Elizabeth Blumenthal, 89, medical sculptor, instructor


Elizabeth Blumenthal, a retired medical sculptor who for five decades created prosthetics and plastic surgical devices for patients recovering from cancer, birth defects and accidents, died of heart failure Feb. 23 at Brightwood Center, Genesis Healthcare. The former Woodbrook resident was 89.

A former Johns Hopkins University assistant professor, she worked in Hopkins' department of art as applied to medicine from the early 1940s until her retirement a decade ago.

Born Elizabeth Sylvania Cone in Troy, Pa., she lived in Sudbrook Park and on Wolfe Street, where her mother ran a boarding house for Hopkins medical students.

As a teenager, she studied life drawing at Maryland Institute College of Art. Though not related to Etta Cone, Mrs. Blumenthal saw Ms. Cone's private art collection, housed at the Marlborough Apartments on Eutaw Place. She was a 1933 graduate of Western High School.

She worked in sales at the old May Co. and did secretarial work before affiliating with plastic surgeons at Hopkins, where she soon found an outlet for her skills.

She assisted patients who had birth deformities, had been injured in accidents or were recovering from cancer. She was a medical photographer, illustrator and worked in moulage, a technique involving molding and casting a surface of the body.

In the 1940s, she photographed patients for an obstetrician, Dr. Nicholson J. Eastman, for his medical text Obstetrics for Nurses, a work that went through many editions.

"In the early days of restorative prosthetics, she helped develop techniques such as the use of silicone," said Gary P. Lees, chair and director of the department of art as applied to medicine. "She was just so happy in helping people. As a sculptor, she was talented in making these prosthetics."

Colleagues said she had a strong sense of color and could match skin tones and complexion variations when creating prosthetics.

"She was pragmatic and was accepting of her patients," said her daughter Nancy M. Lewis of Baltimore. "She saw the person, not the defect or the illness."

In the early 1950s, she appeared on WAAM-TV as part of a weekly science show. She was photographed for a 1955 Life magazine article about her field.

Beginning in 1961, she taught graduate students in her field. She retired in 1996 as assistant professor at the Hopkins School of Medicine.

In addition to her work at Hopkins, Mrs. Blumenthal took weekly classes at the Schuler School of Fine Arts on Lafayette Avenue.

In 1948, she married Abram Blumenthal, a businessman who owned Universal Paper Co. on Fairmount Avenue. He died in 1985.

Family members said that in the 1950s the couple hired architect William Landsberg, a colleague of the renowned architect Marcel Breuer, to design the modern-style home they had built in Woodbrook in 1956. Mrs. Blumenthal lived there for nearly 50 years. The one-story house had bluestone floors with radiant heating, a free-standing fireplace and expanses of windows.

"My mother had grown up in old Victorian houses, and the openness of the Breuer houses appealed to her," said her daughter. "The window washing was a challenge - the windows were floor to ceiling - but my mother got up and did it herself, with someone holding the ladder."

After her children moved away and her husband died, Mrs. Blumenthal rented rooms to Towson University students.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Trinity Episcopal Church, 7474 Washington Blvd in Elkridge.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include a son, Stephen K. Blumenthal of Ithaca, N.Y.; another daughter, Deane Pippin of Katonah, N.Y.; and two grandsons.


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