Masters Series: Russell W. Porter

The "Cutaway Man" (1871-1949)


The Evolution of Cut Away Drawing

Telescopes to Tall Ships

Tutorials Masters Russell W. Porter

All Tutorial Text & Images - Copyright © 2011 KHI, Inc. & Russell W. Porter

Russell Porter was one of the pioneers in the field of cutaway illustration. Although technical illustration was only a side-line for Mr. Porter, his work is some of the earliest of this art-form. Porter was a Renaissance man whose vocations included: architect, arctic adventurer, builder, inventor, mapmaker, photographer, scientist, surveyor, telescope designer, and writer.

The youngest of five children, Russell Porter was born in Springfield, Vermont in 1871. Russell Porter had an interest and talent for drawing from a young age. He studied engineering at Norwich University and the University of Vermont. In 1891 he moved to Boston to study art and architecture at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he would later return as a professor of architecture.

200 inch Palomar Telescope

Russell W. Porter © 1939 - 200 inch Palomar Telescope

Russell W. Porter - The "Cutaway Man"

In 1928 Russell Porter was employed by Caltech (California Institute of Technology) in Pasadena after being recruited by astronomer George E. Hale to work on the design of the 200-inch Palomar telescope. He designed three campus buildings (the astrophysics lab, machine shop, and optical shop) that were used for work on the 200-inch telescope.

While working on the design of the Palomar telescope, Porter perfected his "cutaway" drawing technique. During WW2 he assisted in the war effort by designing and drawing military hardware. He was dubbed the "Cutaway Man" by Pentagon officials for his ability to draw the internal workings of complex machinery by cutting through the outer "skin."

Described as the world's largest scientific instrument, the 200 inch Palomar telescope (aka the "Glass Giant") was constructed at the Palomar Observatory in north San Diego County, California and is still in operation today.

200 inch Palomar Telescope Cutaway

Russell W. Porter © 1941 - 200 inch Palomar Telescope Cutaway

Quoted from the Stellafane, Springfield Telescope Makers, Inc. website: Russell W. Porter's colleague at Caltech, James S. Fassero, wrote the following introduction in his 1947 book of Porter's cutaway drawings which is entitled "Photographic Giants of Palomar"

"Dr. Russell W. Porter made this fine collection of drawings possible by his ability to faithfully portray mechanical objects in perspective. With pencil and paper he was able to "cut away" sections of the telescope to show the inside details; something which cannot be done with a camera. His artistic and mechanical abilities have combined to produce a set of drawings which have proved of indispensable value not only to the laymen but to all those who already are familiar with the instrument."

Telescope Drive Computer Cutaway

Russell W. Porter © 1941 - Telescope Drive Computer Cutaway

Famed artist Maxfield Parrish was quoted as saying the following about Porter's drawings: "If these drawings had been made from the telescope and its machinery after it had been erected they would have been of exceptional excellence, giving an uncanny sense of reality, with shadows accurately cast and well nigh perfect perspective; but to think that any artist had his pictorial imagination in such working order as to construct these pictures with no other mechanical data than blue prints of plans and elevation of the various intricate forms is simply beyond belief."

Declination Control

Russell W. Porter © 1940 - Declination Control Cutaway

Russell W. Porter's Sketch of 200 inch Telescope

Porter Sketch of 200 in Telescope - © The Springfield Telescope Makers, Inc.

Porter Sketch of 200 in Telescope

Porter Sketch of 200 in Telescope - © The Springfield Telescope Makers, Inc.

Russell Porter's Early Work

Russell Porter's passion for Arctic exploration sent him on six expeditions. At age 31 he joined the ill-fated Fiala-Ziegler expedition as an assistant scientist and artist. In May 1903, the expedition's ship "America" was crushed by packed-ice, leaving the Fiala-Ziegler Expedition marooned and alone in the frozen Arctic wilderness for two winters. With no means of returning home and no radio, the prospect of rescue was dim. During the winter months there was no sunlight and temperatures were to -62ºF. To combat boredom and raise morale, Porter made a couple of decks of cards for the men and contributed to the camp's newspaper, "The Arctic Eagle."

Russell W. Porter's Polar Ice Floe

Russell W. Porter © 1902 - "Fast to an Ice Floe" National Archives

Porter developed his keen interest in astronomy after having learned celestial navigation and timekeeping during his Arctic expeditions. It was this interest in astronomy that led to a new vocation in illustration.

Russell W. Porter - Terra Nove

Russell W. Porter © 1906 - "Terra Nove" National Archives

Throughout his later years he was closely involved with the Stellafane Amateur Telescope-Makers movement in his hometown of Springfield Vermont. In 1949, while working on his last telescope project, Mr. Porter died of a heart attack at the age of 77.

Russell W. Porter - Terra Nove

Russell W. Porter at Stellafane - © The Springfield Telescope Makers, Inc.

Links to information about Russell W. Porter's work:

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