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
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
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
300 designs were submitted. Some from artists as far away as Utah and
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!