Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline” at The Burke Museum, until May 21
Ray Troll has been drawing fossils since he was four years old, based on a plastic dinosaur set his parents gave him. We know that most children go through a “dinosaur phase,” but Ray never came out of it! He says, “My mantra in this whole thing — in fact, we’ve even written songs about it — is that paleo-nerds should be proud of the fact that they are grown men who still love dinosaurs.” So, by the way, he is also a musician.
During COVID 19, Troll started a podcast with David Strassman, a professional ventriloquist and fellow fossil nerd. called Paleo Nerds https://www.paleonerds.com/ This podcast is fascinating and funny, scientific, and speculative, full of curiosity- how did whales go from land animals to the sea, how did that first microorganism of life lead to all the rest. They interview a lot of scientists! I recommend listening while we wait for the exhibition to open.
Troll’s detailed paintings and drawings are both scientific and fanciful, they have been called scientific surrealism. They have titles like Down at the Sockeye Hole One Million Years Ago and Cult of the Crab Concretions. He has worked for years with paleontologist Kirk Johnson, now director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. They drove thousands of miles searching for fossils along the coast of North America. They previously documented the adjacent fourteen states in Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway.
The exhibition includes many of Ray’s detailed paintings, as well as life- size models of dinosaurs, and a light and audio installation. There are mammoth teeth found near Seattle. and a cast of the lower jaw of the Blue Lake Rhino, an Ice Age rhino found in Coulee City Washington. Fossils of flowers, plants, and whales come from the Burke’s own collection and finally we will see “Suciasaurus rex”—Washington’s first and only dinosaur fossil.
Troll never seems to take himself too seriously, his podcast is full of playful asides, but he in partnership with Kirk Johnson, he achieves something impressive: interesting everyone in science and art at the same
At the end of the PaleoNerd podcast no. 2 with Kirk Johnson, he is asked why people don’t believe in facts and science. His answer it is partly just science’s failure to communicate in a way people can understand, but also tribalism, people belonging to a group that believe in alternative views and that is much harder to penetrate. He made a movie called Polar Extremes to move the conversation forward.
Surprisingly, he himself has his roots in a fundamentalist religion, Seventh Day Adventism! How could he become a world-famous paleontologist, Ray asked him? The answer was fascinating: his church didn’t believe in evolution, but they talked about it all the time! So as a child the word and concept became more familiar to him than his friends, none of whom had any contact with the idea since it wasn’t taught in schools.
Paleo Nerds, the podcast talks a lot about geologic time, infinite amounts of time, they stretch our brains and make us realize what an incredibly short time we humans have been here.
Once you start thinking in geologic time, your day-to-day life changes to a tiny, irrelevant blip. I find that idea particularly helpful right now. I think we are all living in a moment of existential change on the planet, so looking at geologic time can remind us that everything changes all the time.
Roger Shimomura “100 Little White Lies” Greg Kucera Gallery OPEN Tuesday to Saturday 10-30- 5:30 212 Third Avenue South January 7-31
Finally, I just learned that the unequalled Pop/Modernist Roger Shimomura opens a new show in early January. He is even discounting work that includes the ex-President!
~Susan Platt, Ph.D.