CLARKS SUMMIT — A picture on display inside the Abington Community Library features unique letters spelling out a sentence: “The human body is the finest work of art.”
Dr. Susan Summerton thinks so.
The pieces of the Delta Medix radiologist and medical educator will be on display at the library through the end of the month. Summerton finds letters and shapes in the CT scans, X-rays and ultrasounds of her work and then uses the figures to craft her art.
Summerton never intended to become an artist. The original inspiration for her art lies in a poster she used to keep in her living room, one that depicted the alphabet spelled in patterns gleaned from photos of the wings of butterflies. She likened seeing shapes and letters in the images she took at work to someone seeing shapes in clouds.
“I didn’t even look for them. They’d just jump out at me,” Summerton said.
About 20 years ago, she decided to start collecting the letters she found and hoped to recreate the butterfly poster for her office. But in 2015, at a Radiological Society of North America conference, organizers asked members to share or submit radiological art. Summerton produced a piece commemorating the society’s 100th anniversary. The submission garnered an honorable mention and went on display at the conference in Chicago.
“It’s kind of cool that the first piece I ever made, right away, someone loved it and it spoke to them,” Summerton said.
People from the society weren’t the only ones. After the conference, colleagues started to ask her if she could spell their names or make signs for gifts with the letters. Before long, Summerton started a business selling her work. Because patient consent papers only allow her to use radiological images for educational and research purposes and not for art or profit, she now has a graphic designer use Photoshop to recreate the letters she finds.
Since then, her work and reputation as an artist is starting to spread worldwide. Radiologists contact her with images they see in their work. One from Pune, India emailed and offered her an ultrasound of a collapsed lung that resembled a peacock. She accepted the image but hasn’t used it in any artwork. A friend from her residency days gave her a CT scan of a neck that looked like a dog. That one made its way onto a piece Summerton made in honor of therapy dog.
She once sold a print to an engineer from Kuala Lampur while on an airplane. She’s sold pieces to customers on all the continents and most of the 50 states.
Summerton said she hopes her art is educational — prints come with a list that explains what types of medical images the letters are pulled from — and also thinks they work to ease fears people have about getting imaging studies done. Many people are afraid of the radiation involved or are nervous about what such procedures may discover, she said.
She’s also found her art speaks to people.
“It’s a common language because we all share the same bodies,” Summerton said.
To learn more about Summerton and her work, visit xrayartistry.com.
The art display at the library will be on display during a slate of informational events throughout October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Each of the sessions will cover breast cancer prevention, awareness, treatment, detection and diagnosis, said Renee Roberts, young adult services and project manager at the library.
Each of the events will be at 7 p.m. at the library’s Ryon Room:
■ Tonight: Changes in Breast Care Management, presented by Dr. Kristine Kelley.
■ Thursday, Oct. 18: The Foundation for Cancer Care, presented by Margo Opsasnick.
An artist meet-and-greet and exhibition with Summerton called “Xposed: The Body as Art,” is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 25.
The events are free, but anyone who wishes to attend should preregister by calling the library at 570-587-3440 or stopping by the building at 1200 W. Grove St.
Contact the writer:
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