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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Many of these wonderful pieces were painted by San Diego Barbara Hoopes. You can learn more about her at her website Barbaraambler.com. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Mandy.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For me, History is filled with people and things. I have never really indulged in the movements and theories and isms that seem to infect the past presently. For a historian this is a professional character defect, for me it is what brings history alive and allows us to find our connections to it. It is likely why I spent so much time learning archaeology and paleontology. I believe it is ultimately what lead me to the history of science so I could talk about all of that at once.
When I first came to OU and was getting settled across campus with the few people I had some connection with I was shown around the Sam Noble Natural History Museum. On the second floor back in the hallway to the VP lab and collections there are these two enormous paintings (13.5 feet long by 3.5 feet high). After taking in the scale and content of these behemoths I immediately looked for the signature. “Ralph B. Shead ’42” and “Ralph B. Shead ’34 (or 39 it is obscured by the frame I believe it is 34).
Who was this artist? What else had he done, and why was he doing these things at this scale? This was years before I started the digitization and scanning project and information was slow in coming. I wouldn’t even find a photo of him for 2 years. When I started scanning and updating an internal manuscript on the history of the museum I gleaned a little more information.
You can see how hard it is to piece this stuff together. Langston missed Shead’s retirement by a few years which is understandable because Langston was working at the National Museum of Canada from 1954-62. Shead stayed at the Museum until 1960 or 61 and he wan’t simply the museum artist. In addition to his museum technician and painting work he served as the Oklahoma sate superintendent for the WPA during the 30s (when the bulk of his work was completed). The WPA records and receipts over in our Western History Collection indicate that some paint and supplies were purchased as part of the “Fossil Bones” project making at least the two paintings upstairs technically WPA art. Through some interesting turn of events another giant (13-footer) painting now resides down at the Texas A&M Biodiversity Heritage prep lab. The irony behind this is that its subject matter is Norman’s native (Permian) son–the Cotylorhynchus.
The Cotylorhynchus painting falls under the WPA years as well and was complete with the aid of a plaster or clay model he created.
Shead also created other plaster models for reference, and I believe he was the one who fashioned/oversaw the plaster for the Procamelus (now Aepyicamelus) skeletal reconstruction that accompanied the skull until it disintegrated.
The bulk of Shead’s work predates the formation of the WPA by a year. They were the “missing” and then “rehomed” paints from the previous two posts. They are also impressive in scale and scope as well, and add three more paleontology paintings to Shead’s portfolio. Ralph’s great-nephew told me that the marine reptiles mural wasn’t one of Ralph’s. Conrad said he was certain that it was a signed just as the Mammoth was, of course the place where his signature would have been was unfortunately damaged when it was removed from the wall. It doesn’t look quite like other works by Shea, and was painted on sheetrock and not canvass like Shed’s other works, but he did paint most everything that was in the museum. If anyone out there has a photo of this with the signature intact please send it along.
The moving of these paintings led to some renewed interest in some old emails and leads that were passed to me for follow up. Chasing down contacts I was able to locate the final “missing” mural that I was aware of living peacefully over in the Geology Graduate offices in Sarkey’s. It is another of Shead’s giants too, this one of a Carboniferous landscape painted in 1938 (during the WPA funded period)
There were also some Shead paintings reportedly hanging out in the microbiology department so I went in search for them. There were three, two in an classroom/lab and one in the herbarium office. These were as surprising as the marine reptile mural because I had never seen mention or reference of them. I photographed them to add to my ever-growin Shead dossier. When I was processing the images later that evening I noticed that there were no signatures on the microscope or fungi ones, but I assumed they had been covered by the frame (looking back now I don’t think that is the case, I just need to look harder).
The other one was even more surprising because while it is a Shead painting, it wan’t painted by Ralph.
I had no idea there *was* a Robert Shead and that added a whole new layer to the simple project of documenting Ralph B. Shead’s work. I found even less on Robert Shead (1908-1999) than his older brother Ralph. Robert had a son who ended up working at an internationally acclaimed interior design firm in Dallas. That son’s, (David LaForge Shead) obituary outlined his work followed in his parents’ footsteps studying art and design at OU. I haven’t been able to track down Robert’s years at OU yet. William Shead confirmed all this and added that Robert had a lucrative interior design company in Oklahoma City. He even served as a designer during his war service years, boasting that he has designed the interior of MacArthur’s private plane. He also confirmed that the fungi and the microscope were Robert Shead paintings and not Ralph’s.
Ralph however received his certificate of art in 1916, 14 years before Stovall arrived at the university, and became *the* name associated with all things museum and paleontology related. David Levy’s The University of Oklahoma: A History, Volume II 1917-1950 only mentions Shead in a single sentence: “Ralph Shead, a professional artist who became a long time employee of the museum, designed displays and created historic murals.” (214). At least two of which include a Jurassic scene and the background for the oreodon exhibit. Not only did Shead paint the background but he did the figure sculpting for the diorama as well.
Pretty short-shrift for someone who produced four 13+ foot paintings, three slightly smaller ones, and served as acting director of the museum between 1952 and 54 (Stovall died in 1953) after the “new” Museum was opened in 1951.
The paleontology paintings aren’t even the largest scale that Shead worked with while painting at OU. There is an enormous geological map of Oklahoma painted with various labor scenes around it that I will be spending some time with next week photographing more completely and attempting to do some digital repairs on it.
Shead wasn’t bound to the art studio during his tenure at the museum. As WPA superintendent part of his work included accompanying the visitors and press to sites worked under WPA funding. Here here is during the “This Project Pays your Community” public tour week in the Cimarron County Dinosaur Quarry.
Similarly, Shead’s fieldwork was not simply administrative. There were times when Shead as a “museum technician” was involved in the dirt of the excavation, and like his paintings he worked with dinosaurs and extinct mammals.
Later in 1941 Shead published a 7 page informational booklet on the Bear Zuni Fetishes from the Spiro Mounds archaeological excavations. Spiro was another scientific University WPA project. OU Anthropology students Shawn Lambert and Lucius Martin presented a poster highlighting the OU WPA artists and their illustrations for the Spiro project and publications. Interestingly this poster hangs in the same paleontology hall as the first two Shead paintings that I saw.
While I was working on this collection of Shead work, I contacted his great nephew William who not only lives in Norman, but lives at the original Shead address. The original house burned in the 1930s and the current house is a gorgeous faux adobe Mexican colonial partially designed by Ralph with the interior designed by Robert. It is definitely my favorite house in Norman.
I spent the afternoon surrounded by even more of Ralph’s art in his old house catching up on the Shead family history which is as fascinating as I had figured and in a surreal way similar to threads of my mother’s side of my family. Just to add all the smaller pieces of Shead’s work here to what is part of the University it is obvious that Shead painted all the time. Some of these landscapes are from the areas in the panhandle area which William said Shead really liked. I am going to make it a habit of visiting more often and next time I will have my big camera, but for now, having all of Ralph’s extant work together, even if it is just digitally. is a pretty fulfilling feat. There is at least one more that was given to a family psychologist friend. Either set of these would be an impressive portfolio, when lumped together is simply staggering.
Most are normal “house-art” sized (16×20 or so) except the Mexican scene, it is at least 48×60. I want to try and get some better photos of at least that one for a print.
I don’t know much more about the artist that was born in New Madrid, Missouri in 1892; What was he up to between 1916 and 1933 when he started painting for Stovall and the museum? Shead’s WWI draft card lists him as a school teacher in Jenks in June of 1917. William said he thought Shead was pursuing a master’s degree in art in Indiana before the family called him home to help during the depression. A few newspapers have him exhibiting art at the Herron Art Museum and the Indiana State Fair. He is mentioned as living in Indianapolis with his brother Walter (newspaper reporter) in the reports of Laurance’s death in 1933. An article in the Inianapolis Star (January 8, 1935) lists Shead as having attended Washington University in St. Louis, MO, the Grand Central School of art, and the School of Design in New York. It mentions his OU museum murals and a potrait of Bishop Francis Kelly of the Catholic diocese of Tulsa and Oklahoma City which all seem to have been completed in 1934.
His plans to return to Indianapolis in 1935 changed when he became the WPA Oklahoma state superintendent that same year. When the WPA folded, Shead became the assistant director of the University Museum, serving as “acting director” from 1952 to 1954 when the Hungarian-born archaeologist Stephan Francis Borhegyi took over the museum directorship.
According to William Eugene Hollon’s A History of the Stovall Museum of Science and History (1956), during the late 1940s through the early years of the 1950s Shead was the only full-time museum employee. He serve as assistant director and head of exhibit preparation at the renamed Stovall Museum until he retired in 1960. He continued to paint the rest of his life finally laying down his brush in 1969.
Shead is buried next to his parents and brother (not Robert) in the the St. Joseph’s Catholic section of the Norman IOOF cemetery on Porter St. in Norman, less than 50 yards from J. Willis Stovall and his wife. There is an American Legion medallion next to his headstone. There were even a story tied to the headstone.
The large Shead stone was created by Shead’s father James. He was skilled with concrete and decorative planters and birdbaths are part of the front garden at the house.
The family stories are not without tragedy either. The brother Laurance that is buried here was a fairly successful theatre manager at the Garden Theatre in Paterson, New Jersey who was known to help anyone down on there luck. One such patron, a prospective singer from Georgia named Louis Kenneth Neu took advantage of his kindness, accompanied Laurance to his apartment for a party, and eventually hit him from behind with an iron and stole his wallet. Laurance died of his injuries and Ney was later apprehended and executed in New Orleans for the murder of Laurence Shead and a wealthy Tennessee businessman.
Their mother Mary is, so far, the longest-lived Shead, and her story ties the family to one of the most significant geological stories in North America. Her Father’s Grandfather, a LaForge survived the New Madrid Earthquake only to catch pneumonia from wading through the slush that was once his farmland when the Mississippi River flooded. He later succumbed to his illness ultimately making him another victim of the quake.
His surviving work is impressive by any standard, and that isn’t taking into account all the already (really) lost “displays” and “historic murals” that served as backdrops for all the dioramas throughout the museum. His work isn’t simply art or background, paleontology or archaeology. His work crisscrossed all aspects of the museum, its collections, and ever expanding subject areas (which I think is why I have been drawn to finding out more about him). They also remain some of the strongest physical links to the history of the university museum outside of the collection artifacts themselves.
Continuing with the Scooby Doo theme here I get to update one of the most exciting stories that has happened since my time here. You remember my last lament of the missing murals? Well guess what isn’t “missing” anymore!
This is far more than a “ta-da” story and I need to explain about the use of “” above missing. Through the years and many renovations and relocations things get shuffled and repurposed. Such was the case of the old museum storage facility. When the University Landscape Management HQ and shop moved into the old building there were four large paintings standing in the corner stacked against each other.
Luckily, Conrad Zindel, a 17-year-old temp worker in 1997 liked them enough to hang them in their break room (which I am convinced is the only reason they’ve survived intact/ this long/at all). This is why I used the “” earlier, because for me they were missing, but for Conrad, after going full-time, they are something that he has seen every day for the last 20 years!
Recent renovations for their building meant they had to come down and they would not be re-installed. It was this news that drove his wife Brandy and her sister Kimberley Cloud to hit the internet where, as luck, would have it, she hit on my most recent blog post here. I can’t describe the excitement when her comment hit “I know where these paintings are.” I dropped everything and directed her to contact me through my Paleo Porch facebook page and we started figuring out how to orchestrate the rehoming of these nearly 85-year-old paintings. It culminated with me meeting Conrad at his shop not long after I came into work.
They were coming to install sheetrock in the area where they were temporarily stored so we had to act quickly (in fact they started installing it while we were moving the last one!). Thankfully everyone who could do anything about it was on campus that morning, and through the course of the day the two largest ones were taken down the the museum. The two smaller (relatively speaking) paintings were taken to Conrad and his wife Brandy’s house lest they be stepped on or damaged in some other way and they–including the mammoth one that started this whole adventure–will be re-homed this coming week and I will update this post some higher quality images than the ones that Brandy sent me online as soon as I get them.
This wasn’t just a case of missing/found, only 2 of the four were on the list of the ones I knew existed. The other two, one large and one smaller, were both new to me and terribly exciting. At the time of writing I only have images of the one that was indeed a mural–painted on Sheetrock–and the other large canvas. But look at this classic marine reptile scene! Now I need to try and backtrack the historical side of things and see what I can find out about it. Since this piece was done directly on sheetrock it took a little damage when it was removed, losing Shead’s signature and the date (another 1934!) But it is absolutely stunning.
The other one was even more extraordinary as it wasn’t a painting by Shead, but one by J. Willis Stovall himself! I have only seen a corner of it featuring Polar Bears from an photo Brandy sent me through facebook.
It was a red letter day, and will be even more exciting this week when the other two are able to join their old roommates down at the museum.
I love everything about this story, how they were not really lost, how the timing hit to get them moved quickly, but mostly how it was my silly little blog post that helped orchestrate it. It just goes to show you what can happen when the doors of communication are opened as far as humanly possible. I am confident that there would be no other way that this would have played out so positively had it not been for my silly blogging that Brandy and her sister Kimberley found on my website in an internet search. As an archaeologist and historian I am beyond thrilled that they’ve been “found,” as a paleontologist and historian of science, I am excited about the historic representations of these scenes, and as someone who likes good stories I am beyond elated that this one played out like it did.
The conversations that this has started have also proved fruitful. Since then I have been able to ascertain that another of Shead’s paintings currently lives in the Texas A&M Biodiversity Heritage prep lab and that he was commissioned for another 5 murals related to biology and they are on campus in two different buildings which I fully intend to find in the next episode, which I think will give me enough for a full post on the artist Ralph B. Shead. Until then, I can shift pop culture references and say that this part of the case is solve-ed!
Some time back (2 years!) I began a project at our natural history museum to scan, digitize, archive, collect all of the images and negatives that were in our Vertebrate Paleontology collection. Thousands of images later a couple things really stand out: The importance of the WPA in the growth of out collections (see WPAleontology) and a couple of large paintings had disappeared since the late 30s and early 40s.
Ralph Shead was the painter and more than one link in the WPA paperwork trail throughout his tenure at the museum. There are two of his enormous murals hanging upstairs on the Paleo floor (off public display). You may recognize the layout of the one, he copied the styles of some of the more famous Peabody productions. I particularly like the IguanoFonz.
Working through all of the old photographs of the old museum on campus I began to see bits other artwork captured in the background such as the bottom of this mammoth mural just above the Procamelus reconstruction. This was the bottom of the painting, I had seen the corner of in the photo at the top.
A quick aside: everything but the skull here was plaster and disintegrated during a move, the skull is currently on display in the museum and it is now Aepyicamelus)
Back to the murals. Armed with bits of the scene like the one above I started trying to track down where it could be. From the available scale clues, this one is about 4×6 feet, but that is just a guess. One of the photos appears to show it as a canvas, and no where is is shown frames like the others, so it could have been rolled up and forgotten I suppose. I have had no luck tracking it down, but I did manage to find better photos of the entire thing.
While I was trying to track down the mammoth mural I found copies of two more murals that are also MIA. They appear to be the same size as the two extant murals in the Paleo hallway and if that is the case they are somewhere in the vicinity of 4×12 feet. They also show the same wooden frames on them.
Our vert paleo curator said that he thought the Carboniferous Forest one had been sent to one of the Texas Panhandle colleges years ago (before he got there). I contacted the collections managers at Texas Tech and the Panhandle Plains museum, but neither knew anything about them.
The final one is my favorite and the one I am most sad we don’t have. I would love to see it in the real in full color glory. There isn’t even a full good quality photo of the entire thing. Just the bad xerox copy, and some details. I don’t know the date on the mammoths or the carboniferous forest but in the detail of the Pliocene horses you can see a 3, so it was done in the 30s. The two extant ones were completed in 34 and 41 (the frame obscures the final digit in the dates, but this is what they appear to be), so it is likely they were all produced around the same time. The WPA receipts in the Western History Collection show paints and supplies so these are in fact WPA murals.
This is one of those times I really wish my readership was large enough to get hundreds of eyes looking for these. There may not be a living soul that knows anything about them, but there may be someone who has seen them and doesn’t know how they got there. They both appear to have been hanging somewhere above a wainscot, possibly in what was the first or second iteration of the museum. I hold out hope that they are still somewhere, and I suppose summer is the best time to go Scooby Doo-ing around the old buildings to try and find them.
It is amazing what you can do with an extra half-day off. This is half of the emergent specializations set, the other being Anthropology and Paleoanthropology. In this case it covers the development of paleontology from natural philosophy, through the interested gentleman scholar/statesman/parson through to its full professionalization in the beginning of the 20th century. There is no delineation of what comes from which book this week as they mostly say the same things, they only structure the order somewhat differently or go into farther in one life or another.
Let’s start as our early geologists have: In the Beginning…The books I have reabsorbed here do not concern themselves with the birth og geology per se, but it is useful to frame what happens first before jumping into what happens next. Gentleman naturalists. Men of means with an insatiable curiosity (usually) rivaled only by their families purse are the progenitors of our “geologists.” The irony of this is the amount of time these drawing room men would spend in the field, on the coast, in early stages of canal building, mud pits, mines, caves and taverns caverns.
Some of the earliest cross class relationships develop between the collector with a cabinet of curiosity and a working class man in the field or, more often, a mine or quarry. Nothing less than answering the broadest questions about the earth’s history is their duty and charge. Their approaches reveal much about their backgrounds. Catastrophists and Neptunist are the camps that Early Modern practitioners tended to raise their flags. At the most broad level they were earth’s historians looking at the vast petrified pages of the archive preserved in the countryside.
Steno lays down the sediment in order, all flat and uniformly, then converts to catholicism and moves to northern Europe letting the rest of Europe fight it out. William Smith (a working canal-man) notices that the layers can be matched with an order of fossil shells, and producing a “map that changes the world.”
Paleontology, and in this case vertebrate paleontology goes one farther to answer questions about enormous bones that are obviously not just natural stone shapes mimicking living organisms. On the American side of things, which is where I am situated–geographically, socially, and intellectually–the bones were reported by European colonists very early. Some, such as mammoth teeth, were identified by African slaves as elephant. Others were less easily identified, but neither were exactly easy to explain.
Thomas Jefferson was fashioning a bulwark against Buffon’s accusations of New World degeneration with American (vertebrate) paleontology. A giant (neé mega) claw from a cave is first described as a large American lion. TJ here is an interesting case with more involvement in the Enlightenment arguments of Europe than others of his day. John Adams was notoriously uninterested in giant bones as there were more important matters of state and nation at hand. Jefferson, like many deists of the time, could not fathom the idea of extinction. Nature was perfect and balanced and there most definitely were the American mammoths (actually mastodons) living in the vast expanses of the North American continent including the Louisiana Purchase.
The biggest question about any of these bones were “what are they?” Taken as a whole it was up to the anatomists of the day to make the distinction, and even they didn’t agree on what the similarities and differences meant. Richard Owen was of the Archetype mind which works on sort of a single blueprint with modifications for different animals idea. The reason that bats have the same bones in their wings as humans have in their hands and whales have in their fins is because they are all forms from the same archetype. Others were trying to work out a more encompassing theory and throughout the mid 19th century variations on this theme peg all along the spectrum as Darwin’s Origin ushers in a more compartmentalized theory. Is there a difference in an Archetype and a common ancestor? That depends on who you asked in the 1850s, which depended greatly on the answerers socio-economic class, political and religious affiliations, and to a great extent what the person they hated believed (see previous post).
Rudwick’s book looks at the visual aspect of not only Theories of the Earth but of the emergent descriptors of paleontology (just assume at this point when I write that I mean “vertebrate paleontology”). The illustrations themselves stem from the biblical tradition–namely putting everything possible into single image a la all those edenic scenes you are familiar with. That is almost still the case as you see a version of the Eocene with hundreds of creatures flittering about a waterhole that would never be there together if things were so green and lush. This may be practical in the case that you get as much mileage from your one or two illustrations or mural as you can, or it may be implicit nods to the biblical roots. I think it is more the former.
Publications came with illustrations too. Many, like those of Caspar Wistar, were done with an anatomist’s eye and an artists’ sensibilities. This standard was invaluable when new bones were discovered and needed to be identified. That Americans had to rely on European (mainly French and British) sources caused more than a little indignation. There was a good reason to market the American Mammoth (again mastodon) as a carnivorous giant and let the mega-claw (Megalonyx) lie after Wistar described it as a giant sloth and not a lion. This was part of nation building. I have been compiling notes on this idea of “Our Founding Fossils”™ and fossils as national identity for years now, but never enough to actually put anything together besides lists of names, dates, locations. This back and forth continued for most of the first half of the 19th century with oddities here and there trotted out by Owen or Cuvier in order to explain in support of one theory and, more often, an attack on another.
The second half of the century opens up the American West and the paleontology game entirely. Dinosaurs had already been discovered and described by the time the west was open. Mantell’s mighty megalosaurus and Leidy’s New Jersey hadrosaur aren’t as famous as the Dinosaurs of Crystal Palace but they are as old, and in some ways more important outside of the public display arena.
The bones that came to Philadelphia for Leidy to describe were far from a trickle, but the amount of prehistoric fossils that were shipped back east in the last two decades of the 19th century can hardly be fathomed. It is amongst this generational shift we see the terms of paleontology shift from collecting, naming, and describing that was so admirably done by Leidy, to a more theory driven undertaking.
Edward Cope and O.C. Marsh not only turn the tap on the firehose of fossil work up, the manage to knock the entire hydrant off the street corner and the geyser of their discoveries, animosities, and students fall out all over the discipline. That much has been said about the Bone Wars would be understatement. Much of that has been from the journalistic style or from paleontologists themselves. Historians of science have yet to really peel away the generational veneer to see what it means for American Science. That the fued spilled over into a younger generation and the Cope-Marsh battle regenerated, or at least continued, in the Hayden-Powell hostilities. When viewed together these become microcosms for the struggles between independent and government funded work. Marsh and Powell working for the USGS and Cope and Hayden working for themselves, the university, or smaller society. Whichever side you choose one of the most striking things is that when Cope was approached to prove what was his and what belonged to his backers his meticulous notes allowed him to maintain ownership of fossils collected with his own money. Marsh on the other hand faced government funding backlash over birds with teeth (which incidentally was paleontologically and evolutionarily more important than Archaeopteryx ) that the appropriations committee called for an audit. When Marsh, who saw the entire undertaking as his couldn’t adequately prove what was his and what belonged to the Peabody or the USGS, he lost most of his collection. (If your German is up to par you can enjoy this German musical of their feud)
As the 20th century dawned many of the Eastern Universities and any museum worth its salt had a collection of extinct animals. Funding was still an issue and expeditions had to be underwritten by weatlhy patrons, committees, or museum boards. The American Museum led the charge with Osborn (firmly #TeamCope) oversaw huge developments in paleontology while taking over the museum directorship and moving Columbia from College to University. His political connections and personal family wealth (railroad money) aided him in ways other directors and paleontologists could only dream. The Field Museum benefactor was tighter with the purse strings not only due to a less than rabid interest in bones, but a more logical concern of building places to house the reconstructions that had become so popular.
Carnegie financed his own expeditions and it paid off. With the discovery of a giant sauropod (diplodocus carnegii) Carnegie attempted to cash in on the popularity of the reconstructions and museums. Multiple casts of the diplodocus were sent to the main institutions in Europe to display in their main atria. With a dinosaur Carnegie tried to privatize world peace. It almost worked.
One of the reasons that the Cope and Marsh debacle is so well known outside the discipline is because the professionalization of their field occurred at the same time that the popularization of science was taking off. The Penny Press was well established by the time the Bone Wars heated up. Both men would have grown up with newspapers as staples of life. Cope had kept just as meticulous notes on Marsh’s calumnies and other errors (he had a folder labeled “Marshinalia”) Marsh notoriously would not allow his assistants to publish and was slow paying them. Many quit after Cope aired their grievances in the public press. What does this who episode reveal, is Marsh ye olde guard only threatened by Cope because he was evenly matched with family money or do the two reflect something else? Do they have to serve as avatars of larger social conditions in US science for their story to have meaning? Wither way, when the time was right Cope took his notes to the paper. The debate raged for weeks in the paper, each accusing the other of misdealing, misidentification, misdeeds, and missing the point.
For paleontology, anthropology, etc. popularization was part and parcel of professionalization. The only difference between H. F. Osborn and P.T. Barnum was Osborn was their approach to science as education versus entertainment. That, and Barnum’s penchant for humbugs which, I suppose, isn’t any worse than Osborn’s positive eugenics and anti-immigration stance in the 1920s. (more on this is a later post, but I want to foreshadow it now because I am feeling particularly clever making this connection in print). In fact, Barnum fits as neatly between Charles Wilson Peale and Osborn as Cope, and in many ways moreso. This also leads to the popular press adoring people like Osborn and his protege (and employee) Roy Chapman Andrews. Andrews’ popular books continue to influence children today because they are given as gifts from parents or grandparents as a continuation of that wonder and excitement they felt when reading it for the first time.
It should come as no surprise that this whole section is steeped in Romanticism. Many of the authors here talk about the dual nature of the paleontologist in the field vs the lab. They are the frontiersman in the badlands and the pinnacle of modern science back east. It is a timeshare in the greatest areas of American culture. What they don’t do, mainly because they don’t delve that far into it (except Rainger) is split the distinction once again between the paleontologist trained in geology and those trained biology. Most assume that geologically trained paleontologists are those that work with the invertebrates. This distinction is true but lacks totality. Modern distinctions, if they have a place here, are geologists in the field and biologist in the lab (comparative anatomy). This is a continuation of the professionalization that because somewhere between Leidy and Cope/Marsh.
The biggest boon to American paleontology (and geology more generally) is the size of the continent and Manifest Destiny that pushed the country across it entirely. Once railroads were established field work within ones own country offered many more acres than was available to the British, French, or Germans, even taken internationally. The geography also offered more in the way of diversity of species as well as geological phenomena. Even Lyell had to visit and suggested that to truly understand the history of the earth one had to visit the United States. American geology proffered a locality for nearly each one available in Europe and in some cases even more amazing finds, from giant six-horned mammals to Tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops, stegosaurs, and sauropod. The bones from the American West were incredible in size and importance. They could not, or weren’t found in Europe. To study them European paleontologists has to visit the United States museums and universities. American paleontologists were leading the whole of the discipline and were the experts parexcellance in the prehistoric world. This was a complete turnaround from the arrangement that existing when Jefferson read his Mega-Claw paper at the American Philosophical Society.
In many ways this happened within Osborn’s lifetime (1857-1935). In fact, Osborn’s death in 1935 just missed the first rejuvenation of government funding of paleontological field expedition in the form of WPA projects overseen by universities with the federal government supplying pay for manpower.
Readings for this section:
Paul Brinkman, The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush: Museums and Paleontology in America at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
Claudine Cohen (trans William Rodarmor). The Fate of the Mammoth: Fossils, Myths, and History (University of Chicago Press, 2002) Specifically Chapter 5.
Desmond, Adrian. Archetypes and Ancestors: Paleontology in Victorian London, 1850- 1875 (U of Chicago Pr, 1995)
Url Lanham, The Bone Hunters: The Heroic Age of Paleontology in the American West
Ronald Rainger, An Agenda for Antiquity: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890-1935
Rudwick, Martin. Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World
Thomson, Keith. The Legacy of the Mastodon: The Golden Age of Fossils in America (Yale U Pr, 2008)