UT Forensic Artist Shares Her Stories

Joanna Hughes

Pictured above:  Joanna Hughes and her reconstruction of the boy from Leavy Neck

The University of Tennessee Alumni Chapters in Henderson County, McNairy County, and Weakley County got an early Halloween treat on Oct. 26 and 27 with “Written in Bone,” a fascinating presentation by Joanna Hughes, a forensic artist and an alumna of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Hughes is an expert in facial reconstruction using the skull’s own natural markings. When asked what she does for a living, Hughes usually answers, “I put faces on skulls.”

Hughes has worked with state authorities on 11 cases, and her sculptures have led to the positive identification of five victims. Her work also has been featured on National Geographic, NPR’s Weekend Edition, several TV news stories and documentaries, and in Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson’s best-selling book, Beyond the Body Farm.

Girl from Harleigh KnollShe discussed her recent contributions to “Written in Bone,” a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. The alumni in these three areas were delighted to have the opportunity to hear Hughes’s skull stories and ask questions about the cases she has worked.

“Having attended Dr. Bass’s program and reading his books, I was thrilled to see Mrs. Hughes’s presentation. It was fascinating and very enjoyable. UT is remaining on the cutting edge of forensic science,” said Bettye Giles, a retired faculty member from the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Hughes is the first person to earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic art, having designed the curriculum herself through the College of Arts and Science’s Individualized Program. Hughes’s training demanded rigorous studies in anatomy, odontology, and osteology, along with coursework in life drawing and sculpture.

“The fact that she designed her own coursework is such an encouragement to high school and college students who cannot find exactly the right program in which they are interested,” said Carol Kirkland, director of Alumni Programs.

For information on a local alumni chapter in your area, visit the UTAA website.

To learn more about individualized programs, visit the College of Arts & Sciences page on Individualized Programs.

To learn more about “Written in Bone,” visit the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s exhibition page.

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