Turning Science into Art Mark Klingler's Artwork for Carnegie Museum of Natural History Spans Eras from the Long Extinct to the Still Extant

By Templeton, David | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), August 11, 2015 | Go to article overview

Turning Science into Art Mark Klingler's Artwork for Carnegie Museum of Natural History Spans Eras from the Long Extinct to the Still Extant


Templeton, David, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Given Mark A. Klingler's occupation, it's no surprise he spent his childhood hiking through the woods looking for bugs, birds and other wildlife, and representing what he saw with pencils and paintbrushes.

The youngest of 11 children, who had his first schoolhouse art show at age 6, collected butterflies and always had his eyes also trained on birds. Eventually he faced the dilemma of whether to major in science or art.

He earned a bachelor of arts degree in graphic arts at Carnegie Mellon University, then later completed post-graduate work at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, with continuing interest in the science side of art and artistic perspectives of nature.

So eventually the dream job did arrive. Going on 20 years now, Mr. Klingler, 48, has served as scientific artist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History with a long list of credentials and accomplishments, along with the attitude that "I just do art and have fun doing it."

Through Sept. 6, 48 pieces of Mr. Klingler's artwork are on exhibit at Thomas Ridge Environmental Center, Presque Isle, Erie. They display his diverse artistic skills emboldened by scientific accuracy that, combined, capture the beauty, grace and personality of animals in their natural habitats, then and now.

His work includes illustrations, paintings in various media, and sculpture. They also span eras from the long extinct - in which images in some cases were envisioned from just a few fossil pieces - to the still extant.

"Oh, my gosh, it's amazing," said Anne Desarro, the center's environmental education supervisor. "I've taken scientific illustration classes myself and know the skill involved in this work, and his work runs the gamut of details in all media - colored pencil, watercolor, oil and acrylic paints.

"He does scientific illustration with a very specific style," she said. "He gets right down to the skeletal."

Visitors of all ages have expressed joy with the exhibit, Ms. Desarro said, with her favorite being a painting of a fowlers toad under a yellow mushroom. "It's just delightful and from the way he represents the image, it is so dear," she said. "The science is there, but there's also the beauty of the art."

Wildlife, now and then

Mr. Klingler illustrated "The Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City," with the forward written by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He also did "The Field Guide to the Natural History of Washington, D.C.," with a forward by Kirk Johnson, the Sant director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. The guides, each with 100 works depicting some 130 species in natural habitats, took about 5,000 hours of work.

He worked to ensure a squirrel is properly clutching a spruce cone and a mockingbird is atop a yucca seed stalk as a vantage point for singing. "Naturalists let you know if something's wrong," he said.

Two of his works have graced the cover of Science, arguably the most prestigious research journal. One cleverly depicted a prehistoric mammal alongside a paper clip to provide perspective, while the other is a prehistoric diving beaver-like animal.

His exhibit at the journal's Washington, D.C., headquarters from October 2005 to April 2006 "kicked the lever" and bolstered his career, he said. "In scientific illustration, you can show the ideal and you can show the reality. I run that borderline," he said.

His artwork, likewise, is used for museum marketing and appears on holiday cards, T-shirts, hats and ties in the museum gift shop. But multiple scientific works he's done with Carnegie Museum scientists are most demanding, sometimes based on limited fossil remains such as teeth or portions of a jawbone, femur bone or claw.

Paleontologist K. Christopher Beard, formerly with the museum and now the distinguished foundation professor and senior curator at the University of Kansas, said the New York City field guide "is a testimonial to how talented he is in natural history illustration. …

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