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Artist finishes last Research Magazine

May 19, 2009

Michael Hagelberg has won more gold medals than many Olympic athletes, yet he’s never had ”The Star Spangled Banner” played for him.

And the truth is that he probably wouldn’t want to be in the spotlight with the national anthem blaring from the loudspeakers.

Hagelberg's a modest, quiet kind of guy, one who shuns the limelight and is happy to work quietly in his Flagstaff retreat.

Ask him how many awards he has won for his art and graphic design for ASU Research Magazine and Chain Reaction over the past 21 years, and he can’t tell you the exact number.

The magazine has garnered 323 awards – including the 2008 CASE Gold Medal for “Best University Research Magazine in the USA” – and, Hagelberg said, “I’m not sure how many of those were for design/illustration. I’d guess maybe a third or so.”

As ASU Research Magazine publishes its final print edition this spring, Hagelberg winds up a career spanning more than 24 years at ASU.

Over the years, he has illustrated stories about a wide variety of research, ranging from water glass, pollution modeling via satellite and the benefits of eating mushrooms and pinto beans to megacities, medicine and poetry, and the effect of cigarette-smoking on fetuses.

The process is fairly simple, Hagelberg said. “Generally I'll get some copy in hand first, even if a draft. Then it's a question of whether the material works best to show it or to interpret it.”

His favorite illustrations over the past few years include a series of homonids–– the ancestral line of primates including humans -- for a story out of the Institute for Human Origins; a piece on Roy Curtiss' salmonella research in the Biodesign Institute; and one about the lack of rural physicians that he did for Florida State University.

Hagelberg rarely gets into trouble with his work, since ASU Research Magazine is hardly a bastion of pop culture and racy celebrity gossip. But when he created a reconstruction of a male and female Australopithecus (Lucy) to illustrate a cover story, and showed the male in full frontal view in all his glory, “ASU administrators thought it a little too provocative to show the male frontal view with a penis,” said Don Johanson, director of the Institute of Human Origins.

“The penis was airbrushed out and I thought, ‘Now we know why Lucy and her species went extinct. They couldn’t reproduce,'” Johanson added.

Research Magazine editor Conrad Storad explained, “The original, unedited version of the illustration later appeared on the cover of Archaeology Today magazine when that publication reprinted the cover story from ASU Research. Tens of thousands of readers saw the original art. There was not a peep of protest.”

On the other hand, Hagelberg won plaudits for his illustrations for a story on the poetry collaboration between Mayo Humanities in Medicine and ASU Creative Writing, where a poet from ASU captures the life story of a patient in palliative care at Mayo.

Sheilah Britton, director of strategic communications for the office of the vice president for research and economic affairs, who is one of the poets, said, “I’ve always enjoyed working with Michael—he has a brilliant mind for design. But I was most impressed with the design he came up with for the story on the poetry collaboration. His original watercolor illustrations were so sensitive to the work and poetic in their own way.”

As a student at Northern Arizona University, Hagelberg foreshadowed his successful career when he studied visual communications with illustration emphasis, and “dabbled in science and math along the way.”

His natural talents enable him to get quickly to the heart of a story and create the best art form to help present the information, some of which is very complex.

Storad said, “Mike has a superb knack for using images as metaphor to help translate arcane scientific concepts.”

Hagelberg is unusual, Storad added, because he is “BOTH an award winning illustrator AND a graphic designer. Not all illustrators are graphic designers, or vice versa, let alone mega-talented at both like Mike. Toss in the fact that he has a keen understanding of translating science with images and he rises to the very top of any list of desired creative employees.”

Many of Hagelberg’s works of art – oil and acrylic paintings, watercolors, pastels, pen and ink drawings, and pieces of sculpture – that were used to illustrate magazine articles hang in laboratories and conference rooms and faculty members’ offices all across campus, and are sought by collectors.

After Hagelberg finishes his last day as an ASU employee, he plans to “drum up freelance work, if there is any work to be had, and possibly some fine art; do some serious mountain biking; and get my passport stamped.”

A good life for a humble guy.