Monday, February 11, 2013

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE EXPLORES CRYSTAL PALACE PARK: South London Treasure of 19th Century Dinosaur Sculptures, Questions Art Depictions

ENTRANCE TO CRYSTAL PALACE PARK.  One might ask why a Triceratops, a Stegosaurus, and a sauropod, etc., are used on a wall mural to welcome visitors to Crystal Palace Park, home of the amazing Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins 19th century sculptures depicting ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and megalosaurus. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE'S PROPOSAL FOR A NEW WALL MURAL.  "Don't you think these images are intriguing?" asks Paleontologist Barbie. I think art should be used to awaken everyone's curiosity." She explained that she didn't quite get why Hawkins' images weren't used in the mural at the park's entrance, and showed me this quick sketch she made during her visit to the famous paleontological park. "They are just so so so unique," she exclaims! "I absolutely love them." (Art by Paleontologist Barbie)
 In May 2012, Paleontologist Barbie, my Chiboogamoo (a.k.a. Anthony "Tony" Martin), and I visited the United Kingdom, a great place to broaden our knowledge about paleontology as a science and how it is portrayed in art. Therefore, we visited Crystal Palace Park in south London to see a wonderful group of 19th century sculptures of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals created by artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins.

Hallelujah Truth: Can you tell me why it was so important for you and Chiboogamoo to visit Crystal Palace Park?

Paleontologist Barbie: Yes, I would love to tell you! Completed in 1854, these sculptures were the first such pieces that attempted to recreate dinosaurs, Mesozoic marine reptiles, and large Pleistocene mammals. So they have artistic, historic, and paleontological significance. For me, and anyone else for that matter, this visit to Crystal Palace Park was a big deal.

DINO-TOURISM IN LONDON. Taking the Underground train to Crystal Palace Park was easy for Paleontologist Barbie, and after minding the gap when alighting on the platform, she turned to the right and saw the sign pointing to the sculptures. “This way to the paleo-art!” she told anyone who cared to listen, while pointing the way. (Photo and caption by Anthony Martin)
DINOSAURS, ART, AND HISTORY—A DAY IN THE PARK. Paleontologist Barbie is awestruck by the concrete behemoths set on an island in Crystal Palace Park. “Wow, look – it’s the original depictions of Hyaelosaurus, Plesiosaurus, Ichthyosaurus, Megalosaurus, and Iguanodon!” she rattled off, impressing everyone around her. Only she’s not here to impress, but to learn. (Photo and caption by Anthony Martin)
MARY ANNING WOULD HAVE LOVED THIS DINO-TERRIFIC PARK. The sculpture of Ichthyosaurus, a large marine reptile from the Early Jurassic Period, had emotional significance for Paleontologist Barbie. She had just visited the Natural History Museum of London only two days before, which had many ichthyosaurs discovered by Mary Anning (one of her heroes) on display. “Whoa, what’s with the weird tail?” she exclaims, noting one of the anatomical inaccuracies of this artwork. “But I guess I shouldn’t be one to talk about unrealistic proportions,” she later admits in a moment of self-reflection. (Photo and caption by Anthony Martin)
LOVING THE MULTI-SYLLABIC NAMES. “Teleosaurus!” she says upon recognizing their crocodile-like forms. These works are fairly accurate representations of Middle Jurassic marine reptiles that lived in the same seas as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. “Huh, looks like the one on the left is happy to see the other one,” she notes with Freudian undertones. (Photo and caption by Anthony Martin)
QUOTING FROM DICKENS ON DINOSAURS. Upon seeing the statue of Megalosaurus, a Jurassic theropod dinosaur (which also was the first formally named dinosaur) Paleontologist Barbie taps into her inner English major and quoted thusly from Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House (1853) "As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.” This was one of the first uses of a dinosaur as a literary metaphor, and as a renaissance kind of gal, you could bet that Paleontologist Barbie would remind people of this connection between science, art, and literature. (Photo and caption by Anthony Martin)
DRAWING HELPS ME TO REALLY SEE. Paleontologist Barbie explains that she loves drawing while in the field because it makes her stop to examine what she is looking at, and allows her to "see" more deeply. "Besides," she says, "I like adding my own flair and style when I draw. I depart from science, but have so much fun!" (Photo by Hallelujah Truth)
IGUANAS ON STEROIDS? The two Iguanodon statues also amaze Paleontologist Barbie, as these recreations are very different from what Iguanodon – an Early Cretaceous ornithopod dinosaur – actually looked like. Complete skeletons of this dinosaur, which in 1825 was the second formally named dinosaur, were discovered in Belgium in the 1870s and 1880s, and helped to correct the mistaken view of this dinosaur as an iguana on steroids. “Hey, it’s art: deal with it!” she says to paleontological purists and pedants everywhere. (Photo and caption by Anthony Martin)
UNDERSTANDING GEOLOGY JUST MAKES THE WORLD SO FASCINATING. Paleontologist Barbie is temporarily distracted by a geological display in the park, an outcrop of coal, sandstone, and shale with normal faults. A normal fault is often caused by tension (pulling apart), which causes rocks to bend and then fracture, with each block of rock sliding down the fault planes. “Look, it’s not my fault those rocks are broken, it’s normal!” she says with delight at her use of geo-puns. (Photo and caption by Anthony Martin)
MARVELING AT PALEO-MAMMALS. One of the most impressive non-dinosaur sculptures at Crystal Palace Park is of a giant ground sloth from the Pleistocene Epoch, Megatherium, here caught in a blatant act of tree-hugging. “I think you need to find another tree if you want to get some dinner, buddy!” she calls out helpfully. (Photo and caption by Anthony Martin)
WOW. Sculptures of the giant Pleistocene Irish elk (Megaloceros) likewise make imposing figures on the grounds of Crystal Palace Park. “Yo, check out that rack!” she says with a deep, macho voice, cracking herself up. Little does she know, her statement is taken seriously by the European Union and is later written into the script of a video purportedly promoting science to young girls(Photo and caption by Anthony Martin)
Hallelujah Truth: What did you like the most about seeing the dinosaur statues in situ on an island?

Paleontologist Barbie: I not only loved how they were arranged on an island surrounded by water, but also how some of the non-dinosaurs are in the water. Plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and crocodile-like animals are shown in what he thought were their natural habitats.

Hallelujah Truth: What can the average person learn by visiting Crystal Palace Park?

Paleontologist Barbie: They can learn how science and art often change together through time. These artworks are based on thoughts about prehistoric animals in the 1850s, and today, we have very different art showing the same animals. The fossils stayed the same, but our views of them changed. Artists help us scientists visualize our thoughts about fossils. That's why I like to keep my "artist" muscle in shape!

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE FLEXES HER ARTISTIC MUSCLE. "I like being controversial!" she explodes in laughter. "I'm proposing that Crystal Palace Park change its entrance wall mural to something like my sketch!" I think young budding paleontologists will be inspired by these images! We cheat children by using repeated stereotypical images. They are so capable! Let's give them intriguing images and get them asking questions! (Photo by Hallelujah Truth)
Hallelujah Truth: Has this given you any additional insights about how art and science are used together to reach out to the public?

Paleontologist Barbie: Sure! I mean, if you look at news stories about a new fossil find, almost every one of them has some pretty picture, like an artistically arranged photo of the fossil itself, or an artist's recreation of the fossil as a living plant or animal in its original environment. You can even see how art is used at the entrance of Crystal Palace to lure park guests in to visit the statues, even though it uses more mainstream images of dinosaurs.

Hallelujah Truth: Have you been inspired by these Crystal Palace Park creatures?

Paleontologist Barbie: Definitely! Wouldn’t it be fun to see the statues of Iguanodon and Megalosaurus fighting? Or the ichthyosaurs or plesiosaurs going for the same fish? I would like to see these sculptures interacting with one another instead of how they are shown now--isolated and not even looking at one another.

Hallelujah Truth: Is there anything else that you wanted to do while you were at Crystal Palace Park?

Paleontologist Barbie: Yes! It would have be such great fun to get out to the island and actually climb on the statues! (She giggles a loud TEE HEE!) How cool it would be to get on the back of a Megalosaurus or an Iguanodon. But I understand that they can’t have people going out there. I guess I could have asked for permission, but I don’t think the British government even knew I was in the country.

NOT JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE PARK. As the sun sets on Crystal Palace Park, Paleontologist Barbie bids adieu – or rather, cheerio – to these iconic sculptures, and thinks wistfully about how far paleontology as a science has progressed since the 19th century and in the place where much of it started, the United Kingdom. (Photo and caption by Anthony Martin)
COLLEAGUES. (photo by HT)
 Acknowledgments: As always thanks to my Chiboogamoo, aka Tony Martin, who channels the spirit of Paleontologist Barbie after drinking two beers! His enthusiastic and sincere support of women in science deepens my own commitment to learning more about the science of the world surrounding me. 

Thanks to Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins who envisioned and made these terrific sculptures from the findings in the 19th century! They are thrilling to see in the 21st century! Time keeps marching into the future!

Paleontologist Barbie Willingly Sacrifices Her Winter Holiday to Deepen Emory Students' Understanding of the Concepts of Uniformitarianism on San Salvador, Bahamas at Gerace Field Station. Paleontologist Barbie gets a kick out of snorkeling in modern reefs in the morning and looking at fossil reefs in the afternoon and much much more...

Paleontologist Barbie Pursues Professional Development at 2011 Society of Vertebrate Paleontologist (SVP) Meeting in Las Vegas, Utah, USA. 
Paleontologist Barbie sees exciting tracks and a really cool dinosaur sitting trace in addition to exchanging knowledge with fellow colleague paleontologists. "Professional development is more important than Halloween parties," Paleontologist Barbie was heard saying out in the Utah desert.
Paleontologist Barbie goes to St. Catherines Island to examine reptile burrows.

Paleontologist Barbie explains her understanding of evolution by looking at the "Selections" art exhibit at Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, Georgia. Specifically, she provides her interpretation of the importance of art done by Chiboogamoo and Hallelujah Truth.

This is the first interview with Paleontologist Barbie! It is a must read!
CREATIVE CONSULTANT. While envisioning the art made by Paleontologist  Barbie, I am giving moral support and much inspiration from the feline caretaker of our household--Tao! (photo by Chiboogamoo)


  1. Barbie, you go, girl! Love the drawings and the updated dino-train painting. What a gorgeous park!
    the sculptures are stunning. I don't fault you for the fault pun.

    1. Thanks SEE SEE! I know you know how to really look at the world closely. Really appreciate your support about the updated dino-train painting!

  2. Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are honoured that Pal(a)eo Barbie paid us a visit! We agree with everything you've written. By funny coincidence the Chair of the FCPD was also a founder of the Anerley Regeneration Project, which did the repainting of the kids mural near CP Station. Indeed, at the time we campaigned fiercely to get those over-played American dinos off our mural, and put in some respectable British dinos, like we have down at the 'Dinosaur Court'. Just like your sketch! But the Council (the local government and owner of the park) wouldn't let us change anything. It still rankles when we walk by and there's a train stuffed with T. rex, Triceratops, Brontosaur (Apatosaur), etc. We want Megalosaurs and Iguanodons!

    1. Oh! Oh! Paleo Barbie is so honored to have received a comment from "Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs"! Thank you for the confirmation that it is desirable to depict the local paleo fauna! Let's give a shout out to Megalosaurs and Iguanodons!