Title of Work
Claude Bell's Dinosaurs and Ben Hartman
Date of Work
Super 8 film
Art & Design Study Collection: James Smith Pierce Film Collection
Stored: JSP.FAST.FILM BOX 1
UND Art Collections Repository
Born in Brooklyn, New York, James Smith Pierce received his PhD in art history from Harvard University. During his career as a professor, Pierce also became an accomplished artist, whose artworks were included in important exhibitions (including a show on land art at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC) and books on contemporary earthworks and site-specific sculpture. Pierce was also a photographer, exhibition curator, and art collector.
This film features two separate artists.
About Claude K. Bell:
Claude K. Bell was born in the year 1987. As a child he visited Lucy, a large elephant sculpture in Atlantic City New Jersey and was inspired. As a teenager he worked along one of Atlantic City’s boardwalk drawing figures of people in the sand. His father also worked on the boardwalk as a glass-blower. Bell later moved to California where he was hired by the theme park Knott’s Berry Farm to build statues in their Ghost Town Attraction. He would continue to work their as a sculptor and in their Portrait Studio until his retirement. One of his more prominent works from his time at Knott’s is the large Minutemen statue that stands outside of Independence Hall in the theme park.
Bell’s most notable works are the Cabazon Dinosaurs, two large dinosaur statues he constructed after his retirement from Knott’s Berry Farm. The statues were originally built to attract customers to Bells Wheel Inn Restaurant. The first of the dinosaurs, a brontosaurus nicknamed “Dinny”, was begun in 1964 and took eleven years to construct. Bell began by constructing a steel frame and then adding to it an expanded metal grid, this was then covered with layers of shotcrete and painted. It was made out of salvaged material from the construction of a nearby interstate. The material for Dinny alone would cost around $300,000. The sculpture was 45ft high and 150 ft long when completed and contained a room in its hollowed out interior.
The second dinosaur sculpture was of a T-rex nicked “Mr. Rex” and was built nearby in 1981. Mr. Rex also contained a room within. Plans for additional statues including a wooly mammoth and saber tooth tiger were drafted along with those for a prehistoric garden. These were never completed due to the death of Bell in 1988. In the mid 1990s the sculptures and surrounding property was sold by the Bell family and would become part of a roadside attraction. Despite their interiors containing frescos supporting evolutionary theory, the dinosaurs are now currently a creationist museum and gift shop.
About Ben Hartman:
Harry George “Ben” Hartman was born in Edenville, Pennsylvania in 1883. He left home at the age of sixteen to learn mold making and eventually settled in Springfield in 1913. After the passing of his first wife, Hartman remarried to Mary Johns in 1928, with whom he would have three children. The couple raised chickens and rabbits and grew vegetables on their rural property. Hartman began his rock garden in 1932 after he was laid off from his mold making job at the Springfield Machine Tool Co foundry, an effect of the Great Depression.
Hartman first built a concrete pond in his backyard which he lined with pink stone and filled with lilypads and goldfish. Hartman would continue to add to his garden for the next several years. By 1939 he had created over 50 structures within the garden. These were mainly constructed of concrete, stone, wood, metal, glass, and various found materials. Many of the structures were based off of Hartman’s interests or worldviews. These included a central “Tree of Life”, various figures of the Madonna, and models of Noah’s Ark, the Liberty Bell, and Valley Forge. The largest of these was a twelve foot tall stone castle with a drawbridge, a moat, and over a hundred windows, which he based off of a postcard of a castle in Berkeley Springs West Virginia.
Construction on the garden significantly slowed after Hartman was called back to work at the foundry in 1939. Hartman died in 1944 of silicosis, a lung disease he acquired from inhaling excess silica dust at his work. Hartman’s wife then preserved the garden until her own death in 1997. The property then went to the couple’s son Ben who was unable to maintain the garden due to poor health. The garden fell into disrepair until it was acquired and conserved by the Kohler Foundation in 2007. The garden was then gifted back to the Friends of Hartman Rock Garden, an organization dedicated to the ongoing preservation of the site.
Exposure lines at beginning of film.
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