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Earth Notes: Dinosaur Illustrator Margaret Colbert

Museum of Northern Arizona

What “happens inside one’s head” is how Margaret Colbert described her own artistic process. That humble observation belies the talent behind this woman’s expert illustrations of dinosaurs of the Colorado Plateau.

Margaret Colbert’s interpretations were facilitated by her ability to translate past fossil life into scenes alive with color and animal behavior—rendering convincing reconstructions of the dinosaurs and their habitats. No less than Michael Crichton, of “Jurassic Park” fame, was inspired by her art.

She pursued her work while at the Museum of Northern Arizona with her husband, paleontologist Edwin “Ned” Colbert, and they traveled the world as a scientist-artist team. She illustrated books—and painted large murals that grace walls at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Petrified Forest National Park visitor center.

After raising five sons, Margaret continued to create sculptures, paintings, and black-and-white drawings. She also did textile design, weaving, print making, ceramics, and jewelry—much of it her own designs in silver and stone. In 1943 she designed the logo for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

In her words, “what there is of art in all of this, is something that happens inside one’s head, somewhere between the bump for ‘observation’ and the one for ‘imagination’ … All I know is, it’s very exciting.”

Margaret Colbert died at age 96 in 2007, leaving an enduring legacy of art melded with science. 

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