Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 44
 
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
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Dinosaurs, Rocks, and Fossils at Morven Reveal Area’s Ancient and Recent History

Dilshanie Perera

Fluorescent rocks, ancient fossils, and the first dinosaur paintings are on view at Morven Museum and Garden as part of its new exhibition, “Rocks & Dinos!

The show is anchored by the work of British naturalist artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894), whose large oil paintings feature dinosaurs, ancient mammals, and landscapes from different geologic eras, and were originally commissioned for Princeton University’s Nassau Hall in the 1870s.

Curator of Exhibitions Anne Gossen, who is also the academic and artistic director, explained at last week’s opening that the exhibit involved over a year of preparation and collaboration between Morven; the New Jersey State Museum, which contributed the fossils; the Sterling Hill Mining Museum and Princeton University Geosciences, which provided the fluorescent rocks; and other individuals and institutions.

Princeton Geosciences Professor Lincoln Hollister said that he was looking in the University’s minerals collection for samples pertaining to the area’s geologic history, when he came across some fluorescents. “They are extremely rare, and unique to the New Jersey mining locality, he added. Combined with the rocks from the Sterling Hill Mining Museum, the display provides a visually striking grand finale to “Rocks & Dinos!

During the show’s inaugural tour, Ms. Gossen noted that Mr. Hawkins began his career in illustration by working on natural history prints, including those for Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, and later became fascinated by dinosaurs.

Each of Mr. Hawkins’ paintings focuses on one time period and one geographic location, including the Cretaceous Period in New Jersey depicting the Hadrosaurus foulkii, which Ms. Gossen characterized as “the dinosaur that changed everything.

Previously, scientists believed that dinosaurs walked on all fours, but with the discovery of the Hadrosaurus skeleton, they realized that some may have stood on two legs. When Mr. Hawkins came to America, he worked with the first group of people to ever mount a dinosaur skeleton upright.

The display of the upright Hadrosaurus skeleton at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences in 1868 spurred “the first American wave of dinosaur mania, Ms. Gossen observed. It was also the second time Mr. Hawkins had spurred dinosaur-related enthusiasm.

The first involved a commission to sculpt life-sized dinosaur models for the World’s Fair in London in 1851, according to Ms. Gossen, that was “the first time most people had come across the concept of a dinosaur.

Mr. Hawkins’s recreations of the creatures were largely based on observations pertaining to bone fragments and comparative anatomy. Ms. Gossen noted that although he “was never trained, he was “inventive, and immensely creative.

“Rocks & Dinos! is on view until Spring 2010 at 55 Stockton Street. Museum hours are Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.morven.org or call (609) 924-8144 ext. 106.

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