Weird (Careers in) Science: Meet Keith Strasser — scientific sculptor extraordinaire

Here at Beyond Bones, we’re launching a new segment to spotlight the sort of science careers you might not think to think of. Most people know what a curator does, but what about careers in cast-making, the transport of artifacts or scientifically accurate sculpture?

We’ll introduce you to at least one of those professionals today. Meet Keith Strasser, New York-based scientific sculptor and creator of the dazzling Dimetrodon replica that’s soon to be on display in our new Hall of Paleontology.

dimetrodon replica
Pretty impressive, no?

How does one become a designer of dinosaur sculptures?

Strasser started his career building and repairing musical instruments, and soon concluded that wood is not the most forgiving of mediums; if you make a mistake, you’re pretty much toast.

Eager to try out a more flexible material, Strasser tried his hand sculpting in clay and submitted the result to a contest in Boston. His first go — a figure of a dragon — won first place, and Strasser hasn’t looked back.

Borrowing medical anatomy books from his chiropractor brother, Strasser set to work learning how muscles and bones interact. Before long, he was creating scientific sculptures for a company that had seen his work at the contest. One of the very first maquettes Strasser made was for a Dimetrodon — the same maquette was used for the Dimetrodon on display in the new Hall of Paleontology!

“That guy’s been my meal ticket for 15, 20 years!” Strasser says.

He’s since worked for a number of museums, theme parks and other commissioners on scientific sculptures of all sizes, from a 30-foot Parasaurolophus to 3-foot lady bugs.

Strasser begins with a wire form and then fleshes it out with clay, although the materials he uses depend heavily on the proposed size of the specimen he’s creating. Its outer layer can be cast in any number of materials; some are cast in resin, others in plastic. “There are many ways to top a mountain,” Strasser explains.

He says one of the best things about his job is the artistic license he gets to take when it comes to imagining the skin and coloring of his creatures. Take a look at the Dimetrodon replica in our paleontology hall. How do you envision him?

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