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Dig it -- Man who made DinoQuest models started with finding fossils

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 2, 2010 - As his mom and dad hunted, the little boy dug. In creek beds, he'd sift through the rocks, just looking.

Guy Darrough grew up in north St. Louis, but his parents loved the outdoors, as did his aunts an uncles, who seemed rugged to the little boy getting a taste of pioneer life.

Darrough grew up, but he never stopped looking.

Now, the skills of that driving curiosity hang, lurk and lounge in the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

In honor of the geodesic dome's 50th anniversary, DinoQuest: A Tropical Trek Through Time, features Darrough's models among the plants of the Climatron.

"He is the most interesting man," says Lynn Kerkemeyer, special exhibitions manager with the garden. "He's all about being real. He is so adamant about his animals, as he calls them, being accurate to the fossil records."

Darrough, who lives in Arnold, has his studio, Lost World Studios, lostworldstudios.com, in southern Missouri. Growing up, his love for finding fossils took him out of school and straight to Newfoundland. For him, working was better than studying.

"I've learned a lot of what I've learned by actually doing it," he says.

Darrough has found 23 previously undiscovered fossils, which are currently being worked on by the Smithsonian. He's also the curator and co-founder of the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History, bcmnh.org, and he directs excavations at a site in southern Missouri where they're currently working to unearth the duck-billed dinosaur.

For many years, Darrough collected and cleaned fossils, but found he hated to part with some of them. He began cleaning them for others, but soon bored with that, and began building models of dinosaurs. His first show was at the garden in the Climatron in 2001.

Darrough found that models of dinosaurs were either robotic, carnival attractions or too folksy. He wanted an accurate look at what the creatures really looked like, and thought to put them in natural surroundings to get the full effect. The first dinosaur he tried that with in a swamp in southern Missouri attracted 5,000 people in one day.

At the garden, Darrough's work will be displayed from May 1 until Oct. 3, and features dinosaurs from several periods.

"It's very much a discovery process as you go through the Climatron," Kerkemeyer says.

Some stretch as long as 30 feet, and on Thursday evenings, Jurassic Dark gives visitors a chance to see the dinos at night, with mist and lighting for dramatic effect.

"It really puts a visual in your mind," says Sheila Voss, vice president of education with the garden of seeing the models among the plants.

Other features include hands-on activities at the Brookings Interpretive Center such as a biodiversity tree, a prop from one of the "Jurassic Park" movies to talk about the difference between science and science fiction and the chance to view a 65 million year old bone bed full of fossils that Darrough found in Wyoming.

The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House offers the chance to continue the learning with Jurassic Bugs, their display of bugs from the time, which are in the central hall.

And while the main attractions may be the dinosaurs, there's much more to find at the garden with the exhibit.

"We didn't just take the theme of dinosaurs and leave it at that," Voss says.

Instead, exploring the exhibit gives visitors the chance to learn about biodiversity, the necessity of plants and that as much as there is to discover about the time when dinosaurs lived, there's just as much about the time we live in now.

For Kerkemeyer, the underlying message of the exhibits is helping visitors understand biodiversity and the impact of the natural world throughout time. That mattered to dinosaurs and it matters to us now.

She expects everyone, including families and kids, to get something out of the exhibit.

"Kids are what keep me in business," Darrough agrees.

A few years ago, his mom gave him a few tiny dinosaurs he'd had as a child that his brothers had dug up from the sandbox.

One of them was an allosaurus.

He still has it, he says, and from his days of digging in creek beds to now, his collection just keeps getting bigger.

"Now I have this gorgeous 25-footer in the other room."

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