The Children’s Museum Remembers Victor Porter
On Thursday, November 3, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis lost a beloved member of our staff— a self-taught paleontologist who has brought science to life for anyone who visited the Paleontology Lab in Dinosphere. Victor E. Porter (Mar. 9, 1959–Nov. 3, 2016) made his mark on The Children’s Museum— and the paleontology world at large—through the friendships he built, the extraordinary fossils he prepped, and the science he made real for children and adults alike.
To Victor, the most important thing about paleontology wasn’t the dinosaurs, it was the people. He could talk to anyone at any time about anything. He stood out because of his contagious enthusiasm that bubbled over the moment you met him. His love for human interaction is what made him thrive in The Children’s Museum’s Paleo Prep Lab. In most museums with a “working” lab window, scientists may consider it a distraction to speak to visitors while taking on the difficult task of prepping a fossil. For Victor, this was no problem whatsoever. Originally, the rule at the museum’s Paleo Prep Lab was that the window should remain open from 10 a.m. to noon. Victor saw no sense in that, he just left it open all the time so families could ask questions. After that, the window was open during all business hours. Because Victor was right—it was just more fun that way.
A jeweler for forty years, Victor had amazing fine motor skills and a minute attention to detail—abilities that were essential for fossil prep. When Dracorex hogwartsia was first donated to the museum prior to Dinosphere’s opening in 2004, the task of prepping this important, first-of-its-kind fossil seemed daunting. Victor’s prep skills, however, were well-known in the field. Having had experience as a volunteer on digs with the Indiana State Museum and the Black Hills Institute, he came highly recommended by renowned paleontologists Dr. Robert Bakker and Peter Larson.
Dallas Evans, The Children’s Museum’s Lead Curator of Natural Science and Paleontology, shared,
You take Victor’s prep skills, then you add on that personality. Only Victor could take a type specimen like Dracorex, and not only prep it beautifully, but do so while talking to children and families. Very few scientists can do such meticulous work while being engaging and speaking at the appropriate level for visitors of all ages. For Victor, that’s just a natural gift that he had.
Led by Dr. Bakker, Victor went on to contribute to Dracorex’s research, and is listed as a co-author in the resulting published scientific paper, which presented the dinosaur as a new genus and species. Victor was especially proud when, in 2007, Dracorex was featured on the cover of National Geographic. In his spare time, he loved to create sculptures of Dracorex, helping visitors visualize what the creature really looked like. You can see many of these sculptures around the Paleo Lab today.
Overall, Victor’s work in paleontology was a family affair. The first time that a T.rex was set up for display in the museum, Victor was there with his then three-year-old daughter, Victoria, by his side. During one of The Children’s Museum’s early trips to the Ruth Mason Quarry dig site, Victor could be seen with his young son, Alexander, toddling behind. It was Victoria, at 9-years-old, who suggested that Dracorex be named “dragon king,” after overhearing so many young visitors exclaiming, “It looks like a dragon!” as her dad prepped the fossil in the Paleo Lab window.
Victor brought his wit and sparkle to the Paleo Lab every single day, and his last day at the museum was no different. He spoke with kids at the window and got them excited about science. He led a tour for Dinosphere donor Polly Horton Hix, who came in and gave him a big hug before he showed her family around the lab. Later his daughter volunteered alongside him in the lab—all while he worked with the Indiana State Museum on additional projects that same day. That was typical Victor. Ultimately, he wasn’t using paleontology to impress. It was not, “Look at me, I’m doing science!” For Victor it was, “Look at us—we can all do science.”
Victor impacted countless people through his work at the Paleo Lab window. If you were one of those lucky people, we encourage you—our museum family and community—to share your memories with us.