Tag Archives: sciart

Zoobooks

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 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.

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.

Scooby Doo & the Missing Paleontology Murals

This all started with a mammoth butt.

This is a skull. The butt is at the top right. copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

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.

photo by author
The IguanoFonz  photo by author
photo by author

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.

copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

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)

photo by author
photo by author

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.

copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

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.

copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

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.

copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

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.