Many Faces of Neurofibromatosis

Large, glossy oil paintings of people enjoying the small pleasures of everyday life – reading, practicing martial arts, scooping ice cream – line the hallways in the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Upon close inspection, some of the features of the people in the portraits are unusual. These represent the many faces of neurofibromatosis, according to the artist behind the installation, Rachel Mindrup.

“By painting oil portraits of people with NF, the viewer first sees the person doing what he or she loves,” Mindrup wrote in an explanation of the installation, which is titled “Many Faces of NF.” “For example, Frank enjoys playing guitar. Only in a secondary visual hierarchy does the viewer understand that the person suffers from a genetic condition. This way, NF is secondary to the humanity of the person.”

Neurofibromatosis, or NF, is characterized by the growth of benign nerve tumors on or in the skin. Motivated by the diagnosis of her son, Henry, Mindrup started painting true-to-life portraits of NF patients in 2012 to raise awareness of the disorder and funds for NF research.

“The ‘Many Faces of NF’ project is so powerful because it shows people with NF doing what they are passionate about, and also that the condition is different for everyone,” said David H. Gutmann, MD, PhD, the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor of Neurology and director of the Washington University Neurofibromatosis Center, where he treats Henry Mindrup.

The installation will be available for viewing until Sept. 10.

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Tamara Bhandari, Senior Medical Sciences Writer

Tamara Bhandari covers pathology, immunology, medical microbiology, cell biology, neurology, and radiology. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry and in sociology from Yale University, a master’s in public health/infectious diseases from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD in infectious disease immunology from the University of California, San Diego.


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