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Mural in Carnegie's T. rex exhibit wins 2009 Lanzendorf PaleoArt award

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Friday, Oct. 16, 2009

A 92-foot mural of prehistoric South Dakota is grabbing global attention for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Oakland.

The Philadelphia couple who "painted" the mural -- Tess Kissinger and Bob Walters, both age 60 -- also are $600 richer after winning the 2009 John J. Lanzendorf PaleoArt Prize.

Their award-winning "Hell Creek Formation" mural backs the "T. rex vs. T. rex" display in the Oakland museum's "Dinosaurs in Their Time" exhibit.

The massive mural depicts horned Triceratops, duck-billed Edmontosaurus, big-headed Pachycephalosaurus, and a feathered oviraptorosaur, all thriving in the Cretaceous period -- 66 million to 68 million years ago -- among sycamores, ginkgoes, fan palms, flowering magnolia and buttercups.

"It's just stunning," says anatomy professor Lawrence Witmer of Ohio University, chairman of the Lanzendorf prize selection committee.

"They're an amazing team," Witmer says about Walters and Kissinger. "Very talented and very hard-working."

The international Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annually awards Lanzendorf prizes for two- and three-dimensional works of art, plus scientific illustration.

The two-dimensional "Hell Creek Formation" mural is named after a swath of fossil-rich rocks that stretches from southern Canada to South Dakota.

Another whopping work by Walters & Kissinger, LLC -- the 180-foot "Morrison Formation" mural at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History -- won the 2007 Lanzendorf PaleoArt Prize for two-dimensional projects.

People can see the "Morrison Formation" mural in the Jurassic period section of the "Dinosaurs in Their Time" exhibit. The mural depicts prehistoric life 150 to 145 million years ago in the American West.

Walters and Kissinger, who met at a science-fiction convention, hardly expected to cop the coveted Lanzendorf prize a second time.

"It's kind of stunning to us, because there are hundreds of applicants," says Kissinger, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate who once honed her artistic skills by drawing stuffed birds borrowed from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Walters studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

To create "Hell Creek Formation," the couple combined hand-painted and hand-drawn illustrations with computer-generated images. A commercial printer produced the final mural in panels, which were installed, like rolls of wallpaper, in the spring of 2008.

The mural began as a "composition of what paleontologists think the environment would have looked like, and what animals should be present," Walters says. "Some of that was drawn on the computer. ... Some stuff was done in pencil, and pen and ink, on traditional media, then scanned into the computer.

"We used a number of different methods," Walters says. "Everything from watercolor underpaintings scanned into the computer, to generating three-dimensional computer models."

Additional Information:

The mural

People can view the 'Hell Creek Formation' and 'Morrison Formation' murals from10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday, and noon- 5 p.m. Sunday at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. Admission is $15; $12 for age 65 and older; $11 for students and ages 3-18. Details: 412-622-3131.

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