the visible man found

Early one Christmas morning back in the 1960s, I opened my pillow-case to discover a box exactly the same as this one.

I thought the artwork on it beautiful… I still do all these years later… and that was before even I saw what was inside.

The figure didn’t emerge from the box looking like this. It was in kit-form, and for even the most dextrous fingers and questing young mind, constructing it was a daunting challenge.

The instructions began with the assembling of the skeleton…

… moving on to first identifying and then putting together the organs…

… before the most difficult stage of getting them all snugly into place. It was quite disheartening to see them scattered on the table around the plastic casing of the torso, because it looked as though they’d never fit inside.

There’s a second leaflet, An Introduction to Anatomy, to contextualize the model with descriptions of the body’s systems and how they work.

The Visible Man was launched in 1959, and so was in the first flush of youth when he appeared that memorable Christmas morning in my pillow case. The model here is not the one I was given by my parents. (I don’t know where that went.) I’d been searching for many years when I came across this one being sold on a site in the USA. These figures are quite fragile and need either to have been very well-cared for, or kept unused in their boxes. This one had survived being assembled (some of the more delicate parts are easy to break) but had then been safely stored in its box, and so although the packaging is as worn at the edges as you’d expect after all these years,  the figure within has been perfectly preserved. Neither has it been painted in model-kit enamels, which suits me perfectly. I never painted my childhood Visible Man, liking him just the way he was.

I’m quite sure it was this toy that helped form my interest in the body and how it works. And that interest channelled into my work, initially as a dancer and choreographer, and later as a painter. Suffice to say that when the model arrived in the post, its interior parts were a little jumbled. However after briefly reacquainting myself with the figure, I found that I was able to reorganise them correctly with practised ease. What the brain had forgotten, the hands remembered!

I want to take this opportunity to thank Heidi Egan who was such a pleasure to deal with at her Etsy shop VintageShoppingSpree. Heidi swiftly calculated the cost of the postage, and meticulously packaged the model to send it safely all the way to Wales.

The manufacturer was Renwal, Mineola. N. Y.

The following are acknowledged on the leaflet for having loaned invaluable technical assistance:

Dr. Elliot Osserman

Dr. J. Lawrence Pool

Dr. Vito J. Kemezis

But most of all, I celebrate the designer of The Visible Man:

Marcel Jovine

You did an incredible job Marcl!

The original The Visible Man, together with that of The Visible Woman, has been re-packaged and marketed through the decades, and indeed both are still available today, though the packaging is not nearly as beautiful. You can see how the kit has been marketed over the years HERE.

22 thoughts on “the visible man found

  1. I was given this kit as a present, but the instructions aren’t with the kit. enjoyed seeing your pics and you did a great job assembling your visible man. I looked online and am surprised after much searching that I had no success finding the manual. I wondered if you’d be able to post the manual the help with my project (and others who may be in a similar position)? It’s a surprisingly challenging model and not sure how successful I’ll be without some more detailed directions. If you can help me out it would be much appreciated.

    • I’m just back from a trip away, but I shall do this in the next couple of days. Even with the manual it was still quite a a difficult task of assembling, but I’m sure I can help you. It would probably be easier to send the instructions to you in an attachment, for which I’ll need your e-mail. Write to me from THIS link, and I’ll get back to you.

      • Clive: Thank you so much for offering to do that. That’s very kind of you and I think I would have found it next to impossible to do without instructions, which I’m a bit embarrassed to admit being a medical professional. I was surprised how detailed the parts are, and I think some of the finer points of putting the pieces together are not obvious to me. If you’re able to send to me, please forward to this email


        – Sean

        Date: Tue, 22 Mar 2016 22:34:06 +0000 To:

    • I sometimes wonder at the connections between the past and the present. All those threads that seem to be so fragile, and yet hold everything in shape like the rigging on a ship. Here I am at sixty acquiring a facsimile of a plastic model-kit I had when I was ten. Is it nostalgia, or honouring the past, or reaching toward the origins of creativity in order to keep moving forward? I have no idea. All I know is that it seems significant to me, and I’m going with that.

  2. He didn’t look this beautiful when I mailed him out. What a joyful recognition of our past being such a large part of our present. Beautiful…and I see the spleen is exactly where it should be, not used as an ear:)
    May your days be filled with new found wonders.

    • Thanks for being the means of my acquiring this treasure Heidi. I’m so obliged to you. And yes, it is interesting when the past emerges from the shadows to remind us of what an impact it has had on the present.

      He is looking fine, isn’t he? His insides just needed a little reorganising!


  3. what a fantastic way to learn anatomy! i wish i had found one of these as a kid; it seems much more sensible to learn about the organs and bone systems that way… how clever! thanks for sharing!

  4. Oh, this is so beautiful, especially the way you captured the light in the photographing of it. This would be a perfect artist’s model, better than those plain wooden ones. I’ve always been fascinated by the illustrations in medical books and better encyclopedias where they use several clear overlays of the different body systems. A Body Worlds exhibit we saw some years ago here in Vancouver also comes to mind. A woman and a horse would be perfect as well.

    Interesting you mention the use of black backgrounds in your work for I’m also doing that a lot with my scans and my current series of prints!

    • And very beautiful they are too, with the gleam of those fragmented pictographs, coppery in the backgrounds. Haunting.

      Yes, the anatomical horse I’ve found is playing on my mind. But how many toys can a man have? (Answer: as many as are necessary!)


  5. I did not have one of these but completely coveted the one owned by my slightly older cousin. There was also a “Visible Woman” model, too. I also spent hours looking at the entries re: anatomy included in the World Book Encyclopedia. These had pages of transparent and colorful overlays of all the separate body systems for men and women. Likewise, I always enjoyed playing with the plastic and the plaster models of organs and joints that were found in doctors’ offices. Wonderful!!!

    • Ah yes, I recall seeing The Visible Woman. These really were beautiful kits. Quite difficult to assemble, yes, but infinitely rewarding. The craftsmanship of design and manufacture are quite something.

  6. Oh, I loved this figure since my own boyhood, the box itself is so beautiful. I still love the simplicity of a black ground. The figure, so detailed and perfect and miniature, a little jewel for one’s own wunderkammer. So wanting my own right now. I have my eye on what might be considered a more sophisticated artists anatomical model but it lacks the wonder of this little man. Thanks for sharing him.

    • Interesting, Leonard, that so much of my ‘graphic’ works are set against a black ground, the maquettes for the recent Soldier’s Tale among them.

      I thought the figure looked so beautiful in the late afternoon sun, with the dark wood of the table under it. The light catching the edge of the plate covering the chest cavity looks like neon. Magical.

      Time for you to start trawling the world wide web!

      I have an eye on a contemporary version of the idea, this one being a visible horse. I’m convincing myself it would be a studio aid, which is how I talked myself into acquiring the vintage Visible Man!

      • Oh it is a studio aid, truly.
        I should forward you the link for the anatomical model that has so enchanted me at the moment. He is large, 36″? or so, his arms come off, and he is lovely. Alas he is also $300.00 and I am having a difficult time justifying the purchase. I’m leaving hints with the Easter Rabbit.

        Please trust me, i trawl more than I ought.

          • PS. This particular vintage Visible Man was a long way short of $300! A real bargain, even with the cost of airmail postage. But I’m sure that the model you covet is beautifully made, and manufacturing costs today are not what they were in the 1960s!

            • Seeing the history of the Visible Wo/Man is of interest, but little seems to have changed aside from packaging. I will be ordering one but i tremble at the thought of cobbling it together. IKEA leaves me in tears, not sure what the hell I will do with spleens and livers…

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