Work of paleoartist Tyler Keillor on exhibit until June 26

The Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda is staging the first solo exhibit of the work of University of Chicago paleoartist Tyler Keillor through June 26 at 27277 N. Forest Preserve Road. He also will present a slide lecture titled “From Fossils to Flesh” at 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 4 at the museum.

The exhibit ranges from Keillor’s childhood drawings in Magic Marker on notebook paper, depicting dinosaurs and monsters battling with volcanoes erupting in the background, to the flesh-model reconstructions and displays of prehistoric creatures discovered by paleontologists at UChicago and elsewhere. Keillor’s longstanding fascination with prehistoric natural history serves as the exhibit’s common thread.

Keillor studied art and filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago. “I wanted to do movie special effects, and so that’s where I learned a lot of the principles of mold-making, casting, sculpting, painting, creating illusions for films,” he said.

Although he took some science classes, it was a subject he mostly pursued on the side. “I’d collect books, watch documentaries, just try to keep updated with news and discoveries as they were happening.”

In the early 1990s he worked at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the wig and makeup department, applying sideburns, bruises and other theatrical touches to cast members. He also helped local filmmakers produce commercials, industrial films and low-budget horror films.

Tasting the entertainment industry

It gave him a small taste of the entertainment industry, enough to generally satisfy what he termed “my adolescent quest to do this. And all that time my interest in science and dinosaurs was still there.”

His next job, working in a dental laboratory, foreshadowed the work that he would later do in the UChicago fossil lab. For two years he worked under a microscope, crafting precisely fitted porcelain crowns, bridges and implants for dental patients.

In January 1999, Keillor began a two-year stint in the Field Museum’s exhibit department. The museum was preparing Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex for exhibition. Keillor helped prepare the display base for Sue’s skeleton but also built a miniature model so that the exhibit’s designers could see how the posed dinosaur would look in Stanley Field Hall on a fractured slab of limestone.

“That was one of my first ventures into paleoart to do a paleontological reconstruction, and it really rekindled a lot of my childhood fascination with dinosaurs,” he said.

Seeking the opportunity to become involved in more such projects, Keillor attended a lecture of UChicago paleontologist Paul Sereno. Keillor introduced himself to Sereno after the lecture and showed him some photographs of his artwork. Several meetings later, Keillor found himself in Sereno’s fossil lab, helping to clean some of the many fossils that had recently shipped from an African expedition.

Learning fossil prep

“I learned fossil preparation under the lab manager, Bob Masek, who showed me how to clean the fossils,” Keillor said. “Luckily my work at the dental laboratory had prepared me a little bit for the detailed, meticulous work that’s done under a microscope to clean fossils.”

Over the years Keillor has adapted his previous experience to the needs of the fossil lab.

“First he picked up fossil preparation, and he picked it up slowly but surely, and he’s gotten to be one of the best in the world at that,” said Sereno, who has an undergraduate background in art. Then Keillor moved into Sereno’s casting and molding lab to make jointed models of the fossils.

“You can do everything under the sun in my lab with fossils,” Sereno said. “We need to prepare fossils, but if you have the talents to do something else when that opportunity arises, then we bring you into that picture as well.”

Keillor also has collaborated with other paleontologists at UChicago and elsewhere. He worked with Neil Shubin, the Robert R. Bensley Professor in Organismal Biology & Anatomy, on a reconstruction of Tiktaalik roseae. Announced in 2006, the new species filled an evolutionary gap between fish and land animals.

Keillor also has worked with two of Sereno’s former students, Jeff Wilson, PhD’99, now at the University of Michigan; and Chris Sidor, PhD’00, now at the University of Washington. In 2005, Sidor announced his discovery of a new species of prehistoric amphibian, Saharastega moradiensis. The creature’s skull now is on display next to Keillor’s flesh model at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle.

Last year Wilson announced his discovery of a new species of prehistoric snake in India, Sanajeh indicus, coiled in a nest of eggs laid by a longneck dinosaur. “I collaborated with Jeff to rebuild that scene as a diorama showing the moment just before those animals were preserved — probably in a flash flood — that buried them right in their places just as this big dinosaur had hatched from its egg and the snake was about to strike it,” Keillor said.

The Discovery Museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $6 for adults ($3 for seniors 55 and up) and $2.50 for children ages 4 to 17. Admission for Keillor’s May for talk is $7 for Lake County residents, $9 for non-residents.



Paleoartist Tyler Keillor discusses creating the model for Tiktaalik, the fossil discovery by paleontologist Neil Shubin that fills in the evolutionary gap between fish and land animals.

Paleoartist Tyler Keillor brought a "paleo-trifecta" of art, science and innovation to bear to help reconstruct this ancient scene at Gobero — a triple burial which preserved an adult woman interred with two young children.


Dog Croc
Boar Croc

Although Dryptosaurus is known from only fragmentary remains, new interpretations of its place within the tyrannosaur family tree and recent discoveries of possibly related creatures have helped develop a picture of what this dinosaur might have looked like. Tyler Keillor¹s 2009 sculpture for a temporary exhibit at the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Ill., includes a speculative feathery coat, a brightly colored throat wattle, and a variety of fresh and healing scars.

Courtesy of Tyler Keillor

A model of Herrerasaurus ischigualastensis goes nose to cheek with its creator. This reconstruction was used to illustrate the sculpture section of a collaborative Japanese/American paleoart book, Life Restorations of Dinosaurs (2008).

Courtesy of Tyler Keillor

A tantalizing fossil discovery, including a partial snake skull and vertebral column, provided reference for this reconstructed scene. University of Michigan paleontologist Jeff Wilson directed Keillor’s work on this sculpture for the species’ public debut and scientific announcement in 2010. The diorama is a faithful 1:1 restoration of the specimen — a snake in a nest of sauropod eggs, looped around a crushed egg, with hatchling sauropod remains next to the broken egg.

Courtesy of Tyler Keillor

This Cretaceous croc reconstruction had to combine distinctly recognizable features of a modern croc, like the earflaps, with seemingly out-of-place features like the almost mammalian, forward pointing nostrils. Keillor sculpted this model of “DogCroc” as part of UChicago paleontologist Paul Sereno’s 2009 announcement of an entire menagerie of prehistoric crocodiles.

Courtesy of Tyler Keillor

This life-sized flesh reconstruction of “BoarCroc,” created under Sereno’s direction, is based upon a nearly complete fossil skull. Extant crocodiles provided rich reference for scale and scute details, and the soft tissues of earflaps and eyes. Keillor speculatively covered the uniquely textured forejaw with a keratinous sheath.

Courtesy of Tyler Keillor

Keillor built a series of models in 2006 for UChicago paleontologist Neil Shubin and his colleagues depicting Tiktaalik roseae, a newly discovered species that filled in the evolutionary gap between fish and land animals, in what scientists believe to be the animal’s environment about 375 million years ago.

Courtesy of Tyler Keillor

To ensure accuracy, Keillor sculpted the visage of this incredibly bizarre sauropod atop a cast of its skull restoration. This flesh reconstruction accompanied Nigersaurus on its public debut and scientific announcement in 2007. Created under Sereno’s direction, unique details include a keratinous muzzle and pieces of cropped vegetation mixed with saliva within the oral cavity.

Courtesy of Tyler Keillor

This sculpture is the first reconstruction of a predatory dinosaur to so extensively incorporate keratinous growths on the head and face, based upon extensive examination of the textured imprints on the fossil skull. Keillor created this bust for the public unveiling and scientific announcement of Rugops in 2004, for Sereno.

Courtesy of Tyler Keillor

Keillor sculpted this speculative glimpse of a hatchling SuperCroc for Project Exploration’s traveling exhibit, “The Science of SuperCroc” (2002). Working with Sereno, and using both an adult and a juvenile Sarcosuchus skull for reference, this reconstruction suggests the size of the newly hatched croc based upon predicted egg and clutch sizes of the fully-grown 40-foot giant it would become.

Courtesy of Tyler Keillor

Keillor sculpted this bust for the 2005 opening of the “Jane” exhibit at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Ill., which features a mounted skeleton of this rare juvenile tyrannosaur (possibly a Tyrannosaurus rex).

Courtesy of Tyler Keillor

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