Peculiar Pittsburgh

Jurassic art: Digging up the story behind Pittsburgh’s dinosaurs on display

This herd was once much larger, Peculiar Pittsburgh revealed.

dinos 2
MJ slaby / the incline and Courtesy of the Carnegie Science Center, the Heinz History Center and Highmark Health
MJ Slaby

Updated, Oct. 5

When he sees a colorful dinosaur statue in Pittsburgh, Incline reader Paul Miller said it almost feels like a scavenger hunt.

They’re “kinda scattered around,” he said, noting the dinosaurs he’s seen in Wilkinsburg, Downtown and Washington’s Landing don’t seem to have a connection to their locations.

So he turned to Peculiar Pittsburgh — where readers submit questions and The Incline finds an answer — to ask:

The dinosaurs around Pittsburgh — Who are they? Where did they come from? Where are they? Why?

The answer goes back to local museum displays of dinosaurs and a movement started by cows. Yes, cows.

In the summer of 2003, 100 fiberglass dinosaurs went on display across the city and suburbs as a public art display called DinoMite Days Pittsburgh.

The display was part celebration of Pittsburgh’s connection to dinosaurs and part fundraiser for local charities and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s “Dinosaurs in Their Time” expansion, per the museum. The tripling of the museum’s dinosaur hall was a multi-million-dollar project funded by grants, the public, corporations and DinoMite Days, according to Erin Southerland, a copywriter for the museum who gathered information about the display for The Incline.

A committee of staffers from the Carnegie Museums and community members selected local artists to design the three types of dinosaurs — Tyrannosaurus rex, Stegosaurus, and Torosaurus.

The dinosaurs were then displayed alone and in herds, per the Post-Gazette. You can see their original locations here.

Dinos on display at PPG Place

Dinos on display at PPG Place

mj slaby / the incline

A dinosaur scavenger hunt

After the initial DinoMite Days display, the dinosaurs were sold. Per Southerland:

Nineteen dinosaurs were pre-purchased for specific uses. For example, Ketchupasaurus was pre-purchased by the H.J. Heinz Foundation. Twenty-Six dinosaurs were auctioned at the DinoMite Days Gala and Live Auction. Half the proceeds of each dinosaur sale at the auction went to the creation of Dinosaurs in Their Time and half went to the charity of the buyer’s choice. Fifty-three dinosaurs were sold online in three lots in the fall of 2003.

Some owners still have their dinosaurs on display — like the ones that Miller has seen. Others do not. Since the auction, buyers could have donated or sold their dinosaurs. So the museum doesn’t have an inventory of where the dinosaurs are and where they are on display, per Southerland.

Here are some of the dinos still on display:

  • Ketchupasaurus at PPG Place (Downtown)
  • Mr. Dig at PPG Place (Downtown)
  • Philiposaurus at PPG Place (Downtown)
  • Neurosaurus at Allegheny General Hospital (Central North Side)
  • DNAasaurus at the Carnegie Science Center (North Shore)
  • Fredosaurus Rex Friday XIII at The Fred Rogers Company (South Side)
  • Lost Pittsburgh a.k.a Lola at Heniz History Center (Strip District)

Here’s a map of these dinosaurs, plus the ones readers pointed out. Those on display outside are indicated in red and those displayed inside are orange. But these are not the only ones. Know of others we should add? Let us know.

From Cows on Parade to DinoMite Days

Public art displays like these dinosaurs go back about three decades.

In the U.S., this phenomenon started with “Cows on Parade” in Chicago, said Sallyann Kluz, director for the Office of Public Art at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. About 300 life-sized cow statues were hand-painted by local artists and displayed throughout Chicago in 1999. The idea was inspired by a similar cow parade in 1998 in Zürich, Switzerland, which also did a similar exhibit in 1986 with lions, per Public Art in Chicago.

The idea spread to cities around the world, with spin-offs including pigs in Cincinnati, fish in Erie in 2000, guitars in Cleveland in 2002 and more — like the donkeys in Philly for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Right now, a similar traveling public art display called “Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet” also brought 30 spheres to Downtown, per Pittsburgh Magazine.

This type of art can become formulaic and is low risk, Kluz said, adding when it comes to temporary public art, artists can take risks they can’t take with permanent art.

But “what is great is that it starts a conversation, [and] there’s an opportunity to talk about public art,” she said.

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