Monday, August 22, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Carl Burger

Carl Burger was a mid-century American illustrator whose work, I imagine, could be found in most American public school libraries over the years. It was definitely in mine in the 80's. The novels Old Yeller, Little Rascal, and The Incredible Journey (later known as the film Homeward Bound) gave him ample opportunity to show off his expressive style of animal illustration. But today's post is spurred, naturally, by what may have been his single trip to our cherished Mesozoic.

Carl Burger

Like most of his work available at Google Books, this illustration appeared in Boys' Life magazine (many search results for his name are due to his handbook on trapping which was advertised in the Boys' Life classifieds for a time). A prototypical mid-century depiction of a Mesozoic environment, it appeared with an article penned by Roy Chapman Andrews in the November 1954 issue. You have it all: man-in-suit T. rex, which looks to be inspired by the dinosaur in King Kong, squaring off against an ornery Triceratops. Trachodon wading in a swamp. Pterosaur soaring above. Erupting volcano. (Edit: Marc has also pointed out that the Tyrannosaur bears a resemblance to this very early Knight reconstruction).

Burger's illustration is fine, though a bit staid. I can certainly understand this: an outdoorsman who was accustomed to observing animals in life has a heck of a challenge to overcome when presented with this kind of assignment. Comparing it with other wildlife illustrations he did for the magazine, you get the sense that he felt a bit shackled by his saurian subject matter, but perhaps it was just a matter of perspective. After all, Burger seemed to find living avian dinosaurs a splendid muse.

September 1955, from the story The Black Tyrant:

Carl Burger

Carl Burger

November 1955, from the article The Rough and Rowdy Ringneck:

Carl Burger

Carl Burger

And, finally, this. From November 1956, accompanying the J. Paul Loomis "man vs. condors" story Greatwing.

Carl Burger

Amazing stuff with a real sense of movement. Burger understood the way the avian body moved, but these birds also have personality. For instance, look at the way he exaggerates the features of the raven in the first image. He certainly seems to give them more respect than he does the harried human in the last one; you rarely see condors or vultures depicted in such a heroic light. I'd love to see what he would have done with terror birds.

There's not a lot of information about Burger out there, which is a bit surprising. I thought that a search of my favorite illustration blogs would surely turn up multiple posts about him. For a bit more, check out his short essay Seeing and Remembering, which I clipped from the September 1943 Boys' Life.

3 comments:

  1. Wow, I love his style. The condor and snowy owl are just beautiful and, yes, quite a marked contrast to the Mesozoic creatures.

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  2. I think the T. rex may also be inspired by that old Knight painting in which the skull's all wrong.

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  3. Those birds are very vivid. (The stories are nice as well, by the way.)

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