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Irving Geis (1908-1997)

On July 22, 1997, macromolecular structure lost one of its pioneering artists when Irving Geis died following a cerebral hemorrhage. Geis was universally known as one of the earliest and most imaginative illustrators of macromolecular structures, providing detailed drawings for Scientific American articles on myoglobin (Kendrew, 1961), lysozyme (Phillips, 1961), cytochrome c (Dickerson, 1972), serine proteases (Stroud, 1974) and DNA (Dickerson, 1983). His molecular paintings and drawings graced numerous biochemistry textbooks. He entered Georgia Tech to become an architect (1925-1927), and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania (1927-1929), majoring in Architecture and Fine Arts. He finished just in time for the stock market crash, and found that there weren't many jobs around for inexperienced architects. He came to New York in 1933 determined to make a living as a free-lance illustrator. He and Miriam Artman were married in 1936, and the marriage survived 61 years until his death. When World War II came, Irv became Chief of the Graphics Section of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), predecessor to the CIA . In 1948 Gerald Piel and Dennis Flanagan made a fateful decision that would alter the course of macromolecular illustration. They bought a century-old technical weekly called Science American, completely turned its design and typography on its head, and created a new magazine devoted to explaining science to the intelligent non-scientist. Irv began illustrating regularly for them, specializing in astronomy, astrophysics, geophysics, chemistry and biochemistry. He made the first Scientific American drawings of orbiting Sputnik, continental drift, and the DNA double helix. In 1961, Irv was asked by Scientific American to illustrate an article by John Kendrew on the first protein crystal structure, that of sperm whale myglobin. The rest, as they say, is history. Irv and I had met by chance following the 1964 Biochemistry Congress in New York, when I went to his apartment in upper Manhattan to purchase a print, and he asked me whether I had ever heard of John Kendrew. I replied that John had been my postdoctoral mentor, Irv invited me in to see the original myoglobin painting, and a 33 year friendship began. Irv and I began a collaboration on an Atlas of Protein Structure. As a warm up for the full Atlas, we decided to write a short monograph on protein structure at the freshman chemistry level. But the freshman chemistry monograph metamorphosed into a graduate-level Structure and Action of Proteins (1969), and our Atlas never was written. In retrospect, we should have written the Atlas when we had the chance; there were only eight protein structures known at that time. Today......!

Richard E. Dickerson