A Fossilised Art

It was a new experience – a new art science experience in fact.

Driven by a previous exhibition for Climate.Kit at the Otago Museum, our exhibit ‘Stones and Bones’ was to find a new life force at the Vogel Street Party in Dunedin. Initially, our exhibit was to present climate change from a geological perspective and to highlight stories of rocks and fossils beneath our feet. By looking into the past, the public can see how vastly different the climate has been and to provoke thought for what the future climate may be.

“What’s beneath your feet?” was a rock column core designed to show different rock and fossils, and highlighted how the landscape and climate has changed throughout New Zealand’s history. “What’s your story?” showcased stories from various New Zealanders on a geological map and also invited the public to share their rocky stories.

The Stones and Bones exhibit grew more rocky and bony for Vogel street party, with the exhibit focusing on the paleontological and geological history of the Otago region. It was an engaging experience with the public – in fact, it was a university assignment on a Saturday night! Fortunately, many people showed an enthusiastic interest in the rocks and fossils we had on display.

The geological lab presented a mixture of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, which sparkled with minerals and crystals. People just loved picking up the hand lenses for further inspection of tiny fossils and crystals hiding in the rocks. A good dose of mineral therapy kept us all busy.

The fossils showcased a 22 million year old shark tooth dolphin on display, alongside a 60 million year old Waimanu penguin fossil drawing. Technology was not forgotten – in fact the public embraced it. A 3D printer was in action, printing off moa claws alongside the real moa bones on display.


I focused predominantly on penguins, both ancient fossilised penguins and modern penguins that live in New Zealand today. I drew in pastel the Waimanu, a penguin dated 60-62 million years old. It is the world’s oldest fossil penguin discovered to date, found just north of Canterbury in the 1980’s. The Waimanu tuatahi and Waimanu manneringi lived 4-5 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs. The most notable changes are the long beak and flipper compared to living penguins today.

img_5054Paleo-art is essentially bringing the bones back to life with respect and creativity. It is a branch of palaeontology dedicated to the reconstruction of extinct life. I had to carefully balance art and science to create fossil remains and depictions of the prehistoric species and their ecosystems. It is these visual representations that will shape the public’s perception of prehistoric life – it enables people to visualise past creatures and worlds that fascinate us.

And just to modernise the penguin art, I had some fun drawing a cartoon of the three living penguins that exist on the mainland of New Zealand today. They were naturally at Vogel Street Party …….


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