Marlene Hill Donnelly — Distinguished Service Award 2011

Marlene Hill DonnellyThe GNSI has been privileged to have members with a habit of getting work done—lots of work—and completely out of the limelight. In the case of Marlene Hill Donnelly, it is easy to miss the variety of jobs and just how much work is accomplished; she is full of a quiet grace that way.

For example, it is a big job to develop and schedule the program and workshops for the traditional track of a meeting. It requires a vision, and it requires the ability to cajole, encourage, and guide a bunch of artists into the lineup of some fantastic conferences, with gentle reminders of impending deadlines, perhaps. A comprehensive schedule has to be made that works with the digital schedule. Imagine doing it over and over and then getting called back to do it yet again? Imagine being gracious enough to say, “yes”!

Marlene is a third generation professional artist who also felt drawn toward science. She spent her spare time in high school drawing skeletons at the Field Museum in Chicago. After graduating with a degree in Zoology from the University of Illinois, she worked at the University as a veterinary pharmacology technician. There she met the scientific illustrator for the veterinary college and realized that art and science could be combined in a career. She returned to Chicago for three years of study at the American Academy of Art, concentrating on skills necessary for scientific illustration.

Although recently officially retired from her 30-year Field Museum staff position as Geology Department Illustrator, Marlene is kept busier than ever there. Curators value her particular expertise with rendering bones and reconstructing extinct animals and plants. Marlene has become particularly well known for her accurately planted and convincingly lit ancient landscapes. She blends traditional painting, drawing and model-making skills with digital rendering. As a member of the Museum community, she has contributed her design skills to showcase children’s art for the annual staff cookbook. Over the years she had a chance to hone not only her drawing skills but her lunchtime card skills – join her for a game of Hearts at your peril!

Despite this full schedule, Marlene has found time for some freelance illustration and even book-writing. Marlene was one of the featured artists in the exhibit "Women's Work: Portraits of Twelve Scientific Illustrators from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century" (Linda Hall Library of Science). Her awards and accomplishments also include the Society of Illustrators The Best of Children’s Illustration and American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Best Children’s Book. She also keeps a full teaching schedule, offering botanical and natural science illustration at Morton Arboretum and the Chicago Botanic Garden, and through the North Shore Art League. Her students come back again and again for her unique blend of knowledge and teaching skills. She has also taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and at numerous GNSI workshops.

Marlene attended her first GNSI meeting in 1986 in Washington DC; she has been a member and attended nearly every meeting since. In 1991, Marlene was part of the original group that plotted the formation of the GNSI-owned company, Science Insights. She lent her support by signing on to be president. She continues in the role of President of Science Insights to this day. Marlene served as the Traditional Workshops and/or Presentations Coordinator for Annual Conferences, and often as the Techniques Showcase coordinator: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2009. She served on the Awards Committee from 1996 to 2009 and serves as Membership Secretary from 2008 to present (her term ends in 2012).

When not otherwise occupied, Marlene can likely be found sketching and painting outdoors. She lives with her husband Rett and several dogs.