Mineralogical society event will celebrate iconic dinosaur artist Knight

Charles R. Knight’s 1897 illustration of a Brontosaurus (nowadays called Apatosaurus). Credit: Public domainAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Paintings of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures by Charles R. Knight, the "father of paleoart," have been seen by millions in major museums, zoos, libraries, books and popular films.  The monthly meeting of Nittany Mineralogical Society will feature a well-illustrated talk on Knight's work and its contributions to paleontology. The talk “Charles R. Knight: Art and Geology” will be given by geologist Charles E. Miller Jr., with an introduction by Rhoda Knight Kalt, Knight’s granddaughter.

The society’s meeting will be held Wednesday, Oct. 15, at the National Park Service’s National Fossil Day in 114 Earth and Engineering Sciences Building. Refreshments begin at 6:30 p.m., everyone is invited to arrive by 7 p.m. for a special tribute in the lobby and the main talk will start at 7:45 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

While his name may be unfamiliar today, Knight is the man responsible for bringing dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures out of the specimen case and into the consciousness of everyday life. Through his many sculptures, book illustrations and museum murals, Knight influenced the way generations of Americans perceived the ancient world.

Charles R. Knight posing at one of his paintings. He was born legally blind and according to his granddaughter Rhoda Knight Kalt when painting he always had his face close to the canvas. Unlike most artists, he liked someone standing next to him, talking as he painted. Knight had a great fear all his life of losing his sight, as his painting depended on it. Credit: Rhonda Knight KaltAll Rights Reserved.

Knight is the best-known paleoartist and considered today the “father of paleoart.” In his book "Wonderful Life," the late Stephen Jay Gould wrote: “Not since the Lord himself showed his stuff to Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones had anyone shown such grace and skill in the reconstruction of animals from disarticulated skeletons. Charles R. Knight, the most celebrated of artists in the reanimation of fossils, painted all the canonical figures of dinosaurs that fire our fear and imagination to this day.”

This talk recognizes Knight’s art and its contributions to paleontology. The influence of Knight’s paintings goes beyond museums, libraries and zoos. For decades historical geology and paleontology textbooks have used his paintings. Even Hollywood used Knight’s paleoart. Both the 1925 “The Lost World” and the 1933 classic “King Kong” relied on Knight’s paintings of dinosaurs. His paintings had appeal because they provide what prehistoric bones, alone, cannot – social interaction and paleoecology. Knight was the first artist to work with paleontologists, making his paintings as realistic as the knowledge of the times allowed.

Rhoda Knight Kalt, granddaughter of Knight, continues her grandfather’s legacy. She maintains a website about her grandfather, lectures on his works and arranges tours across the country. Kalt travels from New York to share memories and answer questions about her grandfather, who she called “Toppy.”

David “Duff” Gold, professor emeritus of geosciences and program chair for the Nittany Mineralogical Society, helped organize this event.

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Last Updated January 10, 2015