Skip to main content

John Cody — Special Service Award 2012

Submitted by Kristine Kirkeby and Clara Richardson; Presented by President Suzanne Wegener

The Special Service Award is occasionally given for long-term dedication to the Guild through efforts of volunteerism, service, teaching, mentoring, or other ongoing and substantial support of the organization.

John Cody began sketching scenes from nature when he was eight years old. At sixteen, a teacher discovered his work, matted many dozens of his pieces, and organized an exhibition. His art education at James Madison College, at Michigan High School in Brooklyn NY, was all about detail and realism. Cody attended St. John’s University when the campus was still in Brooklyn. In a biology class taught by Charles Lacillade, PhD (Harvard), students were instructed to draw the giant amoeba Chaos chaos. Most of the students simply scribbled a few circles and curvy lines on a page – but John sat and studied the protozoan, and recreated it in perfect detail for the project.

Lacillade suggested he attend the Johns Hopkins medical illustration program (known as the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine as founded by Max Brödel). In that program, John further refined his technique and talent, and graduated jobless in 1950.

But John managed to obtain a spot on a six-month expedition to Trinidad with the famed explorer William Beebe. In a recent GNSI Journal article he wrote a memoir of this wild and wooly experience. Following the expedition, Cody returned to the United States but soon found a job in Arkansas as a medical illustrator.

Dorothy, his future wife and director of tuberculosis control in Arkansas, warned Cody that anyone can become a doctor, but only rare individuals can serve society as an actual artist. John enrolled in medical school anyway, graduated, and practiced psychiatry for more than twenty-five years in Kansas. He says he did this, in part, so that he could afford to paint.

Ultimately, his fascination with moths and remarkable artistic talent came together to produce his celebrated paintings of moths. He is now revered as "The Audubon of Moths." Throughout the years, John has made over 200 paintings in watercolor by traveling the world and collecting live moths and cocoons to hatch and raise in his home.

Dr. Cody has had one-man exhibits of his work at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. He holds top honors from many organizations and publications, from Audubon Magazine to the Association of Medical Illustrators. He received the 1997 Kansas Governor's Arts Award for Individual Artist Lifetime Achievement.

An authority on the poet Emily Dickinson, he has written biographies of her and of Richard Wagner. He has also co-authored a biography of the famous medical artist Max Brödel, and published books on art anatomy. He won the American Medical Illustrators Literary Award in 2008 for his fine writing contributions.

John and Dorothy reside in the oldest house in Hays, Kansas. They have three children: Loren, Andrea, and Graham. Their house is filled with paintings of saturnid moths, each worth a surprisingly large figure. Today, John’s work can be found in several institutions around the country.

We are honored tonight to present Dr. John Cody with the Guild of Natural Illustrators Special Service Award. Over many years John has been very dedicated in his long-term support and volunteer efforts on behalf of GNSI. He has taught many workshops and contributed many presentations on a wide and fascinating range of subjects. He has donated fine art prints and originals of his work to the Guild auctions. What this means is people within the field of natural science illustration can experience living with his artwork on their walls. This would not have been possible without his great generosity. Additionally he and Dot have become familiar smiling faces at our many annual conferences and most of us look forward to catching up each year with these warm and sharing people.

John, I am very pleased to award you this token of our great appreciation in the form of our Special Service Award.