Where most radiologists look at an ultrasound and see a bladder indented by a very large prostate gland, Sue Summerton saw the Liberty Bell. In every x-ray, she saw art. So, she turned her unique point of view into a business, Xray Artistry.
“That little moment when they get what you’re doing, that’s a little drug for me,” the 53-year-old said recently, surrounded by her creations, inspired by radiology images she has seen that look like letters.
Summerton configures those “letters” into words and phrases on canvases and smaller framed prints, and on cards and magnets. Most of her sales come through medical conference, attracting buyers from as far away as Kuwait, although her work is also sold in The Mutter Museum gift shop and online at http://www.xrayartistry.com.
“I am having so much fun,” Summerton said, pausing to point out an image of Marge’s husband, Homer Simpson, on a CT scan of an abdomen and pelvis. When she started collecting alphabetic radiology images 20 years ago, she had no idea it would turn into a small business. She just wanted to make a poster to hang in her office of the letters A to Z.
Summerton, a graduate of Temple University’s medical school, started seeing letters among the broken bones, gas pockets, and other areas of interest on X-rays, ultrasounds, and magnetic resonance images during a residency at Einstein Medical Center.
In fall 2014 Summerton, then a mother of three, was section chief of gastrointestinal radiology and director of medical student education at Einstein, as well as an associate professor at Jefferson Medical College. The Radiological Society of North America called on radiologists to submit their most unusual or interesting cases, or examples of radiology art.
Summerton reached into the file she had been building over the years and created a submission with images that spelled out: RSNA 100: A Century of Transforming Medicine.The RSNA awarded it an honorable mention and displayed it at its annual conference in Chicago.
Summerton started to wonder who else might appreciate her x-ray art. Not surprisingly, other physicians did. Soon, she was doing custom orders for signs in doctor’s offices. Then came requests for holiday gifts for the teachers of her friends’ kids.
She then began to take a few business classes at Wharton Small Business Development Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and incorporated her business. She realized she would have to abandon a plan to use original radiologic images in her work due to patient-consent issues.
Summerton turned for help to a radiology resident with graphic-design acumen to help re-create the letter images she had collected. Turns out that the end product was better than the original radiology images. They were less blurry, and didn’t jeopardize patient confidentiality in any way.
Ultimately, Summerton wants to take her art to children’s hospitals, to help lower patients’ anxiety by pointing out, for instance, “Your eyeball is the letter ‘O’; isn’t that cool?” She also hopes to sell some of her art at the American Society of Radiologic Technologists educational symposium in Las Vegas in June.
“Anything to make the medical office a less-scary place has to be a good thing,” Andrew Graham, an orthopedic surgeon in Australia, wrote in an email about his attraction to Summerton’s work. He has bought three large canvases for colleagues – each costing $285 and measuring 16 inches by 20 inches.
The father of two daughters who are artists, Graham said he respects “any specialist who does something ‘different’ to engage and relax their brain away from their normal work place.”
Another fan is William Herring, who retired last year after 45 years at Einstein. Summerton is a “fantastic radiologist” with an expertise in several subspecialties, a rarity, Herring said. “She takes her work seriously,” he added, “but she has a wonderfully playful sense of humor.”
“I never considered myself an artist,” Summerton said. “People are calling me that now.”
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