Historical Reconstruction – Julien Dubuque

For the Dubuque County Historical Society and the National Mississippi River Museum, a member of the Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program

Members of the Dubuque County Historical Society and curators at the National Mississippi River Museum approached me with a unique challenge. They sought the creation of a facial reconstruction based on the skull of Julien Dubuque, founder of the city of Dubuque, Iowa. Dubuque was a French Canadian fur trapper and friend to the Mesquakie Indians. Upon his death in 1810, he was buried on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. In the late 1800s, the original log mausoleum was replaced by a limestone tower and monument at the same site. At that time, excellent photographs were made of Dubuque’s skull prior to reburial. Though Dubuque’s actual skull now lies buried under many feet of concrete, I was able to use the photographs, along with historic and anthropological inputs to create a reasonable depiction of his appearance in life.


historical skull of julien dubuqueThe quality of the early skull photographs was very good and there were multiple available views. The complication arose due to a lack of scale or ruler in the images. This meant that although the craniofacial forms were visible, the size of the skull in life was not known.

dubuquep2The primary image that previously existed of Dubuque depicted him as a sort of frontiersman in a coon skin cap. Many historians disagreed with this portrayal since written records indicated a different type of individual. He was known to be a well-educated, polite and cultured man who lived like an upper class gentleman even while with the Native Americans. Documented to have played the violin at social gatherings, his cabin had china and furniture from St. Louis and a library of 58 books.

dubuquep3This forensic facial reconstruction challenge was part art and part science. Starting with the 1887 skull photos, the first step needed was to convert the photographs to life-size, so I decided to try a technique that had not previously been attempted. I consulted with anthropologist friend Dr. Kate Spradley from the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University, who supplied important data in the form of measurements. I knew that Dr. Spradley had measured multiple skeletons of males of French origin from the 18th Century from the Spitalfields Collections at Duckworth Laboratory in Cambridge, England. It occurred to me that I could scale the frontal Dubuque skull photo based on those measurements.

dubuquep4So, Dr. Spradley’s measurements were used as a scale to create life-size skull photos for each of the views. Red dots marked the width of the nasal aperture or nose opening. I enlarged the frontal skull photo so that the distance between the red dots was 25 millimeters which was the average bony nasal width based on the averages for white French males from a population living at about the time of Julien Dubuque. The multiple skull views were correlated and scaled using the nasal aperture as a foundation. Since the various formulas in forensic facial reconstruction require life-size work, the process could then begin.

dubuquep5The next step was to create an approximation of the missing mandible. For this, a formula from the field of orthodontics was used to sketch out the general structure for the jaw to correspond to the cranial measurements. The teeth were blocked in to relate to the fossas or sockets where the upper teeth would have been. Next, small dots were added at bony landmarks around the skull to show average tissue depths based on anthropological studies for white males.

dubuquep6Formulas from the field of forensic facial reconstruction helped determine the eyes, nose and mouth. The facial contours were developed by “connecting the dots” around the average tissue depths and the forms and features of the face were refined according to the bony architecture.  In addition, I always observe and study the various hypertrophic indicators on the bone that give clues about the relative robustness of the muscles in life.

dubuquep7Written descriptions of Julien Dubuque from the time at which he lived were the basis for the hair, eye and skin color. Clothing details reflect styles for gentlemen of this era.  Based on my experience drawing thousands of faces as a police composite artist, it is a matter of routine to develop details based on descriptions in words alone.

dubuquep8So, the finished reconstruction is an artistic interpretation based on a lot of scientific and historical input to give the best representation possible of the face of Julien Dubuque. This  exhibit can be seen at the National Historic Landmark Site, the Old Jail Museum in Dubuque, Iowa.

dubuquep9A tinted version of my reconstruction was done by Lisa Sheppard at Dreamfly Creations.


Historical Reconstruction for the National Geographic Channel

Fort William Henry…”The Last Mohican?”

image of karen t. taylor on the decrypters series on national geographic channel

image of the decrypters logoThe Decrypters is a series produced by Shine Television of London which aired on the National Geographic Channel in the US. For each episode the “Texas Team”, composed of anthropologists from the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University (FACTS) and other specialists, examined historically interesting skeletal cases using modern investigative methods. It was my task to assess each of the various skulls and artistically determine how the individual might have looked in life.

The episode called “The Last Mohican?” centered around a skeleton found at Fort William Henry in Lake George, New York. The fort was active during the French and Indian War, 1754-1763, a conflict between France and Great Britain. Both sides had Native American allies from multiple tribal groups. The violent siege and massacre in 1757 were later memorialized in the 1826 novel by James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans.

Image of book, The Last of the Mohicans

This early book edition includes cover art by renowned illustrator N. C. Wyeth.

The skull was in excellent condition despite the fact that it was more than 250 years old.  An assessment of the skeleton by the team’s anthropologists determined it to be Native American of unknown tribal affiliation. This strong male had been buried in an honored and revered manner along side British soldiers.  Indications were that he was held to be an important and respected person by the occupants of the fort. 

The right lateral view of the skull shows where I applied a bit of clay to stabilize the mandible for photography. There was slight damage to the zygomatic arch or cheekbone.

image of skull used in historical facial reconstruction by karen t. taylor
image of skull used in historical reconstruction by karen t. taylor
image of fort william henry historical facial reconstruction by karen t. taylor
Using an approach I developed in the mid-80s and have frequently employed in forensic identification cases, the facial image was drawn over the architecture of the skull.  The overall forms of the head were revealed and then each feature was determined according to anatomical formulas described in my text Forensic Art and Illustration.
 image of the lateral view of karen t. taylor's historical reconstruction from fort william henry
The drawings are done on tracing vellum over one-to-one photos of the skull applying tissue depths according to anthropological standards for various bony landmark locations.  Artistically, I try to “feel” my way around the structures of the skull with my pencil so that the resulting face reflects the subtleties of the facial forms.  One of the anthropologists, Dr. Kate Spradley, commented that she could “see” how I was thinking my way around the skull, which made me really happy.  All in all, this was a very rewarding case study for me.
 image of historical reconstruction done by karen t. taylor
My vision reveals the handsome face of an early Native American, strong and proud.
 lateral view of historical reconstruction done by karen t. taylor
The lateral drawing highlights the shallow head depth sometimes seen in this ancestral group.  Another feature is the “chignon” or rounded prominence on the center back of the head.
detail of historical reconstruction done by forensic artist karen t. taylor depicting the eyes

This eye area detail shows how I believe the structure of the bony brow ridges would determine the look of the brow area on the surface of the face. Similarly, the crooked bridge of the bony nose would dictate the appearance of the soft tissue bridge of the nose.

image of historical reconstruction detail by karen t. taylor depicting the chin

Detail of the chin, showing how the mounded form on the surface is determined by the skull beneath.

image of karen t. taylor on the set of the decrypters working on a historical reconstruction project

This is a photo taken on the set while I was “in the zone” working and oblivious to the camera.

2a00d433c93d90bcc919e19a146880e2This skull-face comparison will hopefully reveal my efforts to depict as accurate a face as possible.  It was a privilege to be a part of this project to help restore the humanity of this long-ago hero.