Works By Acclaimed Nature Illustrator Mark A. Klingler On Exhibit At AAAS
The new species of oviraptorosaur found in the Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota, approximately 68-65 million years old. Illustration: Mark A. Klingler/CMNH
Fruitafossor windscheffeli. Illustration: Mark A. Klingler/CMNH
The highly detailed artworks on display in Mark A. Klingler’s AAAS exhibit “Fur, Feathers & Fossils” are beautiful to look at, but he sees them not just as aesthetic creations. “The images become a visual aid for the concepts,” he says. “They have an impact of their own. You can see instantly in an image what would take more than two or three paragraphs to explain.”
Klingler, one of the top scientific illustrators in the country, works at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pa.; his work has appeared in publications such as Science, National Geographic, Discover and Nature. He works closely with scientists to ensure accuracy in representation, and where there's any doubt about how to best depict a creature that no human has ever seen alive, the decisions are left up to the scientist.
"We make a lot of intuitive choices about how the critter looks," he said during a presentation at AAAS, "but in the end the scientist makes the final call."
In his depictions of prehistoric animals, he draws inspiration from parallel lineage, or making assumptions about anatomy based on measurements from current animals, and from partial skeletons. For example, a more robust jaw suggests a heavier, more solid skull, which will affect head shape, and color choices are often based on modern comparisons. “There’s an inherent system to color patterns, but certain color choices are arbitrary, like stripes verses dots,” Klingler says. “My hope is that we get the anatomy so right that people think it could be alive.”
It isn’t just the animals that Klingler works hard to depict realistically; he also works painstakingly to get the background right. "A lot of times, anatomy will suggest the setting,” he says. “The Fruitafossor windscheffeli"a small, mouse-sized mammal that lived in Colorado 150 million years ago"has claws for digging and a jaw structure for eating soft insects, so the scientist and I depicted them in a termite hill.” Often Klingler paints the setting separately and digitally places it behind his subject, allowing the scientist maximum control over how accurate the depiction is.
This dedication to realistic interpretations of extinct animals and settings is tied to his interest in the conservation of our natural environment. “Mark Klingler's art is about species that we can seebutterflies, flowers, common garden spidersas well about extinct species that we cannot see,” said Virginia Stern, gallery director and director of the Project on Science, Technology and Disability for the AAAS Education and Human Resources. “The exhibit helps us understand the vastness of biodiversity and the importance of endangered species in the modern world.”
Klingler’s interest in scientific illustration and his desire to promote an appreciation of nature began at a young age, when he was a child collecting and raising butterflies, a hobby he maintains to this day.
“This up-close-and-personal interaction with nature inspired my respect for the natural world as a young artist,” he writes in his artist’s statement. At Carnegie Mellon University, he studied graphic design and worked in the entomology department as a work-study student. He credits his start as a scientific illustrator to the unique opportunity of working with scientists at such an early stage in his training. “Once the scientists learned of my artistic background, I began producing work for the department’s various publications almost overnight,” he writes. “Soon I had the experience and the resources to branch out into exhibitions and workshops on science art.”
AAAS will display “Fur, Feathers & Fossils” now through 31 March 2006 as part of the AAAS Art of Science and Technology Program, established in 1985 to present science-related art of all kinds. The program's goal is to display work that reflects the centuries-old interaction of art and science. Exhibitions span the range of scientific inquiry. An opening reception will be held on 1 November 2005, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
The AAAS building is located on the northwest corner of 12th and H Streets in Washington, D.C. Exhibit viewing hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, please contact Virginia Stern at email@example.com or 202-326-6672 or Shirley Koller, curator for the Klingler exhibit, at 202-333-4817.
Kelly Gayden Osborn
1 November 2005