Monica Jurik has created a monster. The Tully Monster, to be specific. It’s the state fossil of Illinois, a prehistoric creature found nowhere in the world except in the Mazon Creek fossil beds 50 miles southwest of Chicago. Although these fossils are the best in the world to represent the Carboniferous Period 300 million years ago, the fossils themselves are mainly imprints in the ancient rocks. As a science illustrator with the Field Museum, it’s Jurik’s task to bring these imprints to life.
As a Field Museum volunteer, I sometimes get a look behind the scenes and last week several of us got a look at some of Jurik’s artwork. A lo t of it was of some recently arrived Mazon Creek fossils, including an assortment of Tully Monsters. These strange creatures were 6-18 inches long, with a long extension ending in a set of jaws, eyes sticking out from its sides, and a set of triangular tail fins that propelled it through the Paleozoic estuary where it lived. Or not. It might possibly have been an undulatory swimmer, like a lamprey. There’s still a lot of mystery surrounding this beast. And of course, nobody knows what color it was, so artists are free to use some imagination.
Besides the Tullies, we saw watercolors and drawings of trilobites, crinoids and brachiopods.