Saturday, May 07, 2005

Smithsonian Puts Historical Paleo Art On-Line

The Department of Paleobiology of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum has put part of its Paleo Art collection on-line for web visitors to view. The site includes numerous historical illustrations, information on the curation and care of the art, and a guide to illustration techniques.

More information about the new site comes from

The site - Paleo Art - was developed by Smithsonian illustrator Mary Parrish. "I often receive questions about scientific illustration from the general public, especially from students," Parrish said in an interview via e-mail. Placing illustrations and details about conserving them on the Internet, she said, seemed like "an ideal way to share a little of what goes on behind the scenes here at the museum."

The presentation is aimed at anyone interested in scientific illustration, from beginners to advanced artists, she said. "I selected the pieces for their historical, scientific significance as well as their aesthetic appeal," Parrish said, adding that more material will be added to the page.

In 1905 the Smithsonian unveiled the world's first skeletal reconstruction of a Triceratops. A few years earlier it had commissioned famed illustrator Charles R. Knight to do a painting (above) of the ancient beast - and that painting now brightens the paleo art page.

The museum launched its archive of historical illustrations in 1995 when collections manager Michael Brett-Surman discovered about 1,200 dinosaur illustrations piled atop a storage cabinet when he was checking for damage from a burst pipe. That discovery led to a search for other historical illustrations. Some 3,500 were found in cabinets and other locations around the department.

The material is now being archived and protected for future use. The illustrations have been separated from acidic frames and wrappings, flattened when needed and protected by professional paper conservators.