Finishing its fourth year, Culver instructors Dan Cowell and Jack Williams have combined science with sculpting to enhance the learning process for Cowell’s anatomy students.
Wellness instructor Cowell, science fellow Paul-Arthur Plaisir and their students visited the Crisp Visual Arts Center to work with art instructor Williams to better understand the skeletal and muscular systems. In the sculpture room, they worked with écorché models, life-size anatomical drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, and modeling clay to form bones and attach muscles to the skeletons.
New this year, were 10 iron armatures created by math instructor Nick Counts. A blacksmith, Counts made the armatures at Williams’ request so students could mold the bones before attaching the muscles to them.
“The students find it very valuable to have the hands-on experience when combined with the course lessons,” Cowell explained. “It enables them to reinforce what they have learned by engaging other senses to cement the knowledge.”
Counts and Williams worked on prototype armatures for about two years, Williams said. He also uses them in his sculptural form classes.
“We did two prototypes first to pinpoint the features that were needed in each one,” Counts said. “Each one took me about three to four hours to make after the first one.”
The students started by creating the hip, femur, and knee with white sculpting clay before attaching the quadriceps, the muscles that run down the front of the leg.
The white and red oil-based clay they use is kept at 100 degrees so it can be easily shaped. It is stored in an old refrigerator that Williams got from retired art faculty member Anne Duff. The electricians in the facilities department converted it to a clay-warmer, he said.
Along with the écorché models and the da Vinci posters, each station was equipped with spiral-bound book that had been produced by Creative Services showing the students the points where the muscles attach to the bone, along with the scientific name for each bone and muscle.
Williams said this interdisciplinary model is vital to the learning process. It provides a different perspective, showing students how the muscles and bones work in unison. They also can better understand why the muscles are attached to the bones at different points.
Cowell agreed. “It gives them a better appreciation of the muscle structure from a functional aspect,” he explained. “They learn about the angle of pull of a muscle and the landmarks on the bone that serve as attachments.”
It also shows how combining the talents of different departments across campus can enhance the learning process.