Owner / Publisher Sue Hodgson Chats with Carly Burbank, Managing Director of Pangea Fossils Ltd.
You and your husband run a successful “dinosaur” company, with your work displayed globally. Give us a glimpse into this world and what it takes to operate this type of company.
Anyone running their own business knows it comes with a lot of challenges. There is very little down time, and it keeps us on our toes. There is no such thing as business hours, time zones, or workdays, and we are constantly learning new things as we go. As the technology advances we are always seeking to improve our prepping methods. Things like 3D printing have recently become very advantageous when it comes to casting the missing pieces from our specimens.
It is a very cool business and we are one of few in the world that have the privilege of doing this type of work. It requires a lot of travel, which is a huge perk, and allows us to meet so many new, interesting people from all walks of life, and all different countries. One of the best rewards is standing in a museum and hearing people discuss how amazing the piece is, or watching someone see a specimen for the first time beyond the pages of a book, or online. There is a great deal of pride knowing that we are the ones who put it in there, and having been a part of the entire process. We also love seeing the expression on people’s faces when they first walk into our lab, or handle a piece we are displaying. We like to tell people we get to play in the dirt for a living!
You are currently working on the skeleton of an Allosaurus, a large carnivorous dinosaur that lived about 150 million years ago, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Can you share some of the process of preparing and restoring these type of fossils?
Every dinosaur, once it arrives in the lab, usually takes about a year to get it cleaned and removed from the plaster jackets, to a standing, mounted pose, ready for a museum. It takes a lot of patience and a really good eye for detail. Most of the work is done with air scribes (tools not unlike what you would see in your dentists office) and art knives. Depending on the specimen, and the condition it was in when it was found, several prep methods can be useful. We have staff that excel in all different areas of restoration: welding, painting, casting, sandblasting, 3D printing and photography. The process requires a lot of patience and a great eye for detail. It is truly a labour of love.
Whether we look at these fossils as artistic masterpieces or wonders of nature, dinosaur skeletons, fossils and minerals retrace the saga of evolution, especially that of terrestrial and marine mammals that are now extinct. Whatever the motives of those wanting to own such magnificent specimens, it seems that collecting and dealing in fossil relics is big business. After restoration, where do some of these fossils go and what type of people buy them?
Great question! Every dinosaur we acquire is always offered to a museum first. To date we have put several dinosaurs and fossils into major museums around the world. We are also very fortunate in that most of our “high profile” clients also like to buy specimens and donate them to museums as well. Our client base is certainly a very unique one. Our clients range from museums, A-list celebrities, politicians, scientists and movie producers to your everyday person who shares the same passion and love for these as we do.
After just one visit to Victoria four years ago, you immediately fell in love with this area and made it your new home. Has the move been an easy adjustment for the family and the business?
It was definitely a move of love, not logic. The timing wasn’t the best, and we ended up having to do an awful lot in a very short amount of time in order to tie up all the loose ends, but we made it work. The first year was difficult for all of us, but we have set down solid roots on the Island and can’t foresee ever living anywhere else. Our only regret now is that we didn’t do it way sooner! We’ve made so many amazing friends, and the location simply couldn’t be any more stunning!
You are the queen of Halloween, and each year your family’s home, Heritage Haunted House, is transformed into a creepy scary walking tour through vignettes both outside and inside. You’ve also made this event an annual fundraiser for Help Fill A Dream. What prompted you to work closely with this charity?
We have had the privilege of working with many charities over the years, both locally and internationally. Help Fill A Dream is one that we instantly felt was a perfect fit for us. What they do for Vancouver Island families is such a valuable service. They step in when parents are facing the most difficult time of their lives, and assist with so many of the costs associated with facing a pediatric life-threatening illness. As parents, none of us ever want to imagine our children being sick, let alone having to be without the financial means to receive the treatment required. HFAD can assist families with things from travel expenses to granting “Dreams” for the children, who would never otherwise be able to experience some of the things that those of us with healthy families can take for granted: vacations, camps, lessons, etc. We have also formed very close friendships with the staff and volunteers at HFAD and see firsthand how tirelessly they work to support this amazing cause.
Your entire family volunteers for other events with Help Fill A Dream and with other charitable causes; how do you find a balance for your volunteer work, running a successful business, and your family?
I’ll let you know when we figure that one out! Honestly, we all do the best we can with what we are given. Perfection will always be unattainable. If at the end of it all we can look back and say that we tried our best, and raised some decent humans, that’s all we can ask for.
Photo by www.nuttycake.com. Carly Burbank with her husband, Pangea owner and president Terry Ciotka; daughter Ireland and a Deinonychus skeleton.