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Dinosaur Art Exhibit Brings Behemoths to Life

March 16, 1986|KAREN LAVIOLA | Laviola is a View intern from Cal State Fullerton. and

Dinosaurs have been discovered in Los Angeles.

Record crowds are flocking to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to see the most comprehensive exhibition of dinosaur art ever assembled, according to Sylvia Czerkas, guest curator.

"Dinosaurs are a magic that is real," said Philip Currie, assistant director curatorial of the Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta, Canada, explaining the phenomenal appeal of dinosaurs. He was one speaker in a series of seminars held in conjunction with the "Dinosaurs Past and Present" exhibition, which opened last month. It will run through Aug. 31.

The giant of the show is a 70-foot-long skeleton cast of the mamenchisaurus from China. A favorite of the crowds is the imaginary dinosauroid, a human-like creature that some scientists claim might have evolved had the dinosaur not become extinct 65 million years ago.

"The exhibit is both beautiful and educational," Czerkas said. "It gives people a lot of ideas to think about."

Children, Parents Intrigued

Young and old stand wide-eyed before the displays and pictures, some parents explaining to their children, some children explaining to parents. The concepts of extinction and evolution being too abstract for many of the very young, they move on to videos of past and present interpretations of prehistoric creatures.

Eleven-year-old Jonathan Marcot came with his parents from Irvine to see the exhibit and get the scientists' autographs. A dinosaur fanatic since he was 3, Marcot can rattle off dinosaur names like an expert, but he said he "learned a lot of things I didn't know." The aspiring ornithologist or paleontologist said he has most of the books that are on sale at the museum shop.

The exhibit is an example of how scientists and artists piece together a vivid picture of prehistoric life. The paintings, models and sculptures represent the latest discoveries and theories of how dinosaurs looked, lived and behaved.

New Discoveries

"It is the renaissance of new discoveries," Czerkas pointed out. Many of the old ideas of slow, dumb giants have been replaced by new discoveries, which indicate that dinosaurs probably cared for their young, traveled in herds and came in many sizes, she said.

"We are portraying the accepted new look for dinosaurs," Czerkas said. "It was pioneered 20 years ago, but it has taken this long to get consensus (among the scientists)."

Animals Were Not Awkward

Fossil discoveries in Canada of footprints show that the animals were capable walkers, rather than the awkward, lumbering beasts portrayed in the past. Recent finds in Montana of nests, eggs and babies show that the maiasaura (good mother) had communal nesting grounds where they protected their babies until they were large enough to leave the nest.

"The exhibit gives people an image of the ideas," said Czerkas, a dinosaur artist. "We can convey a very complex message through a picture."

Many children interested in dinosaurs exhaust every available book on the subject and, finding nothing new, often move on to other interests, Currie pointed out. With new discoveries and ideas emerging so rapidly, however, Currie says interest need not diminish.

Scientists agree that since large bones are easier to see than small ones, many things had been overlooked in the past that are just now being examined.

"In Alberta we are finding four or five different kinds of animal every year from small, isolated bones," Currie said. "After all, there are more mice than elephants."

The exposition, a dream of Czerkas' for the past five years, enabled the scientists to get together for a "healthy exchange of information," allowing them "to move on to a new level," Czerkas said.

Artists Bring It to Life

"Artists get at what is essential," said Dale Russell, curator of Fossil Vertebrates at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Ottawa. "It is an honest extrapolation of what is known." Russell, with artist Don Sequin, was instrumental in the creation of the dinosauroid. "Art helps to form interest in paleontology as a whole."

Russell explained that scientists must be like Sherlock Holmes, taking many things into account in helping artists render as realistic an image as possible, such as the shape of the earth at that time, the carbon dioxide level, the adaptability of plants and animals.

After that, it is a matter of making "our best seat-of-the-pants guess."

Amateur scientists found the artwork fascinating.

"Incredible," said Rande Gallant, a 22-year-old student at California State University, Long Beach. Gallant wants to become a zoologist or paleontologist. His favorite display was the 20-foot lifelike model of an allosaurus, whose skin was sculpted from the molds of dinosaur skin fossils.

"Anything that looks that good has got to get my attention," he said. Gallant, who has been interested in dinosaurs since third grade, keeps reptiles and lizards as a hobby.

Exhibit Will Tour

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