The science that we do in lab is just one side of what we do as scientists; we're also human beings, with feelings, quirks, and a deep need to share with others what we've figured out about the natural world to others. This sometimes non-rational side is where art figures in, and it's hard to do paleontology without this esthetic understanding.
Recently, Mary Parrish (scientific illustrator in Paleobiology at NMNH), an undergraduate intern named Julia Coursey (St. John's College of Annapolis) and I have been building the foundation for an exhibit features a selection of material from our collections that gets at the latter idea: how do art and science mix? Mary and Julia have worked together for the past two summers conserving and organizing a previously neglected collection of original pen and ink illustrations drawn by Sydney Prentice, who worked with Remington Kellogg (former director of the US National Museum [the forerunner to NMNH] and one of the deans of fossil marine mammalogy). Together, their work spanned many years and created seminal publications describing and illustrating new species of fossil marine mammals.
Our group is working to bring the elements of this story to light in the form of an exhibit, which would incorporate Kellogg's fossil specimens, modern marine mammal specimens, historical photographs, Prentice's pantograph, and, of course, his original pen and ink drawings all together. Of course, the evolution of marine mammals is an important message that grounds this work, but it also highlights how much the process of scientific illustration has changed in the past ~60 years.
Stay tuned, more to come.
Mary Parrish, Jim Mead and Julia Coursey, during one of our meetings in the Cooper Room. Mary holding a pen-and-ink drawing of Parietobalaena palmeri in one hand and a mock-up of one potential exhibit space. Jim is holding the original, classic illustration of an exploded Tursiops skull, published in Kellogg (1928). Julia is holding an original zinc printer's block, which was used by the printing press to publish Prentice's illustration of a pathological archaeocete vertebra. (Photo NDP)
Mary, Julia, Dave and Jim Coursey. Mary and Julia are holding a rare photograph of the ventral side of Mixocetus elysium, a fossil baleen whale that Kellogg described from a locality right next to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. This photograph was likely outlined by Prentice using his pantograph, and it features Kellogg's original measurement notations and marginalia about the specimen, which is deposited at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. (Photo NDP)