March 21, 2024
Fossils Take Form at the Whatcom Museum

For Immediate Release: March 21, 2024

Bellingham, WA — When you think about a saber-toothed cat, do you think of a fossil? Or do you imagine a powerful, sinewy Ice Age carnivore stalking its prey in the open plains millions of years ago?

If you’re picturing that extinct mammal now, complete with musculature, fur, and focused eyes, you can give credit to acclaimed scientific illustrators like David W. Miller, whose work will be on exhibition in UNEARTHED: Art & Science Survey the Fossil Record at the Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall building, April 27 – September 29, 2024.

UNEARTHED celebrates Miller’s contributions to paleoart with his largest-ever collection of original works on display. The exhibition centers the artistry of this niche field with more than 60 richly detailed paintings of the wildest creatures of the past along with their fossil counterparts, on loan from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, Washington, and the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals near Portland, Oregon. On view for the first time is a fossil of a woolly mammoth molar from the Whatcom Museum’s permanent collection illuminated by Miller’s newest painting depicting the mammoth in its Pleistocene habitat.

“David’s work is exact and exquisite,” said Whatcom Museum Curator of Art Amy Chaloupka. “He carefully studies fossil samples to determine an animal’s morphology and works closely with scientists to understand an animal’s relationship to its ancient environment. Bringing these species back to life through scenes on paper or screen is as much a research endeavor as an artistic one.”

It was after Miller’s time in art school that he found scientific illustration. He discovered a book about vertebrate paleontology and was hooked. He began studying and painting prehistoric fish, which led him to provide much of the artwork for a book that John G. Maisey, then-curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, was writing.

Since then, Miller’s work continues to capture the essence of life, whether it originated millions of years ago or within our lifetimes. In addition to scientific illustrations that have appeared in numerous books, publications, and museums such as the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the American Museum of Natural History, the Burke Museum, and the National Museum of Science and Industry in London, Miller is also the Whatcom Museum’s long-time preparator and in-house illustrator. He has drawn the identification guides for the nearly 500 taxidermied bird specimen in the museum’s John M. Edson Hall of Birds, and he provides the artistry behind many of the museum’s displays – from 80-foot murals to miniature dioramas.

“Any museum would be lucky to host David’s work,” added Chaloupka. “But that he is our colleague and friend makes this exhibition particularly special to us.” 


Exhibition Opening

Friday, May 3, 7 – 9 pm

Old City Hall | 121 Prospect St., Bellingham, WA

In conjunction with the Whatcom Museum’s Access for All Free First Friday program. Free to attend. More information on the Whatcom Museum website.

Introduction to Scientific Illustration Workshop with Artist and Conservator Madison Mayfield

Saturday, July 20, 10:30 am – 3:30 pm

Lightcatcher building | 250 Flora St., Bellingham, WA

Madison Mayfield is a natural history artist, taxidermist, and an ornithology collection manager at Seattle’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. More information and tickets on the Whatcom Museum website.

Docent tours

Most Thursdays and Saturdays, 1 – 2 pm; free with museum admission

press kit is available here with a selection of images approved for use by the media. Please note the included caption sheet that provides required photo attribution language.

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Adrienne Dawson
Director, Marketing & PR
Whatcom Museum

About the Whatcom Museum:

The Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, WA, is an American Alliance of Museums-accredited museum and a Smithsonian Affiliate. Notable projects have included the 2019 retrospective exhibition Ed Bereal: WANTED: For Disturbing the Peace, featured in The New York Times, the touring exhibition Katazome Today: Migrations of a Japanese Art, and the co-curated, exhibition Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea, which was on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2023.

The Whatcom Museum spans three buildings in downtown Bellingham: the Lightcatcher, Old City Hall, and the Syre Education Center. For more information about exhibitions, programs, and admission, visit