MNCH puts a feathered friend on display in new dino exhibit

Artist conception of avian dinosaurs

Archaeopteryx was an early bird that probably didn’t care much for worms, but it certainly was no ugly duckling.

Visitors to the UO’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History can see for themselves when they meet this mysterious feathered dinosaur at “Dinosaurs Take Flight: The Art of Archaeopteryx.” The new exhibit opens Jan. 19.

The traveling exhibit, organized by Silver Plume Exhibitions and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, tells the story of the dinosaur Archaeopteryx, whose fossils bridge the evolutionary gap between dinosaurs and modern birds.

Through original works by six paleoartists along with real fossil specimens and hands-on activities, visitors can delve into the world of Archaeopteryx and learn how art can help piece together ancient clues left in the fossil record.

“My greatest desire is to excite the imagination and sense of wonder we all have about the natural world and about the fascinating creatures and worlds that exist now and in the past,” said Mark Hallett, one of the featured artists.

At the exhibit’s grand opening celebration, set for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 19 and 20, visitors of all ages can create dinosaur crafts, participate in science activities and solve paleontology puzzles from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

While sharing some characteristics of the meat-eating raptor dinosaurs, Archaeopteryx was rather less fearsome. It was about the size of a raven and weighed in at about 2 pounds, most likely allowing it to fly or at least glide through the late Jurassic Era landscapes 150 million years ago.

It was the first dinosaur with feathers to be discovered, back in 1860, and at the time was thought to be the earliest member of the lineage that would go on to become modern birds. Later discoveries knocked it off that perch, but Archaeopteryx remains one of the most well-known dinosaur species even if it hasn’t yet starred in a Hollywood blockbuster.

Alongside Hallett’s scientific illustrations, visitors to the Archaeopteryx exhibit can view lifelike digital paintings of dinosaurs created by Canadian artist Julius Csotonyi as well as bronze sculptures by renowned artist Gary Staab, whose giant Columbian mammoth sculptures are now on permanent view in the museum’s courtyard.

Recognizing that every artist starts somewhere, the traveling exhibit includes childhood artwork by each of the featured artists, offering visitors a look into how they developed their respective styles and derived inspiration from the fossil record.

“Dinosaurs Take Flight” will be on view at the museum through May 19.

—By Andrea Willingham, Museum of Natural and Cultural History