Bringing dinosaurs and human ancestors to life through art

Using data from dissections and the study of fossils, award-winning paleo-artist John Gurche recreates through art how dinosaurs and early human ancestors might have appeared. His work has been featured in National Geographic, on postage stamps, in “Jurassic Park” and more. Video produced and shot by Christine Lantz and Tina Reinhard and edited by Christine Lantz, WSKG Public Broadcasting.

As a kid, John Gurche was fascinated by fossils and dinosaurs. His early drawings of his childhood interests paved the way for his career as a paleo-artist, using data to inform his artistic renderings of what dinosaurs and early human ancestors may have looked like.

“You’re building this thing based on numbers that you generated, based on dissections and so forth, study of the fossils,” said Gurche, “but the cumulative result of all of those decisions gives you a face to look at. We humans use faces as identity markers and it’s really like you’re discovering who this person is and that’s very exciting.”

His art has graced the covers of National Geographic, Discover and Natural History magazines. He has created sculptures for the Smithsonian, the Field Museum in Chicago and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He painted the 1989 dinosaur stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. And he’s also widely known for his work on the 1993 movie “Jurassic Park.”

“You study something, it’s very exciting. You may publish about it, you may do scientific work, but somehow it’s not quite enough,” said Gurche. “To actually give vent to some of the aesthetic feelings that come from the field, which are rich in this case, you have to venture into the realm of art.”

Local Beat is a weekly series on Art Beat that features arts and culture stories from PBS member stations around the nation.