The museum has feathered and unfeathered versions of Deinonychus. Both would eat tourists for lunch.
The museum has feathered and unfeathered versions of Deinonychus. Both would eat tourists for lunch.

Dinosaur Museum: Art and Feathers

Field review by the editors.

Blanding, Utah

The link between dinosaurs and birds is now generally recognized, but the details still leave room for debate, and that's where The Dinosaur Museum comes in. The Museum was founded by the late Stephen Czerkas and his wife, Sylvia, who were established paleo-artists and -sculptors before they began asking not only how dinosaurs looked the way they did, but why.

Sylvia Czerkas and non-prehistoric flightless birds.
Sylvia Czerkas and non-prehistoric flightless birds.

"Some of the animals that we thought were dinosaurs are now considered birds," said Sylvia. More specifically, she and Stephen came to the conclusion that some dinosaurs had feathers but weren't birds, some dinosaurs had feathers and were birds, and some dinosaurs that didn't have feathers were birds, too. "Tyrannosaurus... may or may not be a bird," reads one museum display. "It depends on whether T. Rex had an ancestor that could fly. If so, then T. Rex would be a giant flightless bird."

This scales vs. feathers pillow fight is one we'll leave to the experts, but it inspired the Czerkas to painstakingly create several life-size dinosaur models with elaborate plumage. A goggle-eyed Therizinosaurus stands 14 feet tall, with a 20-foot wingspan, and looks like it's dancing in a Jurassic Mummers parade. A pack of six Deinonychus -- cousins of the infamous Velociraptors -- were originally made by the Czerkas with leathery skin; Stephen and Sylvia then went back and outfitted half of them with feathers. "It took us three years," said Sylvia of the plumage makeover, "but in light of the scientific evidence, that's the way they're supposed to look."

Therizinosaurus: its 20-foot-wide wings were tipped with scythe-size claws.
Therizinosaurus: its 20-foot-wide wings were tipped with scythe-size claws.

The Dinosaur Museum also has what Sylvia calls "traditional things," such as giant, mounted skeletons; a mummified Edmontosaurus; and a Pleistocene leg bone that, according to its display, carried a faint whiff of Mammoth when it was unearthed. But the museum's real strength lies in its displays of dinosaur art, ranging from the Czerkas' detailed recreations -- with muscles and skin often sculpted over exact replicas of the bones -- to collections of dinosaur comic books and salt-and-pepper shakers. Displays trace the evolution of dino-depiction from early dragon-skewed scientific art to the iconic model for the T. Rex from the 1964 New York World's Fair. Walls lined with movie posters reacquaint visitors with cult classics such as Reptilicus and Teenage Caveman. Species may perish, but dinosaur love will never go extinct.

Pop culture dinosaurs: comics, collectibles, and a giant croc head from the movie
Pop culture dinosaurs: comics, collectibles, and a giant croc head from the movie "Hook."

Look through the camera, see a recreated scene from the 1933 version of
Look through the camera, see a recreated scene from the 1933 version of "King Kong."

Stephen's early career as a Hollywood dinosaur-maker shaped what Sylvia called "the memorabilia section," with exhibits on pioneering film animators and their dinosaurs, models of famous movie dino-creatures, and a "Men in Suits" display on the sweaty guys who stomped around making Godzilla and Gigantis the Fire Monster. One of the most cherished artifacts in the museum is the tattered Brontosaurus from the 1933 version of King Kong -- a stop-motion model on wheels modified with cables for live-action cinematography (It could be pulled through water while chomping on hapless puppet people). As frightening as the beast may have been in the 1930s, it's even more terrifying now as a half-rusted dino-zombie.

To showcase the magic of composited images, Stephen and Sylvia rebuilt one of the miniature Skull Island sets from King Kong, complete with a matte-glass foreground, a painted backdrop, and a vintage T. Rex model. When visitors peer through a little movie camera bolted to the floor, they see the miniature Tyrannosaurus as a full-size dinosaur -- even if some may be asking, "Is that really a giant flightless bird?"

Stephen died in 2015, but never stopped trying to free paleontology from what he called "the binding influences of preconceived ideas." Sylvia carries on the mission, with a museum staff on hand to explain avian characteristics and dermal spines to novices like us, and regularly dust the feathers. "Scientifically, it's very important," said Sylvia of the museum's tufted creatures. "If new information comes out, you must change your mind, no matter what."

Dinosaur Museum: Art and Feathers

The Dinosaur Museum

Address:
754 South 200 West, Blanding, UT
Directions:
The Dinosaur Museum. From US Hwy 191/S. Main St. in town, turn west onto 700 S., drive one block, then turn left onto S. 200 W. You'll see the museum ahead, on the right.
Hours:
Apr 15-Oct 15, M-Sa 9-5 (Call to verify)
Phone:
435-678-3454
Admission:
Adults $3.50
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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