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Pioneer in computer animation

Katharine Marie Saremal Cornwell ’40

A picture of Katharine Saremal Cornwell and Bruce Cornwell

Katharine Saremal Cornwell ’40 and Bruce Cornwell

Katharine Marie Saremal Cornwell ’40, March 4, 2013, in Brooklyn, New York.

Katharine was one of three daughters born to William Saremal, a partner in the contracting firm that built many of the bridges and tunnels along the Columbia River Highway. After studying at Reed for two years, she transferred to Oregon State College and received a BA in home economics.

During World War II, she served as an officer in the Women’s Army Corps, writing daily intelligence summaries. After the war, she worked on a bomb damage survey, utilizing the ENIAC computer at Princeton—an experience that fueled her interest in mathematics. Katharine continued her formal education at Columbia, earning an MA in English literature, and did further study at the University of Iowa writer’s workshop. To complete a doctorate degree, she traveled to Austria; while living in Vienna, she “got entangled” in work for a U.S. Army intelligence unit. “After a few years, disillusionment set in,” and she returned to Princeton.

Next she went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where she met Bruce Cornwell, whom she married in 1956. Katharine and Bruce were pioneers in computer animation, producing dozens of short films about mathematics during a 30-year career. In the early years, they lived with their two sons in a 19th-century stone house that they renovated in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. A studio adjoined the home. Their films included Journey to the Center of a Triangle and New Math, done for the Mathematical Association of America. “We won several international awards, but, alas, very little money.”

During summers, they led workshops on filming mathematical concepts at Stanford. Later they moved to New York, where Katharine worked as a consultant specializing in corporate pension planning for Peat Marwick and Bruce taught at the New School, the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and the School of Visual Arts. In their “spare time,” they created a series of hands-on computer films for the Children’s Museum of Brooklyn.

In retirement, Katharine was a garden guide for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where Bruce managed a computer-mapping project. “Always in my peripatetic life, Reed has been a strong influence,” she wrote. “My years at Reed have shaped the quality of my life (and that of my sons), if not its direction. And, always, the most interesting people I meet turn out to be Reed alums. Thank you, Reed.”

Survivors include two sons and a grandson; Bruce died in 2012.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2013

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