Sculptor fashions behemoths from scrapped auto parts

Until the end of this month, there's a Dinosaur Hotline to call in Los Angeles. Not that a dinosaur will answer. Instead, you'll reach a live number and a cheery voice at the Museum of Natural History that will invite you to visit some 20th-century dinosaurs (15 of them) and other fossils - sculptured entirely from discarded and obsolete auto parts - which are now inhabiting the museum and ''roaming'' the grounds.

Sculptor Jim Gary of Red Bank, N.J., is the creator of these amazingly accurate reproductions, which have been exhibited nationwide in galleries, universities, and other museums.

For the last several years, through artist-in-residence programs, Gary has taught numerous schoolchildren about sculpture and presented over 100 miniworkshops to schools throughout the country.

These 20th-century dinosaurs, led by an enormous 42-feet-long brontosaurus composed of more than 500 individual auto parts, provide the setting for Dinosaur Days at the museum.

This is a three-month extravaganza of educational programs and events related to these intriguing creatures, who roamed the earth more than 140 million years ago.

The large variety of programs, films, workshops, lectures, tours, and travel adventures is intended for a wide audience - from teachers, families, and children to scholarly dinosaurophiles.

The connecting link, however, is the auto-parts dinosaurs, which are everyone's favorites, even upstaging the museum's own dinosaur models for popularity. The huge brontosaurus has won a number of awards, including one from the National Sculpture Society.

And who could help giving an appreciative grin to a low-slung, lumbering anklyosaur built to scale, a creature who sports a 25-year-old Volkswagen roof for its shell, two oil pans for its head, leaf springs for its ribs, and countless other discarded parts to complete the resemblance? Or who could help marveling at a flying pteranodon fossil with an 18-foot wing span?

Car buffs and children particularly love these creatures and return time and again, having great fun identifying the parts.

For the opening of his exhibits, Gary is present to explain, answer questions , autograph his illustrated ''20th Century Dinosaurs'' book for young children, and demonstrate his welding techniques in assembling the sculptures.

Discussing his teaching methods, Gary says, ''I don't teach welding, although I do demonstrate it as a frame of reference for possible future use.''

Then he explains the main thrusts of his program, which are:

* To teach students to open their eyes and observe accurately the who, what, and how of any object they're looking at.

* To have them discuss and describe it in depth so they become aware of its various elements, content, form, color, and texture.

* To search for a resemblance, no matter how farfetched, to something else.

* To examine the possibility of transforming objects right at hand to another context, either intact or in combination with other items. Not to be sensational , but to obtain a legitimate objective: a kind of recycling.

''I feel this method of approach helps stimulate a creative flow, where before it lay dormant, perhaps because of shyness or lack of observation.

''The all-important point is that it jolts students out of the rut of seeing and accepting things only as they appear - and leads, instead, to recognizing the hidden potentials and individual meanings in everything.''

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