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5/4/2019
Troll, Johnson open ‘Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline’ in Juneau

By DANELLE LANDIS
Daily News Staff Writer

Ketchikan artist Ray Troll, in partnership with paleontologist Kirk Johnson, opened their exhibit “Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline” at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau on Friday.

Troll and Johnson, who is the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, logged more than 10,000 miles and 250 days traveling in a series of trips along the North American coast from 2010 to 2014, while searching for fossils, visiting museums, talking to scientists and artists and visiting active dig sites via automobile, small airplane and boat.

Troll talked about the exhibit from his studio perched above downtown Ketchikan on the sunny afternoon of April 29.

“This is the third installation of the exhibit,” he said.

The Anchorage museum opened it in 2017, and Troll said he is partnering with the museum to set the exhibit on tour. It also was shown from November 2018 to March 2019 in the Oakland Museum of California.

Troll said the exhibit includes some items of interest from the Ketchikan area.

“In the exhibit, we have the bones of a gigantic ichthyosaur, the rib section from Gravina Island that was dug up in 2013,” Troll said.

He said the size of that animal was estimated to be between 50- and 60-feet long. He said that ichthyosaurs were actually not dinosaurs, but “big marine reptiles.”

Troll said that there are several areas around Southeast Alaska, including George Inlet and Kake, where ichthyosaur bones and triassic rock have been found.

He also displayed, in his studio, ammonite fossils excavated from Revillagigedo Island.

Troll and Johnson also published a book on which the exhibit is based, “Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline: The Travels of an Artist and a Scientist along the Shores of the Prehistoric Pacific,” in 2018. Troll displayed a copy of the book, which is heavy and filled with glossy illustrations by Troll, as well as hand-drawn maps and photos.

On a broad wall of his studio were several of Troll’s illustrations created for the book, such as one illustrating the layers of the earth’s timeline, one of the elephant family tree, one highlighting the “three basic ammonite shapes,” and one captioned “way up north, blasting gold and fossils out of the ‘Loess,’ with giant water cannons …”

He said that, in the exhibit, he wanted people to learn how abundant the fossils are in Alaska, so he filled an entire window with bison, horse and mammoth bones. The fossils were borrowed from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Troll added.

The Juneau exhibition, according to museum information, showcases Troll and Johnson’s Alaska fossil adventures and the stories the fossils revealed, such as: the history of life on earth punctuated by killer asteroids and mass extinctions; the ancient geology of prehistoric Alaska and its giant sea-going reptile, the ichthyosaur; the ammonite fossils named after an Egyptian god; the long-vanished polar desert landscape of Alaska’s Mammoth Steppe and the 13-foot tall Mega Bear of the Pleistocene.

Included in the hands-on exhibition are life-sized sculptures and models, images of prehistoric creatures and real fossils, as well as paintings, hand-drawn maps and light and audio installations by Troll.

“I began to earn a role as being able to interpret, and make the science more engaging,” Troll said of his part in the research, exhibit and book. “That really was my job, to take these little-known creatures and plants and animals and environments and convey information about them, but also the enthusiasm, the inspiration — that science can be goofy and humorous.”

He added that he feels it is important for people to develop an appreciation of “deep time,” and to consider what the world has been through before.

“Especially now,” he said. “We, within our lifetimes, are realizing things are really shifting rapidly,” adding that the shifts are being seen even more dramatically in Alaska.

“I can change — just with science — change the way you’re going to look at the world,” Troll said.

The exhibit, organized by the Anchorage Museum, will be available for viewing through October 19. It is sponsored in part by the Friends of the Alaska State Museum and Ramada by Wyndam.

Troll said the exhibit is about 4,000 square feet, and the Juneau museum will be the closest it will get to Ketchikan, because of its size.

The exhibit will be available for viewing at Juneau’s Alaska State Museum from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily.