We can learn a lot from fossils and bones of long-deceased dinosaurs but a new exhibit at the University of Calgary is looking at the way art can bring prehistoric creatures back to life.

Officially known as paleoart, the field plays a big role in the way we understand prehistoric history. In fact, some artists wind up getting credit as co-authors for scientific papers thanks to their re-creations.

The University of Calgary is hosting a new paleoart exhibit at the Taylor Institute's gallery as part of the Beakerhead festival.

Inspiring from a young age

Jan Sovak is one of the artists featured in the exhibit. He has had his work featured in more than 40 museums and 170 books, not to mention 12 Discovery Channel films.

"When you start looking at the pictures as a child, you can get hooked," Sovak told CBC Calgary News at Six on Friday.

He said the seed was planted when — as a 10-year-old child — he was reading a book from his home in the former Communist-governed Prague, Czechoslovakia.

He read about the "almighty" Gorgosaurus and the caption read that the animal was native to the Oldman River basin in Alberta.

"And I said to my father, 'That's where I'm going to go. That's where I'm going to live,'" Sovak said. 

paleoart

Paleoart helps to translate a paleontologist's knowledge into a visual representation. (Danielle Dufault (left, bottom right); James Kuether (upper right))

This particular type of art is unique for its detailed, disciplined and rational focus, he said. 

Susanne Cote is one of the creators of the exhibit and an assistant professor in the department of anthropology and archaeology at the U of C. 

"There's an important exchange that happens between the artist and researchers as the artist asks questions, 'Can I make this creature muscular? What do these bones tell us? Where were the muscles attached? Did they have feathers?'" said Cote.

"These conversations are crucial to the science because they force the scientists to think about the ramifications of their discoveries. In many cases the art helps advance the research."

According to Cote, the most highly regarded paleoartists are usually those well versed in the science side of things.

The paleoart exhibit is open until Sept. 24.