Dunky Downtown

Artist Jonathan Sims works on his mural of Dunky the Dunkleosteus in an ally in downtown Iowa City

You may have noticed yet another round of mural installations underway downtown this summer. The Iowa City Mural Project, lead by the former ICDD Director of Public Art, Thomas Agran, reinvests in public art in the Downtown Iowa City District, bringing color, depth and joy to our campus and community.

As it would happen, the UI Museum of Natural History is lucky enough to have Agran himself working on a new exhibit mural for our lions in Mammal Hall (more on that later…), but we found ourselves doubly lucky when we learned that local artist Jonathan Sims was chosen to install a very special mural as part of the project this year. His design? It’s Dunky!

You know, Dunky, our beloved prehistoric fish, the Dunkleosteus depicted in a thriving underwater seascape that represents what our area looked like during the Devonian Age: underwater, alive with coral, algae, trilobites and more. The scene was brought to life in the UIMNH Iowa Hall gallery in the mid 80s. It remains on display for thousands of guests each year (students and the public alike) who visit our free-admission, educational exhibits to learn about a geological history of our great state through billions of years of time. Sims is bringing it to life once again, this time in the ally connecting Dubuque and Linn streets, between Iowa Ave and Washington Street, adorning the south exterior wall of a new music venue, Elrays.

Dunky (the Dunkleosteus) fan in a Dunky tee designed by Johnathan Sims at the sight of the new Dunky mural.

 “MNH is awesome. A true Iowa City institution,” Sims told us. “We were looking for something that viewers could engage with and I could imagine folks taking photos where it might look like they’re about to be eaten by Dunky.” It helped that working on creative projects involving Dunky was not new to the Iowa City artist. In an unrelated endeavor, Sims was also behind the brush for some of our gift shop designs including our Dunky tee. 

The Iowa City Postcard mural design, also by Thomas Agran, located in the ally nearest the Iowa City Public Library includes imagery of both our beloved Rusty the Giant Sloth (also found in Iowa Hall) and the Old Capitol Museum. It’s fair to say that our museums feel honored by the work in the Iowa City Mural Project. We think of many of our exhibits and the amazing murals they've long featured as an extension of this project: free to the public, here to enrich our environments, weaving color, depth, joy, and even science education into our home.