Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh





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DinoMite Days

Public Art of Prehistoric Proportions

By M.A. Jackson


This summer Pittsburgh will become a Jurassic and Cretaceous Park as 100 dinosaurs take to the city’s plazas, street corners, and green spaces. Sure, they’re brightly-colored and artsy in a way Steven Spielberg never imagined, but they’re dinosaurs just the same. 


The event: DinoMite Days. The multi-purpose goal: To showcase local artists, celebrate Pittsburgh's international reputation for scientific excellence, and raise money for both local charities and Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Dinosaurs in Their World expansion project. The museum is renowned for being the world's third-largest repository of dinosaur fossils. 


"We want to raise awareness of the Museum of Natural History and the fabulous collection of dinosaurs we have,” says Ted Hermann, the museum’s director of marketing. “The state has given us $15 million for the renovation project, and through DinoMite Days we hope to raise additional funds to support the expansion of  our dinosaur exhibits."


If DinoMite Days duplicates the success of similar projects held around the country, that could mean some dinosaur-size funds.

McKees Rocks artist John S. Alexander used Pittsburgh’s legacy of buildings and landscapes as the theme of his Pittsburghius Architectaurus.

Other Cities, Other Symbols


The concept of DinoMite Days was inspired by the popular CowParade project that started in Zurich, Switzerland in 1998 and has cropped up in cities around the globe—from Las Vegas to London, Atlanta to Auckland, Sydney to San Antonio. The success of CowParade spawned several knock-offs including Buffalo’s Herd about Buffalo--with, well, Buffalo--and Washington, D.C.’s Party Animals with donkeys and elephants. In addition, Rhode Island sprouted Mr. Potatoheads and Baltimore, New Orleans, Erie, and a school of other cities featured fish.


As with DinoMite Days, each city’s sculptures were colorfully embellished by established and aspiring artists. After each exhibit, the sculptures were auctioned off with impressive results. New York City and Chicago raised $13 and $3.5 million respectively (even Oprah Winfrey placed a successful bid on a colorful cow). Washington, D.C., brought in close to $2 million; Baltimore $373,000; New Orleans $550,000; Houston, more than $1.1 million, and Cincinnati’s Big Pig Gig almost $840,000.


“[DinoMite Days] will inspire young minds.  That’s what

Carnegie Museums did for me.

                 --Burton Morris


But the benefits of these outdoor art exhibits go beyond fundraising. The CowParade Web site states that New York City’s exhibit attracted 44 million people and Chicago’s event generated nearly $200 million in tourist trade. Close to two million visitors flocked to Toronto’s Moose in the City exhibit, pumping $1.4 million into the local economy. The CowParade Web site calls the sculptures “people magnets.”


Susie Perelman, co-chairman of DinoMite Days, expects thousands of visitors will visit Pittsburgh to view the one-of-a-kind artwork.


A Perfect Fit for Pittsburgh


DinoMite Days is a collaboration with The Laurel Foundation of Pittsburgh, a private philanthropic organization.  Their director, board members, and principal were enthusiastic from the beginning about  working on a public art display and they provided funding to get the project off the ground. “They had seen the cow displays in other cities and wanted to do a painted animal exhibit,” explains Hermann. “Dinosaurs were a perfect fit for Pittsburgh.”


Although DinoMite Days doesn’t officially kick off until May, 2003, the first dinosaur--a Tyrannosaurus rex--was unveiled in October, 2002.  Hand-painted by nationally-known Burgettstown, Pa., artist Patricia Bellan-Gillen, who’s known for using natural history elements in her work, Connections is decorated with images of monkeys, butterflies, crabs, and human hand prints connected by leafy branches and vines. It stands outside the Natural History Museum near the statue of “Dippy”, the Diplodocus carnegii.


Over 300 designs were submitted. Some from artists as far away as Utah and Arizona.


As with Connections, all DinoMite Days dinosaurs will stand on a concrete pad , in locations throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area, bearing a plaque with information about the artist, sponsor, and dinosaur type represented (T. rex, Torosaurus, and Stegosaurus). The Pittsburgh Art Commission, the museum, and the city selected the sites--from Downtown to The Waterworks, and from the South Side to Shadyside.  


A committee of Pittsburgh arts organization representatives selected dinosaur designs from hundreds of artists' submissions--some from as far away as Utah and Arizona--and Carnegie Museum of Natural History hosted a contest for local public schools, selecting three designs from the 30 submissions. "We recognized that most schools don't have the money to sponsor something like this,” says Hermann. "This was a good way to let them participate.”


Each dinosaur is funded by a sponsor--individuals, corporations, schools, and foundations. Sponsors could select a dinosaur from a portfolio of ideas or commission an artist to create a design. Cost of sponsorship--covering cast, stand, plaque, and set up/removal costs--was $6,000 for a Stegosaurus or Torosaurus and $8,000 for a T. rex. 

"Sparky" at the School for the Blind


Sponsorship provides a unique opportunity to help the city and the people living here. A perfect example: the sponsor-artist relationship between Buchanan Ingersoll law firm and the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind.



When Hugh Van der Veer, a Buchanan Ingersoll shareholder and Natural History Museum board member, heard about DinoMite Days, he immediately thought of the School for the Blind.  He says he chose a Stegosaurus “because there were more features for the kids to touch.” The school’s art teacher, Carol Kreiser, convened a committee of teachers, students, and parents to brainstorm a design.


The dinosaur, dubbed “Seymour Sparklesaurus” (Sparky, for short), was sponge painted with the school's colors of turquoise and purple, trimmed with gold paint, and stenciled with 27 student handprints, representing each of the school’s classes. Twenty staff members and several sponsors also added handprints. In addition, Sparky’s sides feature the word “Stegosaurus” spelled out in Braille with painted bottle caps. For a final touch, Sparky earned his name from colorful rhinestones sprinkled across his flanks.



"The project has energized the school," says Megan Rupnik, the school’s development and community relations assistant.


Students have fallen in love with Sparky and hosted a going-away reception before he headed off to his temporary home at the Pittsburgh International Airport. "We'd love to have someone buy him back for us after the exhibit,” says the school’s executive director Janet Simon.


The kids are not the only ones to fall under Sparky’s spell. “I've had the time of my life working on this," says Van der Veer. Student Justin Geier, who helped paint Sparky and attach the bottlecaps, just wants people to say, “they like him, and that he looks nice."

Unique Themes from Local Artists


While the dinosaurs are art, Hermann says they “went to great lengths to be as scientifically accurate as possible in their creation.” The 10-foot-long, 200 pound molds were created by Research Casting International of Ontario (makers of “Dippy”), with fiberglass produced by PPG Industries.


Selected artists, who will each receive a $2,500 honorarium, were asked to submit designs encapsulating “the unique characteristics of Pittsburgh, science and art, or the whimsical nature of nature.”


And the artists rose to the task, each leaving their individual stamp. Joseph Youss Kadri, a master gilder from France now residing in Pittsburgh, gilded the Stegosaurus "Dinogold"  that premiered at the Natural History Museum's Gem & Mineral Show in November, 2002.  For Cubeosauraus, Pittsburgh artist Gregory Karkowsky will cut a T. rex into pieces, place the pieces in Plexiglass cubes, and stack them in a tic-tac-toe manner.


“We received a lot of sculptural  designs that added elements to the dinosaurs,” says Sandra Budd lead designer at the Natural History Museum. “But Gregory took it a step further.”


Many dinosaurs will feature Pittsburgh themes. The Laurel Foundation is commissioning a Mister Rogers dinosaur, the Pittsburgh Steelers are considering sponsoring a dinosaur, and artist Cynthia Cooley, known for her scenic watercolors of Pittsburgh, will paint a Troy Hill landscape on a Stegosaurus.


The Pittsburgh Art Institute is sponsoring the design of one of its own graduates, Richard Bach.  Bach's proposal to cover a Stegosaurus with steel sheets is as Pittsburgh as can be.  He notes that scientific artists have to build around a fossil skeleton the modern image of the dinosaur, and that this is analogous to the way that Pittsburgh has fabricated a new skin and musculature over and around its industrial past.  Bach uses sections of plasma-cut steel "to form a new skin over the existing beast," and yet allows the visitor to view in certain areas the structure beneath the skin of lightweight metal.


One of the best-known DinoMite Days contributors is pop artist and illustrator Burton Morris, whose stylized paintings, reminiscent of woodcut engravings, have graced product endorsements from Absolut Vodka to Coca-Cola--not to mention Carnegie Science Center uniforms. Morris is a Pittsburgh native and a Pittsburgh Art Institute graduate.


Having designed three New York City CowParade cows, Morris knows working on a dinosaur cast will be challenging. “Painting on a three-dimensional surface is a real feat, but really fun to do,” says Morris.


Morris, who grew up in Squirrel Hill “right up the road from the museum,” spent his formative years haunting Carnegie Museum’s halls in Oakland, where, at age 7, he took art classes. “Carnegie Museums is like a second home to me,” Morris says. “It’s my roots. The big mural [of Tyrannosaurus rex that once graced the Hall of Dinosaurs wall] fascinated me. That was the stuff that formed the basis of my art.


 “This is great exposure for Pittsburgh and will bring awareness to the dinosaur collection," he adds. "People don’t realize what a great collection they have, I didn’t know,” Morris says with a laugh. He hopes to gain more exposure for Pittsburgh by featuring his dinosaurs at his 2004 one-man show at Switzerland’s Olympic Museum, and on a future episode of NBC’s Friends, where his work has been showcased for the last four years.


While Morris says the event should raise a lot of money and be “a creative spark for everyone who sees it,” his excitement about participating may run deeper than wanting to be philanthropic. “It will inspire young minds,” Morris says of DinoMite Days. “And that’s what Carnegie Museums did for me.”


DinoMite Days will conclude in late September, but these dinosaurs won’t become extinct. At 6:00 in the evening, October 11, they will be auctioned off at a fund-raising gala at the  Pittsburgh Convention Center with bids taken live and online (someone alert Spielberg!). Fifty percent of the proceeds raised will be donated to a charity of the sponsor's choosing; the remainder will go to the  Dinosaurs in Their World renovation and expansion project.


No matter where the DinoMite Days dinosaurs end up, their impact will surely echo that of their prehistoric ancestors: they will enthrall, enlighten, and mesmerize. DinoMite Days is a perfect synergy of art and history--in a sense bringing what’s inside Carnegie Museum outside and into people’s daily lives. Here’s to the second coming of the dinosaur. Long may they reign!





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