Beginning Monday, July 23, museum visitors are able to watch as a life-size sculpture of the meat-eating dinosaur Dilophosaurus is being painted in life-like colors. The one-of-a-kind sculpture, made of carefully sculpted Styrofoam and coated in a hard, urethane plastic, is the product of collaboration between artists at St. George-based Art ESCAPES-3D and resident paleontologist Andrew R.C. Milner with the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site and Dr. Jerry D. Harris, Director of Paleontology at Dixie State College of Utah. This partnership ensured that the dinosaur was sculpted to exacting anatomical details based on fossils of Dilophosaurus.
“The sculpture is based on footprints in a spectacular trackway preserved at the site,” said Milner. “But the tracks weren’t made by a full-grown individual. So we started with the size and shape of the foot based on the track, and made the rest of the body proportional to that. The sculpture will be set into one of the actual tracks in the trackway and posed as it would have been while walking and making the tracks.”
“We used Dilophosaurus as the model for the track maker because its bones have been found in rocks that are slightly younger than the tracks in Arizona,” said Harris. “If it wasn’t the actual track maker, then it’s very similar to the animal that was. But enough of the skeleton of Dilophosaurus is known to allow us to make this sculpture extremely accurate.”
St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site Director Rusty Salmon said, “Dinosaur tracks are not quite as easy to visualize as a skeleton or a sculpture. So we have been looking for ways to enhance our exhibits with skeletons and sculptures like this. In examining our options, we discovered the exceptionally talented artists at Art ESCAPES-3D.”
Art ESCAPES-3D sculptor Erric Wan-kier, in addition to the Paleoart and Interpretive museum exhibit projects, is delving into Contemporary South-west 3-D murals and sculptures. Wan-kier is a former resident of Huntington Beach, California, where he sculpted ceramics and created watercraft. “Since moving to Utah, I’ve been creating 3D art that captures the imagination and creates a sense of wonder,” said Wan-kier. “An anatomically-accurate dinosaur was a completely new and exciting experience for me!”
Independent artists Bill Ennis and Susan Grove featured artists in the “Arts to Zion Studio Tour,” are also involved in painting the finished sculpture.
“Making this sculpture has been an unusual intersection of art and science,” said Art ESCAPES-3D owner Bobbi Wan-kier. “Between our artists’ talents and input from our paleontologists, the finished Dilophosaurus will look like it was just transported from its time to ours right inside the museum!” Professional paleoart, usually painting and sculpting, is a very specialized branch of art that few artists delve into. The most accurate paleoart was made by artists that work closely with paleontologists to ensure that the restoration matches what is actually known about extinct organisms.
Although not as famous as its much later relative Tyrannosaurus, Dilophosaurus got the spotlight in the first Jurassic Park movie: it was the small, neck-frilled dinosaur that spat sticky venom. “Except that that portrayal was extremely inaccurate,” laughs Harris. “The real animal was much larger and almost certainly did not have a frill and didn’t spit poison. It was just a lithe, quick-moving predator.”
The St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site museum plans to commission similar restorations for the other animals that made tracks which are preserved at the site. “We just need money to make them a reality,” said Harris. “If anyone is looking to be a ‘parent’ to a dinosaur, please let us know!”
The St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site museum is open 10:00 AM - 8:00 PM Monday - Saturday. and 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM Sunday during the summer. Visitors are encouraged to visit the museum often and watch the dinosaur being brought back to life.