I finally meet him at a studio visit the Breakfast Club hosted at my place last May. He brought along Sandy, his mom. Today my husband and I enjoyed meeting his wife, his daughter and son, and his sisters. Everyone has their hands in the arts in one form or other.

On another note, the Palo Verde Beetle along with several other of my bugs, will be include in a publication to be released in 2017. More on that later.

el murciélago

Murciélago is Spanish for bat. I like the word, and I like the creature.

bat2

Approximately 70 species of bats live in the Sonoran desert region, about 27 of those species live right here in the state of Arizona, more than in any other state. I live near a bat colony and note them as they occasionally fly about the neighborhood.

About bats:
Bats are from the order of Chiroptera (meaning hand-wing), which describes their most unusual anatomical feature and the reason why it’s the only mammal naturally capable of true and sustained flight. In the course of working on this study I learn more about this magnificent nocturnal creature.

IMG_5384

  • A bats body is hairy while a leathery membrane makes up its wonderful wings.
  • Bats are not blind though see best at night.
  • They use echo-location to maneuver through space, and to help find shelter and prey.
  • They have an acute sense of smell which helps in the rearing of their young in large maternity colonies. In fact, it’s the way they find their own young in the midst of hundreds of others. I find it particularly interesting that colonies include non-reproducing females that help with rearing duties.

In the lower elevations of Arizona bats mate in late Spring, maybe as early as March.  In Northern Arizona bats can hibernate 5 to 8 months. 

Bats are in serious decline. They are an important part of our ecosystem helping to keep populations of night-flying insects like mosquitos, in control. They disperse seeds and pollinate many plants. In the state of Arizona bats and bat colonies are protected by law.

Symbolism:
Because bats live in the belly of Mother Earth, they symbolize death and rebirth. They are  reborn every evening at dusk. The Native Americans observed them as highly social creatures with strong familial ties. While the bat is nurturing, verbal, enjoys touch, it is also shy, intelligent and gentle.

Bat medicine teaches us to release fear. Think new beginnings.

 

today in the new york times

JP-CRYSTAL-bl

Photo by Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

PHOENIX — Two men stepped out of a rental car here recently and walked up to a modest ranch-style house with a cat and a grapefruit tree in the yard, worried that the homeowner might mistake them for missionaries or salesmen.

They were neither. They were representatives of one of the world’s wealthiest art patrons, Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress and founder of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. And they had come all the way from there to the door of Monica Aissa Martinez …

Click here for full article

animal study / animal medicine

detailhummingbird1

detail

Here are the last two small studies of an animal series, a vertebrate and an invertebrate.

The hummingbird is an animal with a backbone – more accurate – it has a well-developed internal skeleton.  Vertebrates have a complex body and for my work – make for an opaque focal point. The red In above detail represents muscle tissue, the white is bone.

The butterfly below – an invertebrate – has no back bone. Compared to my other work it seems more transparent. I’m surprised to learn 98% of animals are invertebrates. Other attributes: small and slow-moving, no back bone (no internal skeleton at all), and no cell walls.

…no cell walls!?

h2

detail

This series of 4 (I’ve shown you 2 details in earlier posts)  are on panel. I laid in collage and carefully rendered shapes with graphite and casein. All these creatures are found in Arizona. And as the earlier post suggests, could have been found in my studio.  Each painting is finished with several coats of varnish.

These are for an invitational exhibition at Shemer – AZ MicroArt to coincIde with AZ MicroDwell (alternative spaces for simple living).pollinators

… now think animal medicine …
The hummingbird associated with guidance – is a light in the darkness. The butterfly supports transformation. Both connect to joy. The bee symbolizes work, community and communication. And the beetle surrenders to change, and is known for its adaptability.

Studying a Hercules Beetle
Bee Study



studying a hercules beetle

IMG_5017

Hercules Beetle, Dynastes Hercules

A job took my husband out to a mine in Superior, AZ a few years ago. Deep in the earth he found this Hercules Beetle. He thought I would appreciate the intimidating creature.

It’s the subject of this small collage below. Though I want to approach the work like other anatomy studies, I can’t. Insects are invertebrates – they don’t have skeletal and muscular systems like vertebrates do.

h1

detail of Hercules study

Insects don’t have solid muscles that contract and pull on tendons that pull on bones to make them move. Their muscles are fluid encased in their exoskeleton. They move via a hydraulic system – fluid moves from chamber to chamber causing limbs to straighten out at high pressure and fold at low pressure. If you’ve ever stepped on a bug and seen the white stuff that comes out, that’s the fluid that supports their movement … their muscles. I may never step on a bug again now that I understand this so clearly.

Aside from shape and size – the color of this bug is also a notable quality. Consider it a form of camouflage.  The beetle appears yellow-green or black depending on moisture in the atmosphere. During dry conditions it can be a yellow color. During humid conditions it can appear black. This one, living and dying in the dry heat of Arizona, leans towards green.

I’ve made the small animal studies for 2 upcoming invitational group exhibits. This week someone else invited me to participate in a pseudo-science show. Pseudo-Science – I’ll look up the phrase and consider it may be another interesting opportunity to show these small works.

IMG_5018

I plan to get back to my large figure work now. I’ve been away from it for too long. The understanding I now have from these small animal studies is invaluable.

when the water came

This week as we mark the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I find Rebecca Ross at work organizing a showing of When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. Even now as I write the post, current news focuses on the Gulf Coast as it experiences yet another hurricane, this one – Isaac. The timing is important and only adds more relevance to the work.

The exhibit which will run  August 31 – September 16, 2012, at eye lounge offers, in images and words, firsthand accounts that relate the dramatic stories of Hurricane Katrina
evacuees who relocated from Louisiana to Arizona. The photographs and
interview-poems featured in the exhibition are drawn from the book of the
same title by poet Cynthia Hogue and photographer Rebecca Ross.

Deborah Green © 2010
Rebecca Ross Photo

What : When The Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina
Who: Interview-Poems by Cynthia Hogue
          Photographs by Rebecca Ross

When : August 31 – September 16, 2012
Artists’ Reception: Friday, September 14, 5 – 9 pm

Where: eye lounge: a contemporary artspace
419 E. Roosevelt St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004
http://www.eyelounge.com
Gallery Hours:
Friday, 5 – 9 p.m.
Saturday, 1 – 5 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
First Friday, 5 – 10 p.m.
and by appointment


The book When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina is available locally at  Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, or through Amazon.