The Evolution of Paleontological Art
CONTAINS OPEN ACCESS
Fossils have stirred the imagination globally for thousands of years, starting well before they were recognized as the remains of once-living organisms and proxies of former worlds. This volume samples the history of art about fossils and the visual conceptualization of their significance starting with biblical and mythological depictions, extending to renditions of ancient life as it flourished in long-vanished habitats, and on to a modern understanding that fossil art conveys lessons for the betterment of the human condition. The 29 papers and accompanying artwork illustrate how art about fossils has come to be a significant teaching tool not only about evolution of past life, but also about conservation of our planet for the benefit of future generations.
The present is the key to the paleo-past: Charles R. Knight’s reconstruction of extinct beasts for the Field Museum, Chicago
Published:February 24, 2022
Renee M. Clary*, 2022. "The present is the key to the paleo-past: Charles R. Knight’s reconstruction of extinct beasts for the Field Museum, Chicago", The Evolution of Paleontological Art, Renee M. Clary, Gary D. Rosenberg, Dallas C. Evans
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Although he was legally blind, Charles R. Knight (1874–1953) established himself as the premier paleontological artist in the early 1900s. When the Field Museum, Chicago, commissioned a series of large paintings to document the evolution of life, Knight was the obvious choice. Knight considered himself an artist guided by science; he researched and illustrated living animals and modern landscapes to better understand and represent extinct life forms within their paleoecosystems. Knight began the process by examining fossil skeletons; he then constructed small models to recreate the animals’ life anatomy and investigate lighting. Once details were finalized, Knight supervised assistants to transfer the study painting to the final mural. The Field Museum mural process, a monumental task of translating science into public art, was accompanied by a synergistic tension between Knight, who wanted full control over his artwork, and the museum’s scientific staff; the correct position of an Eocene whale’s tail—whether uplifted or not—documents a critical example. Although modern scientific understanding has rendered some of Knight’s representations obsolete, the majority of his 28 murals remain on display in the Field Museum’s Evolving Planet exhibit. Museum educators contrast these murals with contemporary paleontological knowledge, thereby demonstrating scientific progress for better public understanding of the nature of science.