June 21 2017

Connective Tissue: Exploring human tissue through paper at The Mütter Museum

Lisa Nilsson’s painstakingly intricate constructions of human anatomy open next month

Opening Reception for the Public: Thursday, July 20,2017 from 6-8pm 

This summer The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is revealing an exhibit that truly offers a “cross-section” of the human anatomy in a unique artistic medium. Lisa Nilsson’s Connective Tissue is a mind-bending exhibition of ornate quilled paper constructions, inspired directly by medical sources. 

The anatomically-influenced exhibition includes detailed depictions of transverse, coronal, and sagittal cross-sections of the human body, including the thorax and the head. The artworks will be accompanied by examples of real human cross-sections and anatomical specimens from the Mütter Museum’s collection. Visitors will be able to explore how their own body looks on the inside from fascinating new angles.

Quilling is the centuries-old art of coiling and manipulating paper to create deliberate, textured designs and artworks, first practiced by Renaissance nuns and monks. Nilsson’s approach to her Connective Tissue series is suggestive of a method actor: She graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration, although she did not begin to create anatomical artworks until also becoming a Certified Medical Assistant.

“The fleshy, malleable quality struck me early on. It was the paper’s willingness to conform in shape to fill a cavity and its springy, bouncy quality when coiled that made me think of flesh and anatomy.” says Nilsson of her work, “In making these sculptures I aspire to a treatment of the body that combines the sensual pleasure and graphic strength of an art object, the informative and analytical approach of a scientific specimen, as well as the reverential and devotional nature of a religious reliquary.

With the ancient artistry of quilling, paired with the historic Mütter collection, Connective Tissue inspires a fresh interpretation of both art and the human body, finding a delicate yet commanding balance between artistic quality and anatomical accuracy. The exhibition replaces the Mütter Museum’s current art exhibition,Tracing the Remains, featuring mixed-media fabric artworks from two Philadelphia artists, Sabrina Small and Caitlin McCormack.

Tracing the Remains closes on July 6, 2017. Connective Tissue will be on display in the Thomson Gallery at the Mütter Museum from July 20, 2017 through January 4, 2018. Entrance is included with regular Museum admission. Visitors should check opening hours at or by calling (215) 560-8564.



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About the artist

In the 1980s, Lisa attended the Rhode Island School of Design and mostly learned about making illustrations. She received a BFA, and after art school worked first as an illustrator at American Greetings in Cleveland and later as a freelancer for Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Sports Illustrated, and the Utne Reader. In 2010 Lisa took her only extended period away from the art-making studio to attend the medical assisting program at her local technical school. At McCann, Lisa’s life-long interest in anatomy and cool-looking medical things grew a bit more informed. It was also in 2010 that Lisa began working with paper, quilling and anatomical cross-sections. She continues to further this body of work that was first shown at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She is represented in New York City by Pavel Zoubok Gallery.


About the Mütter Museum

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia was founded in 1787 by a group of physicians including Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of our nation’s Declaration of Independence. It is not an academic organization, as the name suggests, but a not-for-profit educational and cultural institution, with the mission of advancing the cause of health while upholding the ideals and heritage of medicine. 

The College is home to the Mütter Museum, America’s finest museum of medical history, which displays collections of anatomical specimens, models and medical instruments in a nineteenth-century setting. This includes slides of Einstein’s Brain, President Grover Cleveland’s jaw tumor, the conjoined liver of the first “Siamese twins” Chang & Eng, and a biannual rotation of art exhibits that accompany the themes and aims of the museum’s collections.

The Mütter Museum helps the public appreciate the mysteries and beauty of the human body while understanding the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.

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