Imagining the Past: a Symposium. October 15-17, 2004

The theme of this symposium was artistic representations of prehistoric life. Artists, historians and paleontologists were invited to the Geology Museum to discuss how their work influences and borrows from each other. What is the process by which a collection of broken bones becomes assembled, both literally and in the imagination, into a coherent, believable creature? As scientists, paleontologists make use of comparative anatomy, biomechanics, and other 'objective' techniques for reconstruction. But these techniques can only take us so far before we must confront the fact that the past ultimately is unknowable. Empirical evidence does not provide clear answers but probabilities, ranges of possible motions, or stances, or behaviors that cannot be represented as discrete images. The final step from the plausible to a realized image is always an act of imagination, one in which artists are and always have been equal partners.

From the point of view of the public, and even most scientists, this final step is the important step, the thing that makes the whole enterprise worthwhile. Paleontologists themselves depend on images of the past as a context for their research, just as artists depend on paleontologists to guide them toward accurate representations of past life. All representations of prehistoric life are, in fact, collaborations between art and science, and often between artists and scientists. This relationship is seldom articulated or explored.

Imagining the Past: Schedule of Events

Friday, October 15:

Saturday, October 16:

Sunday, October 17th

Invited Participants

William Stout was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1949, and raised in Los Angeles. For over 30 years he has been prominent and influential in the world of paleontological art. His works have appeared in numerous books and other publications, including his seminal 1981 The Dinosaurs: A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era. His paintings have been shown in over 70 exhibitions, including 12 one-man shows, at the British Museum, the Royal Ontario Museum and the American Museum of Natural History, among many others. Dinosaurs, Penguins and Whales: The Wildlife of Antarctica, a one-man show inspired by the three months Stout spent as an NSF Artist in McMurdo and Palmer Stations in Antarctica, was shown in Moscow at the personal request of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Stout's career is not limited to painting and paleontology. He has worked on over 30 feature films, including Buck Rogers, both Conan films, First Blood, The Hitcher, Men In Black, and Invaders From Mars. He was the production designer for Return of the Living Dead, Masters of the Universe, and a number of other films, some of which are in production. He has worked on television, has designed theme parks, and has worked on radio with the Firesign Theatre. He began his professional career as an illustrator for comics and graphic novels, and is notorious for his many bootleg record album covers.

John Hutchinson Vertebrate paleontologist John Hutchinson teaches at the University of London's Royal College of Veterinary Medicine, where he is a member of the Structure and Motion laboratory. His research deals with the evolution of motion in vertebrates, particularly in the archosaurs (crocodiles, pterosaurs, birds, non-avian dinosaurs, etc.). His pioneering anatomical, phylogenetic and biomechanical studies of living and fossil vertebrates have led to a much better understanding of how extinct vertebrates might have moved.

Hutchinson is best known as the leading authority on Tyrannosaurus locomotion. He has raised the ire of many dinosaur aficionados by demonstrating that Tyrannosaurus probably could not run much faster than about 20 mph.

Ronald Rainger is an historian of science and technology at the National Science Foundation. His current research concerns the relationship between government and science in the mid-twentieth century, with an emphasis on American oceanography. His work examines the ways in which political and military interests influenced both research and development in oceanography. He has participated actively in conferences and workshops on that topic, primarily in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, La Jolla, California, and Monterey, California. As part of his book-length project on mid twentieth-century oceanography, he is currently examining international work in oceanography and its relation to foreign policy issues in the 1950s and 60s.

His earlier work concentrated on the history of the biological sciences, and in particular the role of museums in American science and culture.

Bruce Crawford is a film historian, documentary producer, and organizer of film events, including special tributes and the Omaha Film Event. He also is a writer, lecturer and entrepreneur. Crawford has produced two nationally and internationally broadcast radio documentaries on film composers: Bernard Herrmann: A Celebration of His Life and Music, and Ben-Hur: The Epic Film Scores of Miklos Rozsa.

Crawford is an expert on the films of his friend, Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen's meticulous and much-imitated stop motion animations of dinosaurs in films such as One Million Years BC and The Valley of Gwangi arguably are the most influential depictions of prehistoric life ever created.

Erik Trinkaus is considered by many to be the world's most influential scholar of Neandertal biology and evolution. Trinkaus' research is concerned with the evolution of our genus as a background to recent human diversity. In this, he has focused on the paleoanthropology of late archaic and early modern humans, emphasizing biological reflections of the nature, degree and patterning of the behavioral shifts between these two groups of Pleistocene humans. This research includes considerations of the "origins of modern humans" debate, interpretations of the archeological record, and patterns of recent human anatomical variation. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Trinkaus is frequently quoted in the popular media.

Trinkaus is an expert on the history of scientific interpretations of Neandertal biology and behavior. He has co-authored two books on this subject: The Neandertals: Changing the Image of Mankind (1992) and The Neanderthals: Of Skeletons, Scientists, and Scandal (1994).

Author and illustrator Brian Selznick, originally from New Jersey, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. His first book, The Houdini Box was the winner of the Texas Bluebonnet Award and the Rhode Island Children's Book Award. His other books include Frindle, When Marian Sang, The Meanest Doll in the World, and The Dulcimer Boy. The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, a New York Times bestseller, was named a 2002 Caldecott Honor book.

Selznick also works as a puppeteer. He appeared in the original casts of Symphonie Fantastique and Petrushka, both by Basil Twist, and worked closely with Dan Hurlin on Hiroshima Maiden. Selznick's own toy theater piece, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, was based on his book and has been performed around New York City at such venues as the Toy Theater Festival at Here Arts Center and the Brooklyn Children's museum. He is developing a new piece at the St. Ann's Puppet Lab about Christine Jorgensen, the first internationally known male to female transexual.

Don't Miss the next Geology and Art Special Event, coming to the Great Hall in Memorial Union in April, 2005:

For more information on Imagining the Past, and future events in the Geology and Art Special Event Series, contact Joseph Skulan at (608) 265-4274 or