Deanna Dinelli ’17: Death After Life

By Farrah Bradley | April 3, 2017
By Scott Rawlins, professor of Scientific Illustration

Most of the students studying scientific illustration plan on pursuing a career in the “life sciences”—illustrating newly-discovered life forms, creating pictures for didactic panels in nature centers, or providing drawings and graphics for patient education brochures. One student, however, has been focusing primarily on death.

Deanna Dinelli ‘17 grew up in a funeral home—the Davis-Dinelli Funeral Home—where Deanna’s father is the Funeral Director. As part of the Major in Scientific Illustration, all students are required to participate in an internship. The primary purpose of this experience is to give interns exposure to business practices in the “real world.” Deanna decided to pursue an internship very close to home—in fact, in her home. For several months during summer and fall 2016, Deanna worked under her father’s supervision assisting in the process of staging funerals. This involved observing client prep, embalming, and sometimes cosmetic reconstruction. Deanna also spent a short time shadowing a cosmetic mortician, whose work shares several things in common with scientific illustrators, namely an understanding of anatomy and attention to detail. Perhaps the most surprising part of her internship was coming to appreciate how important it is to interact sensitively with the families of the deceased. Sometimes the greatest benefit of an internship is the chance to work with clients, and Deanna had numerous opportunities to witness “the fine art” of communicating with people who held differing beliefs and expectations.

One of the things Deanna learned during her internship is that members of the general public do not understand the embalming process very well—how it is done, why it is done and some of the cultural practices associated with it. This is why she chose to explore and explain the embalming process as her senior thesis topic. Using a typical embalming prep room as “base art” Deanna is currently working on a series of detailed renderings that when positioned on top of the prep room illustration, will help viewers understand some of the steps involved in a typical embalming.

After graduation, one of the avenues Deanna is considering is formal training in Mortuary Science. Who knew that Deanna’s studies in the life sciences at Arcadia might lead to a life dealing with “the afterlife”?