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University Student Sculpts Utahraptor For USU Geology Museum

Justin Tolman painting Percy
Justin Tolman


Justin Tolman. He’s a sculptor and dinosaur connoisseur, with a particular interest in dromaeosaurids, more commonly known as raptors.


“Dinosaurs have been a lifelong passion of mine, since I was a little kid. And I discovered sculpture and I was like, 'Wow, I can make money, I can incorporate a childhood passion into a potential money making opportunity,'” Tolman said.


That money-making opportunity is becoming a reality for Tolman. He is a senior at Utah State University, and has been spending the last few months working on a project for the USU Geology Department. It’s a sculpture of Utah’s new official state dinosaur, the Utahraptor. He proposed the idea of making the Utahraptor to the geology department, and they offered to pay for all of the supplies, while he gets school credit.


The creation of the raptor was somewhat unique. Few students at USU make such large projects, so the school didn’t actually have a kiln large enough to hold the dinosaur. So he went to the next best thing, Orbital ATK, the aerospace manufacturer west of Brigham City.


“We asked them and they jumped all over it," Tolman said. "They were super excited and so they volunteered one of their buildings and one of their smaller ovens for the firing. It was really nice, because they could control the temperature exactly where I needed it for the exact length of time.”


And ATK did all of that for him for free, which ended up costing them around $15,000's worth of manpower.


“The engineers out there were ooo-ing and aaa-ing, and they were super excited, and they’d never seen anything like it. They’re used to building rockets and rocket fuel, and here comes a dinosaur,” Tolman said.


And this isn’t any old dinosaur. In fact, he even has a name. Percy.


“I kind of view Percy as probably a seasoned veteran, so probably a nice father figure," Tolman said. "Say a 10 year old walks into the museum, and he steps on a twig or something, and there’s a little snap, and so the raptor perks up and looks over and its feathers ruffle on its head and it kind of checks him out a little bit, that’s kind of the idea behind the pose.”


One unique feature about Percy are his feathers. It’s a common theory that Utahraptors had feathers running down their back and arms. Tolman spent about 350 hours working on Percy and says about 150 of those tedious hours were directly for the feathers, which he enlisted his wife to help with.


The USU Geology Department and Tolman will unveil Percy on April 20th at 5:00 PM in the geology building on USU campus in Logan. After Percy’s residence there, he will be moved to his permanent home upstairs in the Geology museum.