Drawn Together by Dinosaurs: Paleontologist and Artist are Longtime Collaborators
Unlikely art-science team-up leads to globe-spanning adventures
By Ben Hohenstatt
Tuesday, September 24, 2019 6:37pm ❙ NEWS CAPITAL CITY WEEKLY
The director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is
buddies with the Ketchikan artist behind Southeast Alaska’s punniest Tshirts.
Ray Troll, the man behind “Beevus and Halibutt-Head,” and Kirk Johnson,
who oversees the world’s largest natural history collection, have been
friends and collaborators for nearly 27 years in large because of Troll’s
“Ray had built an exhibit at the Burke Museum in Seattle, and I knew about
his stu ,” Johnson said. in an interview with the Empire. “I worked in
Seattle, so I always saw Humpies from Hell and Spawn Till You Die Die. Back
in the early ’80s, they had a bunch of Ray Troll T-shirts. I walked into the
show, and my head exploded.”
“It was like, ‘The T-shirt guy does fossils,” Johnson added with Jeff Spicoli
affectation. “I was so excited.”Their longtime relationship is why both men were at the Alaska State
Museum on Tuesday. Johnson gave a speech at the museum since it is the
current site of a traveling exhibit inspired by the pair’s collaborative e orts
and a trip along most of North America’s western coast.
Troll and Johnson’s traveling history goes back a couple of decades, too.
A few years after the pair met, Johnson said he stopped by Ketchikan to talk
with Troll and to pitch the inimitable artist and self-described fossil nerd on
the idea of traveling to the Amazon Rain Forest.
“So he came to the Amazon, and that was the beginning of the whole
thing,” Johnson said.
That “whole thing” is a series of trips around the world and most of North
America that produced a pair of books — “Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway” and
“Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline.” The latter served as inspiration for the
traveling exhibition that’s been at the state museum since May and will be
there through Oct. 19.
Troll said throughout their travels, the two men have easily spent a full 365
“Easily a year of my life, a solid year of my 65 years,” Troll said.
It’s clear from talking to both Troll and Johnson each man has a high
appreciation for the other’s specialty.
“I like art, I always have, but I’m not really good at it,” Johnson said in an
interview with the Empire. “That’s how I became an artist collector.”
Troll said that’s exactly how he views his relationship with science.
Johnson said the blend of art with science “totally essential” to
communicating scientific concepts.
“Most scientists can’t communicate themselves out of a paper bag,” he
said. “There’s so many great images that could be made that are never
made.”Both men said science and art inspire thought and challenge conventional
thought. “They change your perceptions,” Troll said. Johnson expounded on the thought. “They give you new information, new ways of looking at things,” he said.