News from the Ray Troll Universe

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

cheeky work.


“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

days together.

“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.