Robert L. Blake Papers, 1940-1988

Navigate the Collection

Using These Materials Teaser

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials

More about accessing and using these materials...


Blake, Robert L.
Contains the professional papers of Robert (Bob) L. Blake, Coordinator of the Department of Medical Illustration in the Duke University School of Medicine. Types of materials include pen and ink drawings, pencil sketches, watercolors, illustrations of various sizes, plates, programs, clippings, pamphlets, brochures, cards, photographic materials, and commercially published works. Major subjects include Duke University School of Medicine, Civilian Public Service Unit No. 61, conscientious objectors during World War II, and medical illustration. Materials range in date from 1940 to 1988.
5.3 Linear Feet (1 carton, 3 manuscript boxes, 3 flat boxes, 1 map folder)
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

Contains sketches, caricatures, clippings, certificates, photographs, slides, and reprints created and used by Blake. Also contains drawings of medical anatomy as well as Duke University Medical Center people and facilities. Major subjects include Duke University School of Medicine, Civilian Public Service Unit No. 61, conscientious objectors during World War II, and medical illustration. Materials range in date from 1940 to 1988.

Biographical / historical:

Robert (Bob) L. Blake was born in New Jersey and raised in Pennsylvania. In high school, he was known as the quasi-official class artist. One of his early jobs, during the 1930s, was as a fashion photographer in the clothing firm of Kraft and Phillips of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He also began drawing more seriously while working near the firm's fashion artists.
In 1942, Blake arrived at Duke University as part of an alternative service program for conscientious objectors, Civilian Public Service Unit #61. At Duke University, Blake was one of many attendants in the hospital operating rooms. It was in the rooms that Blake met Elon Clark, then director of the Department of Medical Art and Illustration and coordinator of the Medical Art Facility. After three months in the operating room, Blake moved to Elon Clark's studio to continue drawing, this time paying more attention to anatomy than style. Together with Elon Clark, Blake helped to create a laboratory for the pioneering work of making facial prostheses. The prostheses were used for accident victims, cancer patients, or people with congenital defects. Blake was interested in creating items that were not perfect, but which perfectly complemented the body of the person receiving the prostheses. For example, Blake learned how to make a plaster case of a real nose on a real person instead of using a plastic model to preserve the texture of the pores and natural appearance of the skin.
In 1949, Blake became part of the Duke faculty, eventually becoming Coordinator of Medical Art around 1971 and Acting Director of Audiovisual Education following Elon Clark's retirement. In addition to creating simple teaching drawings and pigments for dying scars, Blake illustrated covers for University publications, created posters and signs for campus events, and lettered citations and certificates for various departments and schools. He was responsible for lettering the scrolls presented to the members of the Half-Century Club (Duke Alumni who graduated more than 50 years ago), a job that increased markedly each year. Blake also prepared a Poison Control Center exhibit which was shown around the world during the 1960s. In it, he used his three children as the models for pictures of children venturing into dangerous medicine cabinets or broom closets. In his personal time, Blake continued to paint using watercolors. He showed his own paintings in various areas of the Medical Center, mostly scenes from rural and coastal North Carolina. His work was exhibited annually at the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for more than 20 years.
Robert Blake retired on January 1, 1984 having illustrated approximately 500 scientific articles for medical journals and having created drawings for over 50 textbooks. In 1988, he stated that he continued to turn out about 75 watercolor paintings per year.
In 2003, the Department of Medical Art (formerly known as the Department of Medical Illustration) became part of Educational Media Services within the Duke University School of Medicine. Audiovisual Education, continued by Sam Agnello, also became part of Educational Media Services.
Robert Blake was married to Hildur Blake, a nurse at Duke University. Together they had three children. Blake died on December 30, 2014.

Acquisition information:
Accession A2007.008 (gift, January 2007), Accession A2009.028 (June 2009), Accession A2011.066 (gift, April 2011), Accession A2013.114 (gift by Kennard Blake, May 2013), Accession A2015.017 (gift by Kennard Blake, May 2015), Accession A2018.018 (gift by Kennard Blake, May 2018)
Processing information:

Processed by Archives staff: circa 2003-2007; updated: 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2018

Organized into the following series: Anatomical and Medical Illustrations, 1956-1980; Building Illustrations, 1948-1970; Designs and Lettering, 1953-1970; Clippings and Commercially Published Works, 1959-1981; Photographs, 1944-1966; Oversized Anatomical and Medical Illustrations, 1948-1976; Oversized Anatomical and Medical Illustrations, 1948-1976; Oversized Illustrations of People and Hospital Scenes, 1950-1981; Other Oversized Illustrations and Comics, undated; Oversized Illustrations of Buildings, 1940-1952; Civilian Public Service Unit #61, Illustrations and Photographs, 1943-1944, 1988; Photographic Negatives of Photographs and Illustrations, undated; Accession A2007.008, undated; Accession A2015.017, undated; Accession A2018.018, 1946-1974, undated. Material within this collection has been organized by accession reflecting the fact that the collection has been acquired in increments over time. Researchers should note that material within each accession overlaps with/or relates to material found in other accessions. In order to locate all relevant material within this collection, researchers will need to consult each accession described in the Series Scope and Contents section. Researchers should also note that similar material can be arranged differently in each accession, depending on how the material was organized when it was received by the DUMCA.
Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials



Terms of access:

Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Robert L. Blake Papers, Duke University Medical Center Archives.