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Alumnus to discuss career as paleo-artist at KC event

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas alumnus who has made a career of creating reproductions of early humans and dinosaurs will discuss his work as a paleo-artist in a public lecture in Kansas City.

Although the title of paleo-artist may be unfamiliar, the work such artists create is hard to miss for a museum visitor. Paleo-artist John Gurche’s sculptures, paintings and illustrations have been displayed in museums, publications and even on postage stamps. Among his most well-known subjects is Lucy, whose 3-million-year-old fossil remains are the most complete of a human ancestor that old.

Gurche draws on years of research on and fascination with fossils and extinct species to make works that are as lifelike and accurate as possible. He studied under paleontologist Larry Martin and anthropologist David Frayer while earning a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s degree in anthropology from KU.

In his early career, Gurche was best-known for his dinosaur art. He was involved in development stages of the movie “Jurassic Park” and was commissioned to create dinosaur scenes for a U.S. postage stamp, in addition to frequent illustrations for magazine covers. Over the past decade or so, his focus has been on human origins.

Each piece is researched and built from the bones up, ensuring scientific accuracy and lifelike detail. He works in a variety of media, starting with wire frames and casts of bones, working his way up to silicone sculptures and bronze castings. The process can take anywhere from months to years.

The result Gurche hopes for at the end of his work is that viewers will feel a connection with humanity’s past. It’s an idea he calls the “ancestral connection,” which he explores in detail in a new book, titled "Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins.”

“Once you spend time connecting with these ancestors, and I really try to foster that connection in ‘Shaping Humanity,’ you begin to have a different perspective on the lives of humankind," he said. "You begin to look at the existence of humanity within a larger evolutionary context, and that is a life-enriching perspective.”

The public is invited to Gurche’s presentation, hosted by the KU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. It will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at the Linda Hall Library, 5109 Cherry St., Kansas City, Mo. Doors open at 6 p.m. The event is free, but RSVPs are requested.

The presentation will be based on Gurche’s book. He also will be recognized with the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor from the College.

The College honored five alumni with its Distinguished Alumni Award for 2013-’14. More information on all recipients is available on the College’s blog