Illustrations by John Hagen

John Hagen Q&A

John Hagen ’76 (art and zoology) came to MSUM after a stint at a neighboring college and a tour in Vietnam’s Tonkin Gulf. Upon his return to the states, he was interested in pursuing a career in medical illustration. And after a 33- year career at Mayo Clinic, one of most highly regarded medical facilities in the country, Hagen retired this spring.

Read the original story about John that appeared in the 1992 Alumnews

How did you end up at MSUM?
I tried enrolling at the University of Minnesota, but they wouldn’t take me because of my low GPA. I told my art advisor at MSUM, Dr. Seitz, that I was interested in medical illustration and he said he would get in contact with a biology professor and set up an independent study art major for me. They were so flexible. They weren’t aware of the field, so they were interested in that. They set up combined art and science projects for me that included dissections of a cat and pig, drawing bones, etc. I was like a one-man show! When I applied to the Medical College of Georgia, they were very impressed that my advisors had set up assignments for me. Once I had a goal in mind and set my efforts toward that, I was a totally different person.

What changes have you observed in the field during your career?
The biggest change was the introduction of the computer. I loved doing hand drawn surgical illustrations and graphics for medical textbooks, slides and talks, so when the computer came into play I had to back step and learn how to do things on the computer, which was a real challenge and sometimes a drag. At first, I wasn’t interested in doing this at all, but finally I did it. That was my biggest challenge halfway through career. And now I like the computer. When I started at Mayo Clinic, we had six illustrators and now we have seven. So that hasn’t grown much, but now we have three animators we previously didn’t have.

What has been the most interesting aspect of your work?
During my career at Mayo, I’ve probably done a total of 6,000 illustrations, which are all catalogued and owned by the clinic. We typically did 200-250 illustrations a year. When I first started, about 90 percent of my work was black pen and ink on a white page. Each artist really developed his own style, and you could look at a medical illustration and identify quite easily who did it.

What are you most proud of?
I’ve illustrated several books that have received awards and recognition so that makes me proud because that work lives on forever. Some include the Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, the Mayo Clinic Family Heart Book and various surgical atlases for prominent physicians and surgeons. This isn’t a huge field, but I’m fortunate to have had my work recognized by my peers (Association of Medical Illustrators).

What’s next after retirement?
I will continue to do supplemental work at Mayo Clinic. They often can’t regulate the flow of work that comes in, so it’s always fairly busy. There will be a need for me. Plus, I can freelance medical illustration as my time allows. But I am more excited about doing art for art’s sake – looking forward tog going back to traditional media, pet portraits, human portraits, landscape painting. It’s wide open for me now.
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