The largest, most-complete, and most-fought-over T. rex was discovered near Faith, South Dakota which is an hour’s drive from my studio in Lemmon. The grasslands are prime territory for fossils, thanks to the intermixed badlands outcrops, sparsely covered areas where harsh weather erodes away layers of ancient sediment to reveal fossils. Because of the number of important finds in this part of North America, the largest private fossil preparatory in the world is located nearby. Black Hills Institute’s president, Pete Larson, is also “one of us,” a rancher’s kid who grew up on the Rosebud Reservation, in the south-central part of the state. His company excavated Sue, the famous rex which he named after the amateur paleontologist on his team who discovered the bones, Susan Hendrickson.
When you have one of the world’s T. rex experts just a few hours away, you’d be a fool not to talk to him about the anatomy, posture, and design elements of a sculpture of his favorite subject. So, I invited Pete and his son Matt to visit Lemmon.
They brought the unexpected gift of several of the actual tools used to dig Sue twenty years before, along with a cast miniaturization of the original skull of Stan, the second-largest rex ever. Of course, I took great pleasure in distributing these items throughout the body of the sculpture.
Because of a long and convoluted (Pete says “crazy”) story, the real Sue fossil was sold at Sotheby’s auction house for more than eight-million dollars, and is now on permanent exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. My version has been purchased by the world-famous Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in San Francisco, California.