Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 9:30 PM on Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lee Post: self-taught skeleton reconstruction expert

Kachemak Color

By Lindsay Johnson
Staff writer

Editor's note: "Kachemak Color" features residents who make the communities of the southern Kenai Peninsula interesting. If you know of someone who you think would make a good story, call the editor at 235-7767.


 

Photographer: Lindsay Johnson, Homer News

Lee Post stands next to one of his cases of skulls at his home in Homer. On the wall behind him is an emu skeleton.

Lee Post was consistently late to elementary school.

"You need to send him off earlier," said the phone calls his mother would receive from school, but it didn't matter how much time he had to walk there.

"He would get distracted by animal tracks and things in the pond," said his younger sister, Sue Post.

She remembers her brother's childhood room as a museum full of rocks and bones and dead things in jars.

"He's just always been fascinated with this stuff," she said.

Post readily admits to being a nerd. He presents a little differently than the average schoolhouse variety, however. He never actually finished college, but instead worked as a bicycle mechanic and came to the end of the road from Anchorage with his mother when they bought the Homer Bookstore 33 years ago.

As a bicycle repairman and a bookseller, Post used his free time to volunteer at the Pratt Museum, which had recently acquired a dead Bering Sea beaked whale.

And that's when Lee Post became the Boneman.

"For me in this town it was like the perfect place at the perfect time. I always wanted to work at a museum, but I didn't have a degree," Post said.

"The reality was that they didn't have time to put it together, so it became my project."

Projects like this propelled Post into a career he could only dream of as a child.

"To me his curiosity, creative entrepreneurship and enthusiasm are quintessential Homer," said his longtime friend and kayaking buddy, Anne Marie Holen.

Post thought he'd just order a book on how to put a whale skeleton together, but found out there weren't any. So he called around the country and found that most display skeletons had been assembled a hundred years ago by folks who didn't take notes and were long dead.

It took him 300 hours of work in a makeshift room in the museum basement, consulting whatever fisherman or carpenter was handy when he got stuck, for Post to assemble the whale skeleton that now hangs upstairs at the Pratt.

"That got me going, so I started doing a skeleton or two a year for the next 10 years or so. A dozen, 15 whales later I pretty much have it down to how to do this now," Post said.

He has literally written the book on skeleton building, or, as he calls it, "articulation." To be precise, he's written and illustrated 10 which describe the method for articulating everything from little birds to massive marine mammals.

The manuals are based on Post's research and drawings, which are detailed and accurate enough to use as identification keys.

Post realized a need for such reference materials in 1987, while on an archaeological dig in Halibut Cove.

With high school-level art training, he has now drawn complete skeletons of more than 30 birds and 30 mammals. There still are no complete atlases to find out "what bone is this," but Post's drawings are a good place for a person to begin.

A lot of people start with his drawings.

Post has sent the bone articulation manuals to individuals and organizations around the world, and all but three states in the U.S.

The sperm whale skeleton, which hangs in the high school, helped kick off many more skeleton constructions, as students and teachers found out they, too, could be bone builders.

"We cleaned out the freezers and ended up putting together six or eight," Post said of student projects that followed.

There isn't much for local bone projects these days, so the majority of Post's work in Homer is at his "day job" at the Bookstore. In his free time, he replies to e-mails about bones, draws pictures of bones and edits the manuals, which he self publishes.

The side job takes him elsewhere in the state or Outside.

Post recently returned from Port Townsend, Wash., where he and a group of volunteers constructed an orca whale skeleton in 30 days. "He is absolutely passionate about his work, but is still able to make it relaxed, fun and engaging for everyone involved, allowing everyone in our community to have ownership of the project," said Port Townsend Marine Science Center Marine Program Coordinator Chrissy McLean.

One of the dedicated volunteers, 63-year-old Linda Dacon, said Post made it seem like anyone could build a whale.

"He brought work that is usually done in the workrooms and basements of museums, by curators, professional preparers and grad students, out into the open and honchoed a team of rank amateurs through the completion of a complex task," she said.

Post loves sharing the excitement of the natural world with others, be they children or adults, through books or bones.

"He really wants to foster that enthusiasm," Sue Post said.

"It's just cool to see that someone has kept that fascination and found a way to work with it. He's definitely been a role model in that sense."

For more about Lee Post, bone work or the orca project, visit: www.theboneman.com/

http://ptmsc.org/orca_project.html

http://ptmarinesciencecenter.blogspot.com/2011_02_01_archive.html

Lindsay Johnson may be reached at lindsay.johnson@homernews.com.

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