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John Gurche, hominid sculptor

How one ‘paleo-artist’ turns skull fragments into a creature with a soul

The work of John Gurche unfolds right at the intersection of art and science. Over the past three decades, Gurche has made a career of using fossil specimens to create renderings of prehistoric creatures. He started out producing dinosaur paintings, good enough to earn him a consultant’s role on the movie “Jurassic Park.” But it’s his hauntingly lifelike sculptures of our human forebears that have made him a go-to guy for paleontologists.

An artist-in-residence at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, N.Y., Gurche is one of a select few people whom museums and journals turn to when they want to bring a 3 million-year-old skull or femur to life. What is notable about his figures—each of which can take up to a year to create—is that each seems to possess a kind of vital spark, or what he calls a “soul.” Rather than merely showing us what these creatures would have looked like, Gurche wants us to sense what they would have thought and felt, too.

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