April 1, 2012
By Chasity Monschein/THE LUFKIN NEWS
Dinosaurs have been extinct for a long time, but their size, power and habitats still captivate peoples’ imaginations. In September, East Texans will be able to enjoy several thousand fossils of these ancient and mysterious creatures at the Naranjo Museum of Natural History in Lufkin.
The museum is located on U.S. 59 south near The Settlement and will house the personal collection of Dr. Neal Naranjo, which includes geological artifacts, dinosaur and plant fossils, and ancient artifacts from Egypt, Rome and Greece.
“We are excited for community leaders and folks interested in natural history to view our museum,” said Naranjo. “As a boy, I enjoyed looking for arrowheads in the forests of East Texas, and I have carried this passion for exploration and history with me throughout my life. Just like me, the fondest memories for many children are playing with a favorite toy, looking at the world with wonderment, and enjoying the enormity of seeing their first dinosaur.”
After introducing his collection to Lufkin students and the community, he knew he had to build a permanent home for the collection.
“The truth is, the museum has been 50 years in the making,” he said.
“It started with one child eager to explore his back yard and has grown into a network of teachers, parents, scientists and community leaders determined to re-create that experience for children and adults alike.”
His daughter, Katie Naranjo, said it was great that her father took his lifelong love and shared it with the community.
“There are not a ton of cultural or scientific activities in the community,” she said.
“He has been actively going on digs in different states for the last five years, but has been collecting artifacts for generations. This museum is a way to share it and educate others. This will be a fun opportunity for families with young children to learn in an exciting environment.”
Artists from Nacogdoches and Lufkin contributed to the museum by creating murals that depict the prehistoric world of dinosaurs.
“The murals at the Yale Peabody Museum took 30 to 40 years to paint, so I knew in order for us to complete these paintings that we would have to kick it into high-gear,” said Peter Andrew, SFASU art professor. “I worked on three of the murals, and there are others that have yet to be done. This will be the perfect marriage of science and art.”
Andrew said the murals were art with a purpose, and artists had to be mindful about the accuracy of the subjects they were painting.
“It was very traditional; I worked with oil paint and got up on a ladder and free-scaled it,” he said.
“For some people, learning in school is not fun, but this museum provides an educational and exciting way to learn. None of us stop learning. When you invest in education, you invest in yourself.”
Local artist Ann Reyes also participated in the project by painting three diagrams.
“I’m working on a fourth and am using acrylic paint,” she said. “It’s been great to talk to other artists and see what they do and techniques they use. Dr. Naranjo has fossils and bones for us to look at for reference. He also tells us what colors they would have been.”
The project exhibits are about 80 percent complete, while the fossil restoration is about 50 percent complete. When the facility is finished, it also will be the home to a 26-foot-tall hadrosaur, an einosaurus mother with her child, a Tyrannosaurus rex skull, a fully grown woolly mammoth, unhatched dinosaur eggs and more interesting and unique finds.