EXPEDITION DINOSAURS — Each summer, Anchorage mural artist James Havens works with both scientists and the public to create a new mural featuring dinosaurs.This year, Earth Sciences Curator Pat Druckenmiller is helping him depict a herd of hadrosaurs. The artist answered a few questions for us and shared some photos of his “Painting with Dinosaurs” installation.
1) How did you get interested in painting dinosaur murals? What was the first species you painted? I have always had an interest in dinosaurs. As discoveries started happening here in Alaska, I couldn’t help but be inspired. My first painting featuring a dinosaur was Albertosaurus, which lived in Alaska during the Cretaceous Period. The painting also featured Anchiceratops, which was listed in BLM’s dinosaur list at the time. The release happened to fall on the date that the “Walking with Dinosaurs” stage show debuted in Anchorage. The Daily News coined our exhibit Painting with Dinosaurs, which has become an annual event for me, featuring a new Alaskan dinosaur each year.
I create my mural in a public setting and invite the public to dabble some paint on the canvas so that we can inform them about the featured Alaskan dinosaur, the museum and scientist involved in its discovery, and the experience of participating in the creation of a large scale original piece of art that may one day end up in a museum collection. The participants are also invited to sign the back of the canvas upon completion. My goal is to represent Alaskan dinosaurs, Alaskan scientists, research facilities, and local museums.
2) What kind of reaction do you get from the kids who watch you work? What does it mean to you to include them in the painting process? I love working with the kids, they know so much about the dinosaurs I paint. Usually, I can hear them coming across the atrium. “OHHHH! Coool dinosaurs! That’s a such and such, and they did this and that.” Then they describe how they like to paint and I invite them over the security tape to come paint. Most just jump right in wide eyed and ready to go. Interestingly, most adults need some coaxing as they are scared to mess anything up. It really is fun and who knows, maybe I can inspire a future Rembrandt to have the courage to lift that first brush and create a masterpiece when they grow up.
3) The UA Museum of the North is planning a dinosaur exhibit to open next summer. What do you want to know about Alaska’s dinosaurs? I try to follow pretty closely what is happening in Alaska concerning dinosaur discoveries. With each painting, I have new information to take in about them, such as their anatomy, environment, social behavior and details. With the hadrosaur piece, I’ve explored the texture of the pads of their feet.
I also begin a new project by creating a smaller scale model to use for lighting and placement. I learn about their anatomy as it is being constructed. I try to work as closely as possible with the scientists to make sure that everything is correct according the suggested information regarding the species and their environment. With each painting I learn more about dinosaurs. And then the scientists (Go get ‘em, Pat!) find something new and we are back to the first page.
4) Have you ever been to the UA Museum of the North? What do you think of our dinosaur fossil collection? I am a huge fan of the UA Museum of the North and have had the opportunity to visit the collection and see some of the incredible specimens being studied there. It is one of the greatest collection of arctic dinosaurs anywhere in the world. It is my belief that all Alaskan dinosaurs should stay here in Alaska. The Museum of the North, its research staff and scientists are leading the mission of keeping the outstanding collection of arctic dinosaurs safe for future generations of Alaskans to see.
The UA Museum of the North is working on an exhibit about dinosaurs in Alaska. Stay tuned for more about our project.