Origin Story: Neil O. Hardy

Neil Osgood Hardy, an award-winning medical illustrator, passed away on June 3 at the age of 88. Born in Syracuse New York on July 30, 1929 to Paul Reeves and Marion Osgood Hardy they moved to Belmont New York and then to Sparrows Point, Maryland where he was in high school while his father was an instructor at the Aberdeen Proving Ground during World War II. Neil served in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict, attached to a mapping unit. In 1955 he received a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

In 1958 he earned a Certificate in Medical and Biological Illustration from the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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While in school he was an avid swimmer and archer. On his application to the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine program he wrote about his passion for both art and the biological sciences and his great desire to combine them: “Medical Illustration would enable me to utilize both of my major interests in a beneficial way.”

While at Hopkins he studied under Ranice Crosby. It was hard work and much fun especially with fellow students like Howard Bartner and Alan Cole. The AMI shares the many accolades Neil achieved in his generous service to the Association, to the generations of medical illustration students, and to the many clients and professionals with whom he worked.

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In a 2009 talk at the Westport Center for Senior Activities, he pointed to a picture of himself as a student at Johns Hopkins University.

After graduating from Hopkins, he moved to New York City and began his professional career by starting a department of medical illustration at the Eye Bank for Sight Restoration, a part of Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital and concurrently developed a freelance medical illustration business. In 1962, he launched a full-time freelance business from his home in Westport, Connecticut.

Throughout his career he has worked for many varied clients including Reader’s Digest, The New York Times, Red Book, Runner’s World, Esquire, The American Journal of Nursing, Hospital Practice, Hospital Medicine, Scientific American, Cliggott Publishing: Advances in Oncology and HIV Advance in Research and Therapy, Modern Medicine, The American Heritage Dictionary, Stedman’s Medical Dictionary and many more.  

He became a member of the New York Society of Illustrators (SI) in 1968 and became a Lifetime Member in 1994. He was on the SI Board of Directors from 1988-1991. In a 2009 presentation at the Westport Center for Senior Activities, he pointed to a picture of himself as a student at Johns Hopkins University. He showed many of his meticulously drawn medical illustrations with explanations about each one. Occasionally, he said, he had to store an eyeball or heart in the family refrigerator, much to the dismay of his wife, Judy.

One of the highlights of his career was collaborating on the book A Guided Tour of the Living Cell, by Nobel Laureate Dr. Christian de Duve for the Scientific American Library Series. He was an early pioneer in illustrating submicroscopic landscapes and was renowned as an expert in illustrating the molecular structure of DNA. Neil received the AMI Best Medical Book Award in 1978 for this book.

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Caspar Henselmann and Neil Hardy pictured at the Retrospective of Neil Hardy at the Westport Public Library in 1999. Photo by Virginia Ferrante-Iqbal.
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Neil at the opening reception of “Neil Hardy, Medical Illustrator” at the Weston Library, Weston, CT, October 2015. Photo by Virginia Ferrante-Iqbal.

Virginia Ferrante-Iqbal wrote about his Retrospective of Neil Hardy at the Westport Public Library in 1999: “Illustrations created at the beginning of his career were hanging next to his most recent molecular work and yet both looked as if they were done yesterday. His work is timeless. The mastery in his work is its clarity; every aspect of every drawing was researched and drawn with the highest attention to accuracy and detail. Each elegant composition allows the eye to move without distraction from image to image telling story usually without words. The subtle texture of each graceful line is carried throughout the image creating an unobtrusive atmosphere for learning.” AMI News 41(2), 2000.


Because of his love of medical illustration and his eagerness to assist young artists, he was especially proud to be appointed Assistant Professor in The Department of Art as Applied to Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in1983. He taught a course in Business Policy for the Medical Illustrator from 1983-2003.

He was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor in 2000 with the support of Gary Lees, now Professor and Director Emeritus of the Department. In Gary’s letter to the Dean in support his promotion he stated: “Now with 42 years of experience, he continues to illustrate and is renowned as an expert in illustrating the molecular structure of DNA. One could say, this comes naturally after illustrating A Guided Tour of the Living Cell, plus 116 articles and covers for Advance in Oncology and HIV: Advances in Research and Therapy that mainly dealt with molecular images.”

Neil was highly regarded and respected by his clients and Gary added the following quoted by George P. Canellos, MD and Leonard Weiss, ScD, MD, PhD, Chairs of the Editorial Board of Advances in Oncology, wrote in their December 1999 editorial: “Neil has painted nearly every cover that has graced Advances... The “look” of the publication is, in large measure, a reflection of Neil’s outstanding work. Neil has stood at the pinnacle of his profession during his entire working relationship with Advances and has earned the respect of his professional peers around the world.”

"The Hopkins students benefited from Neil sharing his 40 plus years of experience with students." Virginia Ferrante-Iqbal co-taught the business class with Neil from 2001-2003 and then, upon his retirement, took over teaching it until 2017. She remembers Neil’s good humor and passion for accuracy.

"Neil was passionate about sharing his vast knowledge with the students, so they would be successful. He gave them a mock job to trigger real world scenarios. He discussed his mistakes and experiences in the freelance world for their benefit. It was important that they learned about contracts and how to be professional. Neil also shared his knowledge of cells and molecules. He was meticulous and made sure they learned about size relationships and to always show human DNA correctly, as a right-handed helix.”

She also remembers his generous spirit. “Neil taught me, by example, to always pay it forward by sharing your knowledge with students and colleagues so that the profession will benefit as a whole.”

He was also a guest lecturer at the Medical College of Georgia, Bridgeport University, and at numerous AMI meetings.

Among his foremost joys, professionally, was receiving the Ranice W. Crosby Distinguished Achievement Award from the Johns Hopkins University and The Brodel Award for Excellence in Education from the Association of Medical Illustrators.

  • AMI President (1982-3)
  • Inaugural AMI Fellow (1988)
  • Ranice Crosby Distinguished Achievement Award (1991)
  • AMI Lifetime Achievement Award (1997)
  • Brödel Award for Excellence in Education (2003)

Neil is survived by his wife of 56 years, Judy, his son John, daughter Heather, and four grandchildren.

In 1998, the Journal of Biocommunication (issue 25:1) featured Neil Hardy in its’ Gallery, which we reprint below with permission.

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Figure 4. Journal of Biocommunication (issue 25:1)
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Figure 5. Journal of Biocommunication (issue 25:1)
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Figure 6 Journal of Biocommunication (issue 25:1)
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Figure 7. Journal of Biocommunication (issue 25:1)