Robert Dorris, Erie Dinosaur Park (formerly Dinosaur-Not-So-National Park at Dorris’s home location)
South Walnut Street, Erie, Kansas, 66733, United States
About the Artist/Site
Born in Guymon, Oklahoma, Dorris joined the US Navy at the age of 17 and served during World War II aboard the aircraft carrier Princeton in the Pacific Theatre until it was sunk in the Battle of Leyte Gulf; he later served on the USS Siboney. Following his honorable discharge, Dorris moved to Kansas, where he met and, in 1949, married Elveta Newberry. They had a son and two daughters and lived on a farm near Galesburg for a while before moving to Texas, where Dorris worked in the aircraft industry for General Dynamics in Fort Worth. After he retired, they returned to live in southeastern Kansas, on the outskirts of Erie, a rural community of around 1150.
It is said that his daughter, like many children, was intrigued by dinosaurs, and asked her father to make her one; another narrative is that he was inspired to do so after seeing a display about dinosaurs after a visit to the Smithsonian in the 1980s. No matter the original impetus, beginning in 1989 he sketched out plans, photographed museum displays (there are actually several dinosaur museums in Kansas), and started haunting local junkyards to find potential body parts of scrap metal: vehicle seat springs were turned into ribs, car hoods became wings, bolts found a new life as fearsome teeth, and heads were formed from transmission casings, crankshafts, and oil pans.
Dorris’s creatures were generally faithful depictions of the prehistoric creatures that roamed the Kansas plains; mostly painted and ranging in scale from a few inches to thirty feet long, his menagerie included favorites such as Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus, Velociraptor, Triceratops, Brontosaurus, and a mother and baby Eryops.
In February 2014, Dorris’s family donated twelve of his sculptures to the Erie Community Foundation on behalf of the city of Erie (the family kept the biggest one as well as the smaller ones, because they were easy to share among family members). Believing that the sculptures will become a major attraction for visitors to the town, the dinosaurs were trucked down the street and reinstalled on specially constructed concrete pads within a fenced-in park area inside city limits. The community is currently involved in a fundraising campaign that will help complete the new Dinosaur Park, including repainting the sculptures and adding sidewalks and interpretive labels for each piece.
~Jo Farb Hernández
Map & Site Information
South Walnut Street
Erie, Kansas, 66733 us
Latitude/Longitude: 37.5669042 / -95.2394376
Cottonwood Falls, Kansas
Overland Park, Kansas