Saturday, July 26, 2014

*Physics, Phyne Art and Physicians*

*Physics, Phyne Art and Physicians*

The +Google Art Project is featuring one my favorite artists today, Thomas Eakins[1].  He's not my favorite because of his rather colorful life, (see [1] it' entertaining), or even because of his art as such. Although, I have to admit, I'm quite fond of his sailboat pictures, see below, and [2]!  Nope, as it turns out, Eakins has a connection to both fringe and mainstream science through the person of one Agnew Hunter Bahnson Jr.

Agnew Hunter Bahnson was a wealthy North Carolina industrialist who funded both fringe physicists like Thomas Townsend Brown and mainstream quantum gravity researchers.  He was the driving force behind the formation of the Institute for Field Physics at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.  The institute was direted by Bryce and Cecile DeWitt and Peter HIggs of Higgs boson fame did some of his work there.

But, what does any of this have to do with Thomas Eakins and his art?  The story is kind of long, but I think it's pretty fun too, so read on to find out.

After the Civil War, Henry T. Bahnson, above, found himself on the losing side and in need of an elbow excision.  There’s an old story among Freemasons that a Union general touring a hospital of wounded with the chief physician noticed the doctor sending a number of confederate soldiers for immediate care.  When he asked the doctor why he was prioritizing these men, his reply was “They’re my brother masons”.  Whether or not Henry Bahnson received excellent care at the hands of Philadelphia doctors because of his brother’s status as a Freemason may never be known, but his brother Charles Frederic Bahnson would ultimately become the Assistant Grand Lecturer for the Grand Lodge of North Carolina and author the North Carolina Lodge Manual.

The elbow excision was performed by Dr. David Hayes Agnew, and his assistant Dr. Charles T. Hunter. In addition to saving Henry’s elbow, Dr. Hayes was the attending surgeon for President Garfield after he had been shot by an assassin.  Henry, a medical doctor himself recovered but never regained complete use of his right elbow.  He named his son Agnew Hunter Bahnson after his two attending doctors.  Agnew carried on the tradition and named his son Agnew Hunter Bahnson Jr.

And finally, this is where Eakins comes in.  Eakins captured Bahnson's namesake in a massive 7 foot by 6 foot painting and preserved him at his surgical best for all of posterity, (picture 2 and the album cover below).

One more medical footnote to the history of Agnew Hunter Bahnson Jr…  Another of Henry’s grandsons, Agnew’s cousin, the second Henry Theodore Bahnson wound up in possession of his grandfather’s excised elbow bone.  More importantly though, he was the first doctor to successfully perform a heart and liver transplant.  Henry studied under Dr. Alfred Blalock who was featured in the movie about Vivien Thomas, the African-American surgical technician who developed life saving procedures for treating blue baby syndrome.  Dr. Blalock and Henry are pictured together in a medical journal early in Henry’s career, and if you look behind Dr. Blalock, in the background, there’s Agnew Jr., (picture 4)

The two Eakins pictures shown here can be seen at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or at least they could a few years ago.


2. Google Arts Project Eakins Post

3.  This post borrows from part II of a series of articles I wrote a few years back

#physics    #historyofphysics    #historyofart

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