University of Iowa Health Care, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

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Renowned illustrator Lee Allen dies

Emiliegh Barnes - The Daily Iowan

Issue date: 5/8/06 Section: Metro

Lee AllenLee Allen, a retired UI medical illustrator and renowned artist who studied with Grant Wood and Diego Rivera, died on May 5. He was 95.

Allen, born in Muscatine in 1910, first became interested in art at age 11, when his father gave him an oil-painting set. He studied art full-time at the UI until Wood asked for his help on Works Progress Administration art projects in the 1930s, according to his 2000 book, The Hole in My Vision: An Artist's View of His Own Macular Degeneration. Wood introduced Allen to Rivera, with whom Allen studied in Mexico in 1935.

In 1937, Allen took a job as a medical illustrator in the UI ophthalmology department, where he published a number of articles on ophthalmologic illustration.

Sohan Hayreh, a UI professor emeritus, first met Allen in 1969 in Albi, France, at a meeting to discuss a new technique allaowing doctors to photograph the back of the eye. After moving to Iowa City in 1973, Hayreh often enlisted Allen when he needed an illustration for a scientific paper. "He was an excellent artist, medical artist, and otherwise," Hayreh said. He said he and his wife have several autographed copies of Allen's work in their home.

After Allen's retirement in 1976, he made prosthetic eyes in a private enterprise.

When he was 78, he identified symptoms of macular degeneration in his own eyes. The disease affects more than 10 million in the United States, is incurable, and is the leading cause of blindness for American senior citizens, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation. It can lead to holes in central vision and eventual blindness.

Drawing from his experience illustrating for the ophthalmology department, Allen painted his own impressions of the illness, which he included in his book. The publication also contains commentary from Allen's doctor and colleagues. All proceeds are donated to the UI Center for Macular Degeneration.

"We are all indebted to Lee Allen," H. Stanley Thompson wrote in the forward to Allen's book. "At an age when most people are less inquisitive, he still wanted to know why his eyes were 'misbehaving.' "

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This article from The Daily Iowan, May 8, 2006

last updated: 05-06-2006