All posts by Egonzo

Under the Tenfluence: Books

I finally tracked down my last missing Prehistoric Zoobooks, but have not had the time to put them in a proper post, it is still on the list though. I am working more on my dissertation at the moment and with a new routine at home due to the arrival of my son at the end of June things are a bit up in the air with anything that isn’t deadline/need-based driven. To that end though here is something that I am retrofitting for a full post that was done in a series on Facebook. It was one of those “10_____ that influenced (or some other verb) me” chain tags that go around from time to time. I usually ignore them, but this one came an a time of reflection on my own habits and what I was writing about early American readership so I decided to take something flippant and approach it in a way I could use it for a blog post. In fact, for people starting out blogging or online journaling these types of lists may provide a nice ease into the pool.

I was finally tagged in one of those throwaway things that inspire and thanks to my friend Blake, I have now had a long weekend full of existential crisis. He completely blew the rules (whatever they are) buy posted 9 in a square grid and saying “Ciao” for Guatemala. I have seen the last few run through the “no explanation, blah blah” and I wonder if that is to increase the chance of people doing it if they don’t have to do anything but pull an image off the internet and post it. This one is about books, I will think about the albums later. The 10 books that had an impact on you, or impacted you, or influences you, or inspire you, or whatever. I started listing mine out first ten without thinking, really, and ended up with a pretty interesting trend that had really shaped my current dissertational status, sometimes for content, sometimes for style, and sometimes as introductions to the person writing. 

#1: The Red Badge of Courage

The summer between my fifth and sixth grade year my grandfather gave me a Walmart 2/$1 copy of The Red Badge of Courage. I have never been a huge military history buff and he absolutely hates anything about the Civil War (he keeps chalking that up to having been killed in it, really). So it was an odd choice. Luckily though, the whole point about this book *isn’t* necessarily the war itself. It is more of the idea of war, and our place within it. The intro to my edition even says that “the plot itself is a somewhat rambling sequence of campfires, troop advancements, battles, and retreats, interspersed with gruesome scenes of death and human destruction.” It is all about the transformation of Henry’s life that make it interesting. Actually for me it is the whole cloud of irony that hangs over the entire book that really made it great. Crane’s whole approach to the romantic notion of warfare (bravery, chivalry, et al) and the military stereotype is brilliant, and this is in 1894. But that is the life of Crane who was a freelance author for newspapers fond of reading the monthly Century Magazine. The Red Badge of Courage was originally sent to McClure’s Magazine and they sat on it for 6 months before Crane asked for it back and sent it out again. Eventually it was cut down (55000 to 18000 words) for serialization, which ended up in a kind of syndication and made Crane famous. He was a war correspondant for the Greco-Turkis and Spanish-American War, and died at a health spa in Badenweiler in the turn of the century German Empire. So my relationship with monthly magazine serials, newspapers, and ironic stories filled with death (which I tend to find funny) really began before I entered Jr. High. 
Sometime in 2003 on one of my reset nights of staying up all night I happened to catch the miniseries Rough Riders presented in one long swoop on cable a run time of at least 4 hours (I think). But is had a great, if historically misaccurate version of Crane, which has tended to remain the avatar for the author in my mind:

There are many great parts in the film, and it should be good watching for high school classes  and even college. (I want to use it in my Real vs Real course one day) but this little sixty-seconds of so exchange at 2:57 or so sums up a lot about life’s philsophy between a career soldier and someone from the outside familiar with a larger picture:(This is worth the full 18 minute watch, but the part about Wes Hardin and Clay Allison really should give us all some food for thought.

#2 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Nothing about this is part of a regularly schedule program or a complete breakfast, but here is the second installment of I don’t remember all the details I was tagged in but I am making these up as I go and giving you explanations you won’t read about books with which you shall do likewise. Second in line is another Walmart 2/$1 books. The sticker isn’t a sticker. It started that way, but by this second wave it is actually printed on as part of the cover. 20,000 leagues under the Sea is sort of that you have to read adventure story, at least it was for me after my grandfather talked about how many times he had read it in school. I come from a long line of book escapists. I enjoyed the story, but I benefitted more from the opening of science fiction to my imagination. I was able to fully immerse in books like this, H.G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle as if every word were true and possible. Years later when I started following up on the authors I would see a lot of “man before his time” stuff to describe Verne. Turns out he wasn’t ahead, he was just in tune *with* his time. Attending public lectures, demonstrations, and exhibits throughout Paris. Good observational skills are essential to writing great science fiction. I like to think that I have them, and that living within these stories, and the rest of the 2/$1 club has given me part of the wealth of experience that I am putting into my dissertation talking about how Sci-fi provides a litmus test of sci-fact, from every major theory that goes the “right” way towards a cult of progress, sci-fi can go back and shoot off as if the opposite were true.

Some of my favorite books ever written were included in this reprint series, and I am not even sure how many they actually made. I also think it harkens back to a time at Walmart when Sam Walton was still alive that was going to provide an avenue to put “classic” literature into the hands of their customers for the price of a canned coke. Now I am imagining a book vending machine filled with these. You see, some times it really isn’t about the stories per se, as much as it might be the book as artifact with context as product as well as a source.

#3 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

20 years ago I was a subscriber in good standing of Entertainment Weekly. As part of their service we received a VHS tape with summer movie trailers on it. This film was one of them. The movie was released on May 19, and my Literary Journal for my English class was compiled and turned in on the 25th. You can see the influence.

The subtitle (inside the “O”) is “A mind-bending experience.” The story is insanity at its finest and a testament to Gonzo-journalism which in 1998 was exactly what I wanted to major in in college, only with less drugs. This was the longest work by HST that I had read, although I had been through a couple Rolling Stone articles before. Aside from the “I do what I want” and less than sharable in polite company attitude/musings there is much you can learn from Dr. Gonzo. Mainly that the truth, especially that truth that they refuse to tell you, is far more bizarre than fiction. Like others on this list, it introduced me to an author and a genre that became an underlying tenet to how I see and process the world. I will recommend a serial read of this, The Great Shark Hunt, The Rum Diary, and one most poignantly relevant today as when it was published “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.” Fun fact: I bought this copy of the book and the soundtrack (which is great by the way) on a driver’s ed class trip to Parkdale Mall which was like 40 miles from where I grew up. The Great Shark Hunt is also great.

The trailer, it just about as stunning quality as the VHS I watched it on the first time.


#4 The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House

This installment is a twofer. Easily justified by the George Carlin philosophy of presentation: My rules, I make them up. They are both quick reads and they both basically do the same thing: tell the truth. These works, and others by Tom Wolfe were less of an influence and more of vindication of my own internalization of what I was experience reading theory in college. I absolutely love thesebooks because they take to task the desire for theory over practicality or even enjoyability of art (The Painted Word) and Architecture (From Bauhaus to Our House). I have been thinking more about my relationship with Wolfe’s stuff since his death a couple weeks ago. While reading many of the obituaries and reminiscences it was interesting to see the all the introductions go something like this: “Tom Wolfe, author known for XXXX, passed away..” wherein XXXX was one of his works, which one seemed to change based on the publication. Some were similar, but there were outliers. They also addressed his lifelong trend of wearing white suits, which I usually religate to summer but have endeavored to do more in memory of Tom.

These books also tie back into Fear and Loathing because believe it or not Wolfe and Thompson knew each other, and sometimes worked the same beat. Hunter wrote a delightfully scathing letter to Tom over the coining of “New Journalism.” Later, according to an intervie with Wolfe Hunter had himself along with Tom and his wife thrown out of a restaurant after downing 8 banana daquiries and banana splits. Whether HST was okay with being boxed into New Journalism or not, over the years I began to see Tom and Hunter as two sides of the same coin. Tom in his white suit and Hunter in anything but they became the Spy vs Spy of journalism a la MAD magazine. Only instead of being at war with each other they were at war with “the establishment.” Even if it was a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend I was overjoyed when years after reading these for the first time I found out just how they were connected, that it was professional, and personal, and utterly needed in American literature. That these two books upset so many art and architecture critics is enough to tell you he was onto something. And now that I am working with some professional architects in order for them to help showcase a section of “American” Architecture in the 50s and 60s I think about Tom Wolfe more than once a day, and know that in the end I’m justified because Tom Wolfe was right:

“This is not what is so often described as the lag between ‘the artist’s discoveries’ and ‘public acceptance.’ Public? The public plays no part in the process whatsoever. The public is not invited (it gets a printed announcement later.)” –The Painted Word (I also have a proud Wolfe moment when I got a paper back in graduate school that said “you can’t just dismiss theory!” written on it.)

Here is a link to that letter. Know that it comes with an MPAA language warning, but if you know Hunter S. Thompson you know to expect that you “thieving pile of albino warts.”

Hunter S Thompson’s letter to Tom Wolfe- the ‘pig in the ‘filthy white suit’

#5 Bully for Brontosaurus

This is the book that introduced me to the genius and wit of Stephen Jay Gould. This is one of those collections of essays that you come for one and stay for the rest. What I have always loved about Gould is his ability to take complex ideas and break them out to meet a general reader where they live. His prolific output is only matched by his variety and ability to tell stories. Unlike some who merely rehash old books into knew when a new chapter’s worth of ungulate evolution has come to light, most of Gould’s work is different enough from itself to always learn something. I have often described him as the Dave Barry of popular science writing, but there are many people who required a backstory on Dave Barry, so that might not be the best way to go. This is a fantastic book to gift, not only for content but for stylistic study. We are sorely at a loss of essayists these days, and collections such as this are true treasures. This was one of the first books that I looked at and said “I want to do that” that actually had content I was familiar with. It is also partly to bless or to blame for my blogging and my penchant to write as if I were talking to you or producing something for verbal narration.

I will add here a bit more about the science in popular culture aspect of my work. Gould was one of many guest stars on The Simpsons who provided his own voice acting in the episode “Lisa the Skeptic.”


#6 The Bonehunter’s Revenge 

Paleontology is the gateway science drug. It can also be the gateway history of science drug. The great thing about it is that it can be applied in outreach across a wide variety of student interests. When I first learned about Cope v Marsh I set out to learn everything I could about the whole ordeal. Interestingly there isn’t as much as you’d expect. The Bonehunters’ Revenge is one of the ones I picked up. It is one of my favorites although not well reviewed as people compare it to other Wallace books. As it happens this books turned out to be more important for my dissertation than it would have been had I stayed writing about the history of paleontology in America. In particular it is the vehicle that brought this private feud to an adoring public that makes it significant: newspapers.

Specifically the tabloid newspapers, and exactly the New York Herald overseen by James Gordon Bennet, Jr. (We’ll see more of his family and this paper later). Once the public became engrossed in the dirty deeds done dirt cheap in this bizarro world Paleo Spy vs. Spy (two MAD references in one system, that could be a theme here as well), congress started paying attention too. Whether you are #TeamCope or #TeamMarsh it was their tantrums that led to government wondering why it was funding the hunt for “birds with teeth” and began to cut back on apporpriations for such expeditions. This feud was actually a continuation of a broader one that manifested early in the careers and goals of Ferdinand Hayden (Cope’s mentor) and J.W. Powell (Marsh’s mentor). While these reports come a half century after the emergence of the Penny Press and American tabloidism, it shows just how engrained the papers were in daily life and how they could grow to shape things beyond the profit of a newspaper. Fun fact, the first American animated film–incidentally starring a dinosaur named Gertie–was the brainchild of New York Herald editorial cartoonist Windsor McCay who may be best known for his comic strip Little Nemo.

#7 The Sun and the Moon

With a good editor this would have been a three book series. As it stands it is still one of my favorites and parts of it have popped up in my work and research ever since I discovered it. This book is the history of newspapers in America, it is the history of science fiction in America, it is the history of popular culture in America, it is the popular science communication in America, and it is the history of hoaxes in America. While the New York Sun penny paper is the main star here, it’s early rival The New York Herald, under the eye of James Gordon Bennet, grew influential enough to have rivals of its own. It covers the earliest printing of court reports and all other sorted things which before 1835 weren’t fit to print. Other players taking the stage to the background of moon man bats included, P.T. Barnum and his first humbugs, Edgar Allan Poe and his first forays into sciene fiction, including those that influenced Jules Verne, and an unassuming but brilliant writer and social commentarian Richard Adams Locke, whose parable in six parts took the newspaper reading world by storm and increased circulation of cheap newspapers beyond anyone’s imagination.

Once the roots of these papers had found suitable soil it would take a digital revolution 165 years later to budge it, and then it only changed formats. One of my favorite stories of all time comes from this book. It comes from Charles Dickens visit to the US (which he loathed unapologetically). Stepping down from his coach he was appalled to find a dirty working class mechanic with a newspaper under his arm. Apparently the very idea that newspapers could be for everyone offended Chuck’s sensibilities. This is a well-read audiobook too, with the narrator reading the newspaper articles in their author’s accent. This is particularly useful as Bennet was Scottish. Now I am guilty of reading everything that Bennet wrote in that same accent. If you are giving it a casual read I recommend the audiobook over the printed. Although it does say the same thing, it doesn’t seem to get as convoluted listening to it. 

#8 Annals of the Former World

Continuing the introspection of what books influenced me in some way or another is this collection of John McPhee stories. Most of McPhee’s work comes in at a couple hundred pages and range, no pun intended, from Alaska to Florida, and oranges to canoes. There really isn’t a bad one to get you started. Annals of the Former World takes you though the heart of the continent from east to west. If you ever find yourself getting your kicks on Route 66, or in that general direction, this book will take you through the past of the present that you are ignoring listening to your audiobook. This was one of the first books that really captured geology in a way that was readable and shareable with people who haven’t been baptized will all the smutty sounding vocabulary of the geologic trade. There is plenty of technical jargon in here that will keep the practicing rockhound satisfied, and probably bore your more Dan Brown summer readers.

Annals of the Former world won the Pulitzer Prize, and two of the books that are collected were finalists themselves. This was one that got me thinking about spinning my history studies more towards the history of science–I got out of science and into history so I could reclaim my use of adjectives and metaphor–thinking here is a nice model to work with. Well guess what McPhee is *not*, yes, a historian. You know what he *is*, (if you’ve been following along this should be easy) a journalist. This may have been the most useful pointless exercise that I have been tagged in on Facebook. I will end with a nice little paragraph from McPhee’s wikipedia page which juxtaposes him with the two New Journalist spies I wrote about earlier. Many of the topics in his New Yorker Pieces are bits of larger works. If you don’t have time for 700 pages of geology, I would recommend starting with Adventures with the Archdruid. That, in my opinion can give you the best summation of McPhee’s style.

“Unlike Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, who helped kick-start the “new journalism” in the 1960s, McPhee produced a gentler, more literary style of journalism that more thoroughly incorporated techniques from fiction. McPhee avoided the streams of consciousness of Wolfe and Thompson, but detailed description of characters and appetite for details make his writing lively and personal, even when it focuses on obscure or difficult topics. He is highly regarded by fellow writers for the quality, quantity, and diversity of his literary output.”

You can delve more into McPhee’s New Yorker work here.

For good measure (and a little tri-fold symmetry) I should also specifically include this piece about Lacrosse which was illustrated by Ralph Steadman who lent his talents to depicting the gonzo world of Hunter S Thompson.

#9 Sea of Glory

I bought Nathaniel Philbrick’s Sea of Glory on a whim the first or second year I worked for H.E.B. Grocery. Since it was a “Plus” store it had books and magazines among other non grocery things. It was on the red dot clearance rack for what I thought was $7 but in actuality turned out to be $7 off, so it cost me $5 more than I had figured. I was more interested in the time period than the fact it was a navel voyage since there are relatively few books written about the antebellum period.

My original intent in graduate school was to study scientific expeditions in Victorian England, mainly because that had proved to be an easier sell than wanting to write about Game Rangers in British East Africa. I was pretty well versed in expeditionary forces and camps and leaders in the US from Lewis and Clark onward, or so I thought. I had never heard of this expedition, and that annoyed me more than anything. Even looking more into it there was only a few things written in the “professional” journals, and a neat Smithsonian exhibition somewhere around its 150th anniversary. Reading this book snapped a few things into place to make it the initial cornerstone for my dissertation: Titain Peale was involved, and it started with a hole in the earth.

Hollow Earth Theory has always interested me more for the mythology that has been built around it than anything else. It also provides a great point to go back and look at Science Fiction writing as it continues on as though some theories are true and explore any wisdom (or commentary) that that particular reality may impart. It is also a great introduction to Jeremiah Reynolds who actually managed to get the thing organized and ultimately himself disinvited from the journey. A newspaper man by trade besides taking up the cause for a hole at the pole he ended up stranded during a mutiny where he was introduced to a dangerous whale off the coast of South America (where his post mutiny group landed) called Moche Dick. His article influenced Herman Melville’s book which ultimately explains most of everything in the 19th century. His essays on polar exploration influenced Edgar Allan Poe as well, who, in the story of Arthur Gordon Pym “borrowed” several (most) lines. Pym influences a French guy named Verne and we get him trying to finish the story in The Sphinx of the Ice Realm.

I have read this and listened to the audiobook while driving back down to Texas, and still laugh about how it ended up being such a large part of my professional life. It also reveals a huge oversight in American Scientific Biography as James Dana needs a good 700 page bio from his familial ties to what becomes Scientific American to his checking Darwin’s theories of islands once this voyage makes it to the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii, or post-now, Hawai’i). He had read a newspaper article the explained Darwin’s island growing theory he had developed a few years before in the Galapagos. Let’s all just take a moment and put the hope out into the Universe that Dana isn’t shadowed in his own biography as “The American Darwin.” One of the only things that might save him from that is that there are only a handful of us that see Darwin as a geologist.

The book also explains that with the help of the material specimens collected by the Pacific Railroad Surveys and the U.S.-Mexican Boundary survey (both guest stars of my dissertation) the materials collected by the U.S. Ex. Ex. forced the hand of the early Smithsonian decision makers to abandon their initial plans for a research base only and not a collection of cabinets to an enormous collection of cabinets. With 400 tonnes of stuff coming in that was government property the only place to store it was the nation’s attic. So, in quite a few ways this little sea cruise was as big an influence on how some American cultural things played out and this book was a large part of my decision to write about it. 

Bonus points here, when I got to OU and met some of the other graduate students it turns out that one of them was going to use the U.S. Ex. Ex. for their research on the contributions of the US Navy on American Science. We actually share a birthday–further still in a graduate program of fifteen,  three of us shared a birthday; which is an interesting coincidence if I do say so myself.

#10 Watchmen

This one may be the odd one out, but it really made me see the whole medium of comics and graphic novels differently. Comics weren’t a big part of my life until late elementary and early jr. High School. I had several books of comic panels that had belonged to my mother, Heathcliff, Hi and Lois, Beetle Bailey, etc. and I would get Garfield books at/through the book fair, but superheroes weren’t really it at all. I think the first one I got was in like 5th grade from a flea market because it was 10/$1. The only one I can remember was the one where Hawkeye was shot in a drive by shooting and had to get a new costume. When I started reading them in earnest it was X-men and they came from the loneliest magazine rack you’ve ever seen in a Brookshire Brothers grocery store. I sent away for some catalog in the back of one and ended up with opportunities to buy back issues for pennies and issue so I tripled my collection then, getting important “collector” issues like The Death of Multiple Man in some X-factor I wasn’t familiar with. The fun thing was they put me on a mailing list and one or two flagged me as under 18 to it went to the only other James Burnes in Fred that they could send it to, my grandfather.

In fact, he got them first and my grandmother kept asking me if I was reading “playboy funnybooks.” I was always a bit confused with the whole superman thing, I knew it as cultural thing, and had seen some of the early animated shorts (when he could just leap buildings in a single bound and not fully fly) but I guess I projected his powers onto people I knew and they weren’t saving the city. I came to Watchmen later and it instantly drew me into the realness of living in a world with costumed vigilantes. The logic behind the mythos. A weird inverse morality in the face of the pure American mythos. By the time I picked it up I had been out of comics for a few years, I had to offload my collection–two boot boxes full– because “they were a fire hazard.” Seriously, it wasn’t like we didn’t have 3 bookshelves full of apparently less flammable paper. I had also settled into my sort of default philosophy of Romantic Nihilism in a way that I couldn’t explain it to others, that everything was beautiful and nothing mattered. There are aspects of the Comedian that I really identified with and there were others that I find repulsive, so I had to deal with that internal schizophrenia and its outcomes.

I had actually had practice living in two minds as I was spending recess doing imitations of Jim Carrey and then later getting to listen to my grandparents talk about how terrible he was, they couldn’t stand him, that was all just stupid, etc. Learning that you can share some of the more mundane, (useful?), personal traits from people/characters without subscribing to the bad is a great and powerful thing. I think a little of it goes back to the whole newspaper thing again too with The Frontiersman and Rorschach’s Journal, that is where the truth is. Men in Black taught us the same thing, right? I mean, that’s independent confirmation. The hard black and white truth is cut out of the full fabric of life too, and you can think that as long as they are *believing* something it is as good as if it were true. My second master’s thesis looked at that (it didn’t matter that the Piltdown skull was fake, it still had *real* repercussions on the science and practice of anthropology). Maybe that is a kind of blue pill in the end, and we all choose which lies we are comfortable living with, or maybe there is a varying degree of “reality” that we all experience. There was also a giant owl airship (owlship?) named after the cartoon owl in Disney’s The Sword and the Stone.

The few comics I did keep were some of the dark Marvel What-Ifs. Specifically, “Deadly Inheritance” which saw the Fantastic Four’s powers consuming them, and “The Mark of Cain” where Juggernaut finds himself the only being on earth after a plague. There are two honorable mentions here before I fall into talking about how comics are keeping me sane through my dissertation and they are somewhat tangentially related to Watchmen as they spin some thing cold war related. The first is Red Son, which follows Superman as he fell to earth in Russia and instead of becoming a good hard working American, he became a good hard working communist. The other is similar (and again Fantastic Four–What If really seemed to have it out for them) with the Fantastic Four being cosmonauts instead of astronauts.

I will add that it was also nice to start and end something this long written sequentially by a single author. I wasn’t *too* crushed getting out of comics in the mid 90s because by that point X-men was as full of *see issue XX notes as it was real dialogue. The last thing I remember was something on Asteroid M and Rogue and Iceman were on a road trip after she kissed Gambit.

Another bit of unpopular admittance is that I enjoyed the film. There are some major differences that would not translate to the screen from the page. It was a closer reading than Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which I think was easier to approach than that graphic novel, but where it died in the water was the insistence on including an American character to draw American audiences. The whole Tom Sawyer thing was bland as he wasn’t much of a mean mean warrior so to speak. I didn’t hate it, I just wanted more out of it, but I digress. Even if you didn’t enjoy the movie or hated the changes you almost have to admit that the opening Bob Dylan music video with all the references and stills is fantastic. And the many scenes that are direct copies of the comic panels were amazing.

Without getting into the philosophy or any of the mucky stuff above, the shortest reason to put this on my list of 10 it that it helped me get over the internalized belief that comics (or “graphic novels”) were some how lower forms of literature. That I wasn’t “reading” if I was reading comics. That was internalized because that was what I was told. By the same grandfather that gave me The Red Badge of Courage and was getting my catalogs for “playboy funnybooks.” I think that was finally shattered seeing the graphic novel From Hell on the English Honors reading list or purchase shelf at the Lamar Bookstore (Kampus Korner) when I returned as a sophomore and a half in my undergrad after being out for 4 years. From Hell incidentally, was written by the same guy.





I was talking to a friend about paleoart a couple weeks ago. We were talking about how the first thing you absorb about something is generally what establishes your head canon and makes it hard to change. I realized that a good portion of mine came from two-page spreads in Zoobooks like this one:

This one credited to Michael Woods.

If you aren’t familiar with Zoobooks (most everyone is, right?) that really is a shame because they were, for the lack of a better word: awesome.  My original set was from 1988 or 89 and looked like these:

Being so far from a public library were the heaviest influences on wildlife information outside of my grandfather’s set of encyclopedias which still had Eisnhower as president. He often complained that he never received the yearly updated issued “yearbooks” that were to come with it, but it never bothered him enough to follow up on it. The Zoobooks were so great that my mother decided that it was worth another year’s subscription. What we got was the “new” first runs. So I had basically the same issues but with different title arrangements and colors, and it looks like they’ve changed a few more times since then:

Clockwise from top left: 1994, 1996, 2000, 2005

About six years ago they came up again and I started tracking them down online. There are several series now covering species from endangered animals to animal wonders. I wanted to get some good scans of the ones I remembered so vividly–Wild Horses, Elephants, and Rhinos, to hang in our nursery.

Wild Horses spread by Michael Hallet

When I started digging through the many ebay lots I had accumulated I realized I had several years of one issue, but was still missing the Wild Horses, which is currently shipped and due in the end of the week.

Elephant families by Barbara Hoopes

Doing what any historian would do, I pulled the 90s and 2000s copies of “Elephants” to see if anything had really changed besides the covers. Artwork remains the same, some text changes and is rearranged on the page, along with the inclusion of an “activity sheet” in the post-Zoobooks-I-had years. Oddly enough as the years progressed the tone of the text seemed to change from a more matter of fact to a more “can you find… in this” sort of thing. It is also interesting as layouts change that the 2005 edition more closely resembles the 1994 text on this particular spread.

Text changes through time. Moving from the top back: 1994, 1996, 2000, 2005.

Many of these wonderful pieces were painted by San Diego Barbara Hoopes. You can learn more about her at her website Outside, or, rather inside the special family spread the art also captured the skeletal and musculature of the animals as they moved, fought, or ran. That was probably what I remembered first, with the full herds being a close second.

The elephant one in particular stood out for me because I haver never forgotten the tie to the cyclops story and the images that were used in my issue of Zoobooks years before I would ever read Adrienne Mayor’s The First Fossil Hunters that idea that real things could have influenced mythology and stories was there, and I guess I never really grew out of that because all the #PaleoPopCulture I spew around on twitter and the Paleo Porch facebook page is basically a modern version of that. 

I imagine that there are similar subtle changes across the issues, but the only other one I have multiple copies of are the dinosaur issues.

clockwise from top left: 1985, 1992, 1999, 2004

Not only was this particular issue set on providing a foundation for all things dinosaur the issue I had, and luckily one of the ones here, include the “new” theory about the impact event leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Which I suppose will be my version of the “when I was in elementary school they taught continental drift as a theory” story that my mentor prof always tells.

1985 and 2004 text versions of a theory.

The Dinosaur editions had a huge four-page pull out, with two, three-page on the backsides:

The Dinosaur issues lead into a complete separate series called “Prehistoric Life.” it was a series of 10 books with a Family Activity Book inside a hard plastic slip case.

The Family Activity Book has issues 2-9 on the cover for a nice grid. “Book One” was “Life Begins”  and spans through to “Book 10” “Mammals Part 2.”

I don’t know who Bishop was, or what they taught, but I can tell you someone absconded with their class copy of “Book Ten” because I don’t have a complete set. I have also tracked one of those down to complete that set. The activity guide is a mixed bag, that utilizes a lot of metal coat hangers. There were some pipe cleaner dinosaurs, some quasi-potatoman-mammals, and a pterosaur kite.

I will eventually do an entire post dedicated solely to the Prehistoric Zoobooks but it was the originals that had the gorgeous wild horses, extinct elephants and rhinos that really sent me to digging out the box and going back through these.

Zoobooks is still around in this .com world, now part of Ranger Rick’s National Wildlife Federation, and branched into a couple age groups (Zoobies, Zootles, and Zoobooks) and a dinosaur specific run. Available in print and e-subscriptions.

They even have a regularly updated wildlife blog easily accessed through the site. If you want to get your kids, nephews, nieces, grandkids, friends’ kids, or anyone a gift they will really enjoy, a subscription here will keep on giving all year long.

There are some things coming I will come back and add to this later from the Wild Horses and the Prehistoric Book Ten, when I try to focus solely on the Prehistoric Zoobooks for a future post, until then I will close with a sampling of the 9 books that I have in hand and just clicked off at random with my phone while going through them at the kitchen table. The art is amazing, and the setups are clever, look for the scuba diver avoiding the dunkleosteus and the woman wearing (and crashing) the hang-glider with the pterosaurs. You know, I’ll probably end up getting myself a subscription to the ZooDinos now, just to see if it expands on the Dinosaurs issue or the Prehistoric Life series.

Summer at the Museum

I was originally just going to throw some fun screen grabs from these early time machine  Phineas and Ferb episodes up on the Paleo Porch facebook page and be done. While going through the episodes for the shots though I noticed there was more to say and show about the museum than just the “back-in-time-with-dinosaurs” trope.

Backing up a bit, if you haven’t watched Phineas and Ferb before, or in a while, you should add it to your queue because it is well written , clever, and even the angular animation style is less offensive than its contemporaries.

The time machine arc here actually spans two episodes across two seasons. The first one, episode 21 “Out of Time” aired over 10 years ago now (!) has them fixing the time machine in the museum and going back in time.  The establishing shots and setup are great though:

Gags, and chronologically challenged fossils aside, the backgrounds and the animation inside this museum are great. They really capture the essence of the Natural History Museum as it exists in our collective consciousness. Who wouldn’t love to see a hall of gadgets through the ages permanent exhibit?

Once they get the time machine working and end up in the past, chaos ensues in the predictable manner, what is brilliant is the continued cuts to the modern ichnology display at the museum as it changes from alterations (altercations) in the past/it’s present.

Now, if you are into your dinosaurs you are thinking that a T-rex really gives away the geography of the show, but I am going out on a limb here and considering that this T-rex is actually called a “Tri-State rex.”

Once Phineas recognizing the track, their problems are all but solved. Taking a stick he quickly draws out a message to the others at the museum. Be thankful that there is a time travel section in the Fireside Girls Handbook. 

Isabella and the troop arrive to save the day, only the Tri-State Rex comes back too. This is a longer clip as it wraps everything up, and if you aren’t familiar with the series the talkshow/secret agent cut will be a little confusing, but just roll with it, because “Fossils. *da, duh, dahn.*”

Again, just taking a few seconds to stop in on the interior of the museum as it rolls under a chase scene, and it is a great collection, even if the fish, pteranodon, and protoceratops thing (and the coprolite?) are a threepeat run sequence.

One of the best things about this show was how well the writing meshed across its entirety. Not just within an episode but across episodes and even seasons. It was built as a coherent universe and the obvious and subtle running gags really play in to reward the viewer. The “It’s About Time” episode arcs all the way into early season two  when the time machine comes back into play plot and in “Quantum Boogaloo” we  see the museum and the Tri-State area 20 years in the future.

Something quietly reassuring that the museum of the future, which we are halfway to now is pretty much the same.

In the end, not only was this a fun museum/dinosaur/time travel episode. It was one of the best written time-travel stories written for any medium. It doesn’t complicate itself with 473 different paradoxes, it plays out well in the 22 minutes the episode was given, and ties in pretty seamlessly with itself the following year and a half later when the second episode aired.

Zdeněk Burian: Paleoartist and illustrator

There will not be any more information here than you can learn on Zdeněk Burian’s wikipedia page, but what I have done is compile as many of the loose plate copies from his works that they are selling on ebay and dropping them into a giant album of varying resolution. I have also ordered a couple of his books that haven’t been translated and was going to wait until the arrived to post, but they haven’t even shipped yet.

Burian’s work is as iconic as anything the Charles Knight produced and includes many mass market non paleontological book illustrations such as Tarzan and Robinson Crusoe.  There was an interview published online just this past November that has some more biographical stuff about Burian. The original (where I pulled the featured image of the artist) is here, if you don’t read Czech you can work on the Mad Gab that is translated by Google here, it should be good enough to give you a broader sense of his work.

One of the things that I wanted to include here actually folds back onto my work on the paleoart of Ralph Shead. When the paintings were finally found one of them seemed out of place for Ralph’s style. In fact his great-nephew Bill was sure it wasn’t his because of it. With the name broken off now, all we had to go on was that the guys who worked with it on the break room wall was all certain it was by the same guy, and that Shead was the only museum artist. While I was pulling the images from a series of Ebay auctions selling one page at a time I stumbled across the answer: both are correct. It *was* a Shead painting, but it *wasn’t* his style. This is because it was a copy of a Zdeněk Burian piece.

Zdeněk Burian print from a book.
This scene was completely new to me, as I was never around to see it as part of the original Stovall Museum Mural. Photo by Author.
Ralph Shead’s version (left) of Burian’s ancient seas

I am hoping that one of the books that I have coming that contain colored images will have the colors of this one.

Burian’s work is prolific as well, a simple Google Image search will spread before you the breadth of his work in time, species, and publication.

Here is a nice slideshow done on youtube:

as well as an interview done in a museum which I assume is in Prague(?) You don’t have to understand Czech to enjoy the amazing pieces on display here, but if you do you will be able to get more info about Burian.

Irish Folklore in Popular Culture

There are countless instances of Irish heritage showing up in popular culture one way or another. They range in seriousness from say the clan wars in Gangs of New York to a box of marshmallow cereal. I think that there are two reasons that The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series drug so much out Irish lore: 1) They live in New York City and B) There is a lot of it. Below is just a running list of things–episodes and issues–that can make your St. Patrick’s Day a little more Ghostbuster-y. Currently (as of 3.17.18 The Real Ghostbusters is streaming on Netflix and The Extreme Ghostbusters are on HULU)

The Bird if Kilarby is a less common than your usual Irish faire, but a haunted Irish Castle that was “brought over stone by stone” and reconstructed in a lake in the park complete with pipes, drums, and 800+ ghosts is a great place to start.

Banshee Shanna has decided that one at a time misery is too old hat and that taking her destruction national is the best way to go. Mirrors reveal their true self, but her own voice may be her undoing.

It will be another 10 years before we see a banshee again.

“The Scaring of the Green” follows a bog hound rising on a full moon on St. Patrick’s Day to carry off the head of the Clan O’Malley, who just happens to be the chief of police. The family was cursed in ancient times for stealing a Leprechaun’s pot of gold. Chief O’Malley shows the guys a lock of the bog hound’s hair that his grandfather had gotten. Peter called it a family hairloom.

“Sonic Youth” see a return to Banshee-ville, although this time she has a sister. The sister is a Siren. Luring people in with her voice so her wretchedly haggard banshee sister can steal their youth.

The Extreme Ghostbusters actually face a leprechaun, not just the by product of one’s curses, hellbent on capturing the Sons of Erin and retrieving his stolen gold. By now, the curse has moved from the chief of police to the mayor.

Honorable Mention: “When Halloween was Forever” is really all about halloween, but given the fact that Samhain hails from the Emerald Isle he should at least get a spot on the list, right?

DisHonorable Mention: “Halloween II 1/2” is the sequel. It wouldn’t be bad except it is one of those “junior ghostbusters” episodes. I hated that then, and I hate it now. There was so much “tweaking” that execs pushed through because charts and research with everyone but kids said too.

When I was first thinking about this list I was just including the cartoons, then I remembered that IDW specifically ran a “Happy HorrorDays” arc in the Ghostbusters comics. In Volume 2 number 9, which I *think* is the kickoff, the Ghostbusters meet Stingy Jack.

His carved turnip lantern is ubiquitous (as a pumpkin) with Halloween, but it is another dive into Irish folklore. 

Jack’s carved turnip is also the face of our new old friend Samhain. Less pumpkiny, and more concerned with names.

Later in Ghostbusters international, the guys again meet up with a banshee. The whole international arc is fantastic and I would love to see another one or three, bringing in folklore as it would work if it were real has always been my favorite part of storytelling.

This particular setup is a bit different though, the banshee brings life  to the victim to keep them alive forever as a curse.

I will add that this issue manages to make Walter Peck a sympathetic character and that the whole IDW run has managed to humanize him in a way that I really think befits the character.

Well there is a quick rundown and collection of bits and clips for a Ghostbustin’ St. Patrick’s Day. I partly wanted to put this together for my love of The Real Ghostbusters and partly for my love of myth and folklore and how it conveys messages and meanings to things humans didn’t understand. I was a kid when The Real Ghostbusters hit syndication, maybe that is partly why I am into folklore so much. I think I might be one of the only people who liked the “monster of the week” episodes of The X-Files far more than the alien conspiracy stuff.

ADDENDUM: (3.19.18) When I was putting this together I went digging around on Archive.Org’s WayBack Machine to check out the old Extreme Ghostbusters site, and ultimately didn’t link to anything since it didn’t add much to the rest of post, but after thinking about it, I want to include some of the screenshots here for posterity. There was also a specific entry in Spengler’s Spirit Guide for St. Patrick’s Day and a few paragraphs on just what leprechauns might be made of/from. Also enjoy the little slice of 1998 internet.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


There’s some Paleo in my Cup O’ Noodle

There is so much stuff I need to catch up on. I need to write about getting a full time position, how my dissertation work is shaping up, and how I finally wrapped up the Shead stuff.  But, a collected set of commercials came across my social media feed the other day and that pretty much has set everything else in the back seat.

The following stop-motion (I still call it clay-mation) #PaleoPopCulture brilliance is brought to you by Nissan Cup O’ Noodle. Kim Blanchette animated a series of these commercials in 1992 .

Blanchette’s CV is impressive, and has worked on just about everything recent in 3D animation from Toy Story to The PJ’s to Robot Chicken. It was these cavemen v. nature ads that gained him international acclaim according to the bio on Where they “won numerous awards and considered the Cinderella story at the 1992 Cannes International Advertising Festival where it won the Grand Prix Award.”

And now a word from our sponsor: all these ads follow the same format, but what is so great about the Tom and Jerry-esque takes is that the prehistoric beasts involved are beautifully rendered. Starting simple, with a mammoth.

There were technically four mammoth commercials, the last two (at least in the order I saw them) being the same animation for  the “Curry” flavored noodles.

and a little extra for the “Spicy Curry”

Another common ice age animal is the sabre-toothed tiger, it gets two spots.


The first clip of this series I ever saw was the one with the Megatherium. I was already thinking about a PaleoAd post before I found this treasure trove of 90s animation.

The Moa makes an appearance:

Then, as the fount of paleo animation began to runneth over, I started seeing creatures that I worked on from the Eocene.  The Brontothere (you’ll see this on youtube as a “Giant Warthog”)

and not to be outdone a Uintathere! This one is a top favorite of mine since my Paleontology studies started in the Uinta Basin in Utah.

This next one surprised the heck out of me. You almost never see this one get reconstructions. They show up in some paleoart, but I haven’t seen a mount of one yet. I think the strongest image I have of the syndyoceras antelope is from my copy of Zoobooks which, who knows, maybe that is where Kim saw it too. (You’ll find this one on Youtube as “saiga antelope.”


I am putting this one at the bottom, not just because it isn’t a mammal, but because it is part of that “we know it didn’t happen but it’s part of the trope” situation that is humans living with dinosaurs. I always think of Gary Larson’s intro to the collected Far Side where he says you almost feel like you should confess in the vein of “forgive me Father for I have sinned, I have drawn humans and dinosaurs together” (paraphrased).  That being said, it is still a great animation.


There are a couple of honorable mentions. Specifically to the theme of this post, not because they are in any way sub par animations. The Seafood flavorings of Cup-O-Noodles had some aquatic problems for the local, hungry heroes.


If you would rather watch most of these at once, you can see them all linked here:


I had never seen any of these commercials before and was only made aware of them when the Stan Winston School of Character Arts posted a video of them to advertise their stop-motion animation courses.

Gone to Texas

The conclusion of this painting’s 700 mile 20 year round trip is a fitting end to this series of my work and I feel like my summer projects have been finally completed.

A quick backstory on the painting’s subject in case you are catching up on this at the end: The cotylorhynchus is an early Permian synapsid that was first described by OU’s own J. Willis Stovall in 1937. The species name for the specimen found just north of Norman is Romeri for Alfred Romer (1894-1973), the founder and first president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology which now grants the Romer Prize to predoctoral students for work excellence of scientific value and oral presentation at SVP’s annual meeting.

View of small Cotylorhynchus plaque in Museum(Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History)
View of small Cotylorhynchus plaque in Museum(Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History)
Dr. Romer beside Cotylorhynchus Romerii at Stovall Mueum, circa 1970. Stovall Museum (Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History)
Cotylorhynchus on display at Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, photo by author

Shead’s 1938 painting is the first attempt at depicting the animal in life and while there are many issues with the interpretations by today’s standards, it stands as a testament to his skill as an artist and the importance of paleoart, even in the 1930s. The painting itself lived in the Stovall Museum until the time came to move into the new building in the late 90s early 2000.  There are a few different accounts to where it was found initially, leaning up behind a vacant building, next to the trash receptacle, or similar, but either way it was slated to be discarded. Either room or just it’s own out of date representations of science may have doomed it, but thankfully a cheerful passerby inquired about taking it and it was saved. 

I don’t know the names of any of the parties involved at this point, but at least 2 different stories corroborate what happened next: The painting made it’s way to the finder’s brother who was attending A&M down in College Station, Tx and hung in his apartment until he graduated whereupon he presented it to the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Lab. There the “Komodo Dragons” quickly became a staff favorite.


Now, something about this painting if you haven’t made it out by this point is it’s size. The thing is nearly ten and a half feet long and over four feet tall. This wasn’t just swept away under an arm like a folded newspaper. To relocate this thing anywhere required work, and a great deal of it.

Thankfully the powers that be at the research lab agreed to gift the painting back to the Sam Noble where it now nearly completes some semblance of a “set” of what Shead paintings I have been able to track down. A pickup date was scheduled that coincided with a need to transfer some textiles from another collection on the A&M campus to Sam Noble and we were to initially head down sometime between the 28th and the 30th of August.

Poseidon, not being a fan of art or terrestrial fauna, had other plans. Hurricane Harvey, in addition to the immense devastation along the Texas coast, postponed the painting’s return trip. We eventually rescheduled for September 25th and 26th.

Texas A&M is about 357 miles from the University of Oklahoma and after picking up the rental van and removing what seats we could,  we loaded it with all our packing and strapping and were finally headed south around 10:30 am. 

The next morning we met the Biodiversity Heritage folks and prepared to claim the prize. As if making up for the delay, luck smiled on us in the form of a masonite backing on the painting which made if far easier to secure in the van. Some framing, lashing, and a few knots and it was ready to return to it’s ancestral home.

We picked up the textiles across campus and left College Station nearly exactly 24 hours after we have left Norman. We caught a break in the rain bands when we unloaded the cargo and it is now safely in “the bubble” where it will rest in a type of quarantine for a few weeks before getting it’s frame worked on and joining the other wayward Shead paintings.

Not only is the Cotylorhynchus Norman’s native son, but it is the only painting of Shead’s that we have a photograph of him painting. I don’t think I could ever thank the wonderful folks at A&M enough for agreeing gift it to us. To think that it could be displayed with the photograph of the artist at work gives me an incredible sense of satisfaction with how this whole thing has played out.

Shead at work on Cotylorhynchus painting (Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History)

Seeing just this sampling of Ralph Shead’s work, now nearly all collected back under one roof, is amazing just from the art and the historical perspective. If these enormous works can ever be displayed together in the same room  it would certainly be testament to the power of paleoart and paleoartist–past and present –to still inspire awe in the visitor.

R.B. Shead: Art Director

If you have been following along, you will recognize the crescendo of  this Shead story has taken over my posts and summer research. It is hard to think of anything else I could add to what I’ve discovered so far save just adding to his already herculean numbers of completed pieces of art. Following the magazine covers that were part of his enormous portfolio and utilizing the interlibrary loan services at my library I secured a few copies of the Specialty Salesman Magazine. 

They aren’t readily available and is one of those magazines whose volume numbers roll over in the middle of the calendar year. Luckily I was able to get a copy of November 1925 as it explained the change in editorial and layout (in great detail), and the new direction that the magazine was headed. This is fortunate because one of the pages featured a set of portraits of the magazine staff including their titles.  Not only was Ralph Shead a contributing illustrator to the magazine he was the magazine’s art director. This explains the several covers that were part of the portfolio as well as the few pieces of art that weren’t his.

Specialty Salesman’s Staff November 1926
R.B. Shead, Art Director

So far the earliest I have seen is the November 1925 edition, but one of the portfolio covers shows  the change from 1924 to 1925. Perhaps he was working for the museum even earlier. I am still trying to track down as many copies of the magazines as I can to at least figure out when he started publishing illustrations there. This isn’t a particularly easy task as the magazines are large format (about 12×14 inches) and average 150 pages each. Some of the earliest ones I have seen swell to nearly 250. This means they take up a lot of space on library shelves and are likely not to be requested much. This is one of those instances where the physical copies of the magazines are essential to determining who produced the art. As great as microfilm is for text it is just as bad when it comes to images. We’ve preserved hard black and white letters for 500 years, but there was no apparent reason to care about that the images were. Simple pictures and visual aids are of no importance. (This is where we need a dedicated sarcasm font). For instance, in microfilm you would never be able to make out the works on the wall or on Shead’s easel in this image. Working with the physical copy you can clearly see one of the originals from the previous post hanging on the wall.

I am working on getting a clearer scan of that page to see if I can match any more of the extant pieces with the Art Department’s studio. I am hoping against hope that the one he is working on in this photo is one of the originals, but I fear I may have already used up my allotment of luck for this project.

Before I show the few matching pieces that I have found I want to share a little about the magazine itself. As its title suggests it is a magazine for men and women who sell. Sell what, exactly? And to whom? The mid twenties saw a rise in the traveling salesman and this magazine was a trade magazine of sorts to those enterprising enough to go door to door. Even if you’ve never been visited by a brush or vacuum cleaner salesman, you know there kind. This is exactly what Daffy Duck was doing representing the various head offices in Walla Walla, Washington. It wasn’t just a television trope.

Among the short stories illustrated by Shead and a handful of others there were scores of advertising pages providing dealer direct stock of men and women’s clothing, fountain pens, pocket watches, and even fire extinguishers. It is basically a magazine full of all the things that are relegated to the backs of most magazines today.

With nearly 9 more years to round out the 20s I do not know when or if I will be able to complete the decade an further to see when Shead’s final piece appeared, but there is more than enough here to attest to the profound productivity during his time in Indiana. In the 14 issues that I have catalogued Shead produced 84 illustrations and the all their covers.

For every one of the originals that are still in the portfolio there are several that exist as illustrations only. Some are part of the same stories, others are dispersed throughout countless other stories.

Shead’s illustration surrounding this poem “The Gallant Salesman” also shows that his animal scenes were just as good as any of those featuring people. It would be almost a decade before his subjects took him back to Norman to the campus museum and into prehistory.

As a final though on Shead’s work and to tie it all back around to his work at the Stovall museum and where I first encountered him, there is a marvelous collection of images that are all part of the same  project. Throughout this project besides breaking through some of the obscurity of the man and his work, I have been able to see his watercolor study, the plaster Marquette (which it turns out are not his), and a beautiful black and white photo of the finished diorama as it ran in The Oklahoman in 1952. 

Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum
Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum


Original Oklahoman Caption: “”big game hunter Frank buck has nothing on Dr. J. Willis Stovall, director of the museum at the University of Oklahoma, with the possible exception of Buck’s “Big’em back alive” slogan.” Photo Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society

R.B. Shead: Pre-Museum Years

Several days after visiting with Ralph’s great nephew, Bill, he called me to say he had found a small watercolor study for one of the old museum dioramas and a few charcoal studies that Ralph had done as a student and others that were originals submitted as accompanying illustrations for short stories.

I was finally able to go back with my camera and take better photos of the paintings as well as look at these new finds. Those “few” sketched turned out to be an enormous century-old portfolio filled with over 100 pieces of art that Ralph had done either for story illustrations, studies, or magazine cover layouts. I was in awe.

The magazine covers were layout for The Specialty Salesman: The National Inspirational Monthly for Men and Women who Sell. The earliest cover layout was the January 1924 issue. I have no idea if these are the same ones that include the illustrations, but I have three years worth (12 months collectively bound) requested through interlibrary loan to find out.

Other covers included a music journal and an advertising flyer for the ad service that Ralph was working for in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The nudes and studies are not dated but could be from his time as a student at the University of Oklahoma. The earliest dated piece is from 1916 which was Ralph’s senior year at OU. The architectural details (Cherokee Gothic) reveal that it is somewhere on campus.

R.B. Shead 1916

Most of the illustrations, when dated, are 1925 and 1926. These make up the bulk of the portfolio, which, incidentally survived the house burning down in 1937. Flipping through these huge (18×24 inches) original illustrations was something that doesn’t happen every day, and all could have easily been lost 80 years ago.  In addition to just being great artwork, the instructions for the engraver and printer were included on many including the finished sizes for printing, the largest being a mere 8.25 inches.

There a a few pastels and watercolors among the monotones as well.

One of the watercolors ties back into Shead’s museum work. It is a watercolor sketch for one of the many dioramas he painted for the Stovall Museum at the University of Oklahoma starting around 1933. Shead created these Leptomeryx plaster models for reference.

Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum
Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum

Finally, in the back of the giant portfolio was a “regular” sized sketchbook. The remaining sketch pages were all landscape studies from the 1940s complete with the color descriptions for painting– things like “pinkish bluff” and “light purplish bluff.” Many of these are recognizable areas for anyone who frequents the Southwest. Most specifically the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico. 

The Sandia Mountain sketch is dated September 1948 which means this enormous portfolio spans at least 32 years of work including Shead’s time as an OU  art student, his work as a professional advertising and illustration artist, his return back to Norman and his unfathomable amount of artwork at the museum, and, likely, the personal landscapes that adorn the walls of his home. Such a corpus of work, in addition to the fact that nearly anything at the Stovall Museum with paint on it was his, proves that R.B. Shead is fantastically more than the few sentences dedicated to him in the “official” university histories.

Shead Geologic Map

To continue from the end of the previous post, this will just highlight the largest painting completed by Ralph B. Shead. This Oklahoma Geologic Map is dated 1938, making it another in the line of WPA paintings.

Age and renovation have taken a toll on something that was never meant to last this long. It was another of those bygone works marked for disposal.  Preliminary talks are underway on how to get it restored/preserved, where it should hang after, and how to maintain it in the meantime. Maybe we can do something broadly inclusive like a crowdfunding campaign. The thing itself is a logistical nightmare measuring approximately 10×14 feet. It appears to have been painted with acrylic paint, so I am not sure if restoration is an option, it may just be a preservation issue with a coat of sealant to prevent anymore paint loss or damage.

These are just raw camera images I have taken in order to try and do some digital repairs on it myself. As soon as Photoshop is working again on my work laptop I will get right on that. Until then, enjoy this enormous map with scenes of Oklahoma farm and industry surrounding it.

digitally manipulated image with adjusted perspective for a full on front shot. Digitally restoring this is going to be more difficult than I anticipated.