When dinosaurs were discovered back in the nineteenth century, paleontology was a dangerous business. The man who named dinosaurs dinosauria — anti-Darwinian paleontologist Richard Owen — asked artist and scientist Benjamin Hawkins to build the first paleontologically-"accurate" sculptures of the creatures. His iguanadon sculptures attracted much fascination and a few enemies, including a corrupt politician and his gang of heavies. We've got the full, freaky back story on Hawkins plus a gallery of the best and worst of dino art.Here's one of Hawkins sculptures, displayed at the greatest dinner party we've ever not been invited to.
Hawkins' love of dinosaurs even got him worked over by some thugs from the U.S. Democratic Party. After coming to America in 1868, Hawkins established a studio on the site of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and went to work on some phenomenal dinosaur sculptures that Cabinet Magazine says attracted the glare of the only Boss that mattered:
Work on the paleozoic museum caught the attention of William "Boss" Tweed, the notorious figurehead of the city's corrupt Democratic political machine, who denounced the project (there was no apparent graft that could be had from an institution built around collecting fossils). Hawkins, a Londoner raised to believe in the virtue of making public declarations at Hyde Park Corner, held a demonstration in support of the museum during which he openly denounced Tweed. That evening, Tweed's henchmen entered Hawkins's studio and destroyed the dinosaur sculptures. Some believe that they buried the shattered fragments in Central Park. To this day, the skeletal remains of Hawkins's American dinosaurs have never been recovered, their iron and brick bones undisturbed for more than a century and a half.
Their problem in part was that Hawkins lacked a complete dinosaur skeleton. Perhaps partial skeletons could give rise to false notions? Even Hawkins himself described dinosaurs as dragons. The Democrats couldn't have people running around thinking there were dragons in Central Park. Misinformation was easy to come by back then. It was a good forty years after the word paleontology was invented that Darwin published The Origin of Species.
Things have come a long way since then, but it was a messy process. Henry A. Ward's 1866 book, Catalogue of Casts of Fossils looks more like The Far Side than a textbook of purported fact.
Successors improved upon the recipe, and include James Gurney, Douglas Henderson, Raul Martin, Luis V. Reys and legendary Czech illustrator Zdenek Burian. Artists like John Conway, Mauricio Antón and Dan Warner even make authenticity a selling point.
A Buried History of Paleontology [Cabinet]