Fossilicious

What happens when art and science collide? It’s not always a trainwreck.  In some cases it’s more like a delicious union, especially when artist Ray Troll and his buddy paleontologist Kirk Johnson get together. Johnson is the head of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, while Troll is a noted artist, fossil fan and conservationist who lives, fishes, and makes art and music in Alaska.

Detail of one of Troll’s illustrations, showing Washington state’s fossil map

I had heard Johnson speak at the University of Washington and seen him on some PBS programs and had become a fan. Last year I became a fan of Troll as well, when I attended a benefit for a conservation organization where he was a speaker. It was then that I first saw his artwork and learned of his enthusiasm for fish, fossils and the earth.

One of the museum’s impressive displays, combining a fossil with its illustration and a projected image

The pair have known each other for more than 20 years, traveling far and wide hunting for fossils. They previously collaborated on a book, Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway, focusing on the west.

The latest is the sequel, Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline, chronicling their adventures from coastal California to Alaska in search of mind-blowing fossils.

Gems of artwork and fossils representing their 10-year coastline journey are now on view at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum.

The exhibit of the same name features Troll’s magnificent artwork, Johnson’s expertise and some actual fossils. Troll’s knack for showing creatures both realistically and with a healthy dose of cartoon-like humor is on full view.

The artist and the scientist have come together to create a journey through time that will appeal to all ages.

The Burke recently reopened, with strict protocols. I visited the day after it opened and expected to find a fair number of other visitors as well. What I found was an almost empty museum! I had the exhibit just about to myself and was able to spend all the time I wanted, savoring the artwork, watching videos and ogling fossils.

What I really wanted to do here was share some images from the exhibit and maybe inspire others to check out Troll’s [Trollart.com] and Johnson’s work.

Desmostylians – New to me, these ancient marine mammals are thought to share lineage with horses and rhinos.

This exhibit is on view until May. Troll’s art is enough to lure you in, and the multi-sensory experience will leave you wanting more. The arrangement of paintings, fossils, videos and projections is very impressive. I have to applaud the museum for creating an educational and truly fun experience.

I know I will continue to learn about the captivating creatures I saw. (Here I will put in a plug for Troll’s alt website, Paleonerds.com, which I just visited, and believe you me, it will keep me occupied for millennia of lifetimes.)

The Burke isn’t a large museum, but it’s a treasure, and the research staff does amazing work. Apart from special exhibitions during the year, the Burke is known for its collection of regional Native American items and natural history specimens.

A most lifelike exhibit!

Published by

Joan E. Miller

I live in the amazing Pacific Northwest. I'm a writer, photographer, birder, nature lover. I'm also a gardener, of food, flowers and shrubs.

2 thoughts on “Fossilicious”

  1. Nice article and links I never would have found. I see you were struck by the mega beast jumping out in the artwork – nice sense of humour they have.

    Edinburgh had its own fossil hunter – Stan Wood – who spent more than a decade looking for the missing link – fossil evidence of life on land in the fifteen-million-year gap that stretched from 345 to 360 million years ago in the early Carboniferous period. He was successful, and the fossil of his ‘creature’ is on display in Edinburgh Museum. It looks like a splayed out salamander or similar. Tamara and I went into Mr Wood’s Fossil Shop (you can google it) several times to look at the goodies.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joan, what an interesting pair of guys! I used to fossil hunt and really enjoyed the adventure, since you never knew exactly what you’d fine. Love the rhino-like creature coming out of the wall and painting. I will check out some of the links you suggested.

    Liked by 1 person

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