Volume 1176
John Coleman Burroughs at work in his studio
From Tarzana, California
A Danton Burroughs
John Coleman Burroughs
Family Archive Feature
Danton Burroughs

John Coleman Burroughs from NU Alpha Fraternity group picture 1931


From the ERBzine John Coleman Burroughs Biography:
Sumner Hall - Original Pomona College BuildingRembrandt Hall: Original Art Building at Pomona College
Pomona College
The Teen Years"Pursuing his interest in art, John Coleman enrolled in Pomona College in 1930. Before he left for college, his father had  confided that he was not in agreement with much of what colleges stood for and also that he feared that Jack would meet literary people who would deride the Burroughs stories. Ed urged his son not to take these criticisms seriously and repeated statements he often made about his work. He had no pretensions about being a skilled or profound writer; his sole purpose was to create entertainment for the reader. 

"Jack shared his father's appreciation of classical art and he worked hard to learn the basic techniques of the old masters. In one of the courses he studied anatomy by dissecting a human cadaver. He recalls working in the "Biology Department basement at night with children's big eyes watching me through the high basement window as I worked on my half of the specimen assigned to me." 

"Jack was very successful in his four years at Pomona College and he graduated with honours in 1934 (Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum lauda). For his graduate project he acquired some real sabre-tooth tiger bones from the Los Angeles County Museum, which had recovered them from the La Brea tar pits. He then used these bones for inspiration in the creation of a model of a saber-tooth tiger, which was considered an outstanding piece of work and was placed on exhibition at the Los Angeles Art Museum."



[1.] At the time I entered Honors in my Junior year I had evolved in my own mind a plan whereby I might successfully combine certain phases of art and science into my study program. In addition to further perfecting myself in drawing and painting I desired to correlate any ability that I possibly possessed of this nature with studies of comparative anatomical research in the realm of zoology.

As far as time and my capacity permitted during my last two years I adhered to this plan, under t he guidance of Mr. Beggs and Mr. Gilchrist of the Art and Science Departments, respectively. To Mr. Beggs I am greatly indebted not only for his splendid advice and teaching but for the outside time which he kindly devoted with me in in such activities as sketching trips, visits to the Los Angeles County and Pasadena Museums, and tours of Mr. Gay's lion farm where we obtained numerous valuable anatomical photographs. From Mr. Gilchrist I was very fortunate in obtaining suggestions for reading and the use of facilities and specimens of the Zoology Department. 

For the purpose of creating some tangible expression of the Honors study I had done, I decided upon a project the completion of which would represent to some degree not only the studies in the fields of art and science that I had made but would denote the trend of some future work which I had in mind. 

This project was the restoration in a plastic material of the Sabre-Tooth Tiger, a beast extinct some 10,000 years. Its skeleton, Dr. Bryan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum, very kindly consented to loan the college for my use.  As the project called for the cat to be placed within a set which I designed and the background of which I painted in order to indicate the atmosphere, general landscape and flora of the period, it is obvious what type of study both artistic and scientific was involved. To Mr. Jurecka, sculpture instructor, I am greatly indebted for excellent suggestions and for criticism of my work. 

[2] As long as I can remember I have been keenly interested in art and paleontology. Interest in the former evidenced itself quite early in the usual way when I attempted to create likenesses of my teachers with which I decorated or defaced the inside of my schoolbook covers, a trait, incidentally, which I have not yet successfully overcome. Having been raised on a ranch it is not surprising that my brother and I should develop an early concern in matters paleontological. We became bone collectors. I think the remains of every wild coyote or domestic cow which had passed away on that ranch were subjected to our severe scrutiny and criticism and if not in too horrible a state of putrefaction each skull would find itself relegated to our bone collection. Periodically the whole assortment would be brought forth under the unwilling nostrils of our guests. We would then discuss the relative antiquity of each specimen, relying more upon our sense of smell as a determining agent than upon any paleontological knowledge we might have possessed. 

The knowledge of what we were finding grew in proportion to our collection as time passed. We photographed many specimens that we could not cart home and I made drawings of others. Of course it was a little disappointing when we came to realize that nothing we found looked much like the prehistoric remains so nicely encased within the museums and probably failed to antedate even ourselves in age. 

No childish interest like that could ever be thought of as a waste of time. For me this early hobby meant an increased interest in later years to think of the skeletal structure of the lions and tigers in the zoo or the musculature of the beautiful thorobreds at the race tracks. Whenever I could get an opportunity to see the mounted skeletons of prehistoric b beasts at the museum there was an ensuing thrill as I attempted to mentally picture the extinct beasts they represented in a prehistoric scene. These mental pictures seemed very real and convincing to me, but when I tried to produce them on paper I always failed to create the illusion I wanted. I lacked the artistic skill and scientific knowledge to produce anything approximating the picture that the animal probably presented. 

Many artists have had some success through their artistic ability in creating some sort of an illusion of prehistoric life for the eye of the general public. Of the scientific inaccuracy of these pictures, however, one has only to question a paleontologist to be informed. He will tell you of the inadequacy of most artists to interpret the scientists' word picture of the life of the period whether he tries it on canvas or with clay. But one does not need to be an artist to realize the inability of the scientist to create a convincing picture oa any thing when he uses the artist's tools. Because each lacks the interest or time to devote himself to a study of the other's field, it follows that public enlightenment suffers, at least as far as this matter is concerned. 

In company with Mr. Beggs I have questioned Dr. Stock and Dr. Bryan, both museum men, relative to the opportunities in store for scientifically i inclined men who at the same time have artistic ability. They both informed us that for the exception of such men as Knight, Horsefall, and Ridgeway, this combination is practically non-existent. Nor did either hesitate to inform us that to his knowledge there were no other s to take the places of those men of whom we were told. That there is a wonderful opportunity for capable men to carry on the work in this field is plain to see. That it is one which has hardly been scratched outside of textbook drawings and scientific journals make the opportunity for general educational purposes even more unmistakable. 

These conversations served to strengthen the growing desire I had for attempting to participate in work of this nature at some time. 

[3] I feel that there is no better way of interpreting the scientist's conception of the prehistoric life of our world than by means of restorations which are both convincing and accurate. [I should like to prepare myself for contributing to museums such restorations.]

After graduation I intend to continue my study of painting at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. In addition I shall endeavor to study paleontology under Dr. Chester Stock at the California Institute of Technology. Through Dr. Wm. Alanson Bryan I hope to become acquainted with men whom he recommends in the field of restoration and with whom contact would be valuable. 

My project under the Fellowship will consist of duplicating for contribution to the Los Angeles Museum, the small restoration of a Sabre-Tooth Tiger on which I am now working under my Honors program. This duplication under the Fellowship, however, will be a life-size model placed in a diorama with painted background and modeled foreground. the size of the set, of course, will be according to specifications of Dr. Bryan of the museum from whom I hope to be able to obtain permission for the  further use of the skeleton, and working space in the museum's basement. 

The finances for the realization of this project under the Fellowship I shall expect to be sufficient to enable me to purchase materials involved in he restoration and in the construction of the diorama in which it is to be placed. The exact sum I am not yet able to accurately state, but approximately $500. 

This restoration, I might say in closing, is one of a series that I should like to place or see placed eventually in the museum depicting as realistically and accurately as possible the prehistoric life of southern California.

Brothers Hulbert and John Coleman Burroughs

NU Alpha Fraternity: 1931-1932
NU Alpha Fraternity: 1931-1932 (click for full size image)

John Coleman's Sabre-Toothed Tigers

John Coleman and school chum


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