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Illustrator David Macaulay Explores the Human Body
David Macaulay, Study from The Way We Work, Collection of the artist.

OLD LYME, CT.-The Way We Work: David Macaulay’s Human Body, a new exhibition organized by the Florence Griswold Museum and on view June 30 through October 14, 2007, offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the creative process one of America’s premier illustrators. A 2006 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and winner of the Caldecott Medal, Macaulay is completing a new book called The Way We Work, which will be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2008. This exhibition brings together his sketchbooks and studies, completed over seven years, in which he explores the human body from cells to systems.

An architect by training, David Macaulay (b. 1946) is the master at showing us the way things work. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, where he later taught, Macaulay’s illustrations fill the pages of nearly two-dozen books. His explorations of cathedrals, pyramids, mills, ships, mosques, skyscrapers, and cities’ underground utilities masterfully reveal the intricacies of each structure. His signature pen-and-ink illustrations, sometimes enhanced with color, use unusual perspectives and cross-section views to examine and interpret complicated structures.

Macaulay first imagined a project about the human body in the mid 1980s, but The Way We Work did not take shape for nearly two more decades. Although he was increasingly curious about the body and how it changes with age, it was only when someone close to him became seriously ill that Macaulay confronted his own lack of knowledge. “I wanted to know how the body worked and why things go awry,” he says. In studying the body, Macaulay joins the long tradition of artists, including Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt, who have sought to grasp the human form’s intricacies, and to share that knowledge with the public through their depictions.

In his quest to comprehend the way we work, Macaulay studied anatomy and performed human dissections at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester, observed operations, dismantled and reassembled skeletons, modeled DNA, and scrutinized bone fragments under a microscope. The exhibition contains a full draft of Macaulay’s page layouts for the section of The Way We Work that deals with the digestive system. His sketchbooks and studies convey how he eventually resolved his questions about the body’s complex structure in the highly detailed and witty style for which he is known.

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