A soaring pterodactyl with a 30-foot wingspan hangs suspended in midflight over the lobby of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. A menacing stegosaurus stalks nearby.
The creatures will serve as the welcoming committee for T.rex Sue, a dinosaur exhibit due to arrive at the museum in April.
Peter Thomas, a 17-year-old Lewis and Clark High School junior, created these remarkable works of art in the South Hill home he shares with his parents, Jeff and Joanne Thomas. Amazingly, the massive dinosaurs are crafted mainly from newspaper, cardboard and packing tape.
“Peter was drawing three dimensional things at age 4,” Joanne Thomas said. “His fascination with dinosaurs started at 3, and by second grade he was building them.”
“I just used what we had available,” Peter said, calling an early model made of plastic drinking straws his “primitive work.”
From the framed kindergarten drawings in the entryway to the huge dinosaur head in the basement, the home is filled with Peter’s art. Paintings, sketches and models depict all kinds of dinosaurs, each one unique. A recent welding class led him to create a dinosaur out of copper wire. The delicately balanced creature seems poised for movement.
His basement work area is dominated by his lone nondinosaur masterpiece, a larger-than-life replica of an alien from the movie trilogy, “Alien.” The clear packing tape construction gives the monster a realistically slimy appearance. Thomas said he learned a lot by creating this piece.
“I got frustrated with masking tape because it peeled too easily,” he said. When the model began to collapse because of its weight, Thomas had to carefully add a rebar framework to stabilize it.
“I used to just start blind,” he said. Now, he often uses wire hangers for the frames.
His supplies are easy to come by. “He had a box full of junk – just stuff,” said Joanne. Peter shrugged, smiled and said, “It takes me about two years to throw something away.”
Many of the dinosaurs have golf balls for eyes. Some of the smaller models are papier-mâché. Thomas likes the fact that his art is “kind of green.”
“My parents have been very kind,” said the teen, referring to the amount of sheer space his creative outlet occupies in the family home.
When the T.rex Sue exhibit arrives in April, Thomas will take on a new challenge. He’ll create a work in progress in the museum. An exhibit area will be set aside for him, and he’ll craft a dinosaur on site during “Sue’s” visit from April 28 through Sept. 2.
His parents are proud of Peter’s passion and commitment to his art. “He’s really self-taught,” Joanne Thomas said. She noted that all her son needed was, the materials, the time and the space.
“The thing that impresses me most is his ability to see in his mind the finished work,” Jeff Thomas said.
“I really respect his tenacity.”
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