The Forgotten Dinosaur Art of Robert T. Bakker
Prehistoric Times|Winter 2021 #136
A renaissance marks a shift in the attitudes and behaviours of an entire society.
Jordan C. Mallon & Darren H. Tanke

It can be hard to pinpoint any one person as the focus of change. But we can try. There were many key players in the so-called ‘dinosaur renaissance’ of the 1960s through ‘80s, a time when people were coming to understand dinosaurs as active, intelligent animals, rather than the dull brutes of inherited wisdom. Some of these included Dr. John Ostrom (1928–2005), who named the speedy predator Deinonychus, and Dr. Peter Galton (1942) who espoused the idea that dinosaurs did not evolve from multiple, independent stocks of reptiles, but rather formed a single, successful evolutionary radiation. Perhaps the man who did the most to cement the ‘new look’ of dinosaurs in the public consciousness was the forward-thinking Dr. Robert (“Bob”) Bakker (1945–)—himself a student of Ostrom’s—who published a series of influential scientific papers and popular books and articles in the ‘70s and ‘80s (not to mention appearances in numerous documentaries), pushing the idea of dinosaurs as “the number one success story in the history of land life”.

Without a doubt, Bob’s influence would not have been so far-reaching were it not for the fact that he is also a gifted artist. His works are universally illustrated in his medium of choice (usually pen and ink), and bring his ideas about dinosaur ecology and behaviour to life. Best known of these, perhaps, is his famous 1967 illustration of Deinonychus in full sprint. His magnum opus The Dinosaur Heresies (1986, William Morrow and Co.) is likewise lavishly illustrated, and any dinosaur aficionado would recognize his work.

Among Bob’s early admirers was Dr. Dale Russell (1937–2019), a vertebrate palaeontologist with the National Museum of Natural Sciences (NMNS, now the Canadian Museum of Nature) who, in 1969, was tasked with the development of a new and long-overdue fossil gallery in Ottawa. Coined “Life through the Ages”, the gallery was intended to walk its audience through Canadian fossil history, beginning with marine invertebrate fossils from the earliest Palaeozoic of British Columbia and culminating with the Quaternary fossils of the Chaplain Sea. At the centre of the hall would be a series of freestanding dinosaur mounts relaying Dale’s ideas about dinosaur ecology and evolution.

Early in the design phase of the gallery, Dale recommended Bob to produce the artwork for the information panels. In July, 1970, Bob received a contract from the NMNS, stipulating that a series of ten restorations be produced—one per month—before May 15 of the following year. These drawings were to compliment planned new exhibits in the Life through the Ages gallery, and were to feature restorations of: (1) Daspletosaurus, a new tyrannosaur coined by Dale in 1970; (2) Dromiceiomimus, a new ostrichmimic dinosaur named by Dale in 1972; (3) Euoplocephalus, an armoured dinosaur; the horned dinosaurs (4) Anchiceratops, (5) Styracosaurus, and (6) Leptoceratops; (7) Hypacrosaurus and (8) Brachylophosaurus, both duck-filled dinosaurs; (9) Stenonychosaurus, a small, brainy dinosaur made famous by Dale; and (10) Thescelosaurus, a small herbivorous biped.

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