Well, last week was pretty great. Thursday evening, we had the opening reception for the Hidden Prairie temporary exhibit at the University of Nebraska State Museum’s Morrill Hall. The exhibit, which runs from now until May, 2022, features the square meter photography project I did back in 2018. First a book, now a museum exhibit – all from a silly idea I had to see what I could find within one little bit of prairie over a year! As I said during the reception, I kinda feel like I’ve just pulled off the greatest prank of my life…
From the beginning, the square meter photography project was meant to showcase the beauty and diversity of prairies and encourage people to explore prairies near them. Prairies can sometimes produce spectacular flower shows or contain big wildlife spectacles, but much of the time they look relatively dull when viewed from a distance by the uninitiated. I was hoping to show that prairies always have something interesting to discover if you look closely enough. I’m really happy to see that message resonating.
On Saturday, I went back to the museum with my two older kids and spent some time photographing the exhibit (and exploring the rest of the museum, which is really terrific – I’ve been there many times, but always learn new things). While the photos included here don’t show them, there were a lot of visitors passing through, and it was really fun to eavesdrop on their reactions. They included just what I was hoping for – a lot of surprise about the diversity of prairies and admiration for the beauty of the community and species.
I’m incredibly grateful for the museum staff’s energy and creativity that went into creating this exhibit. Angie Fox, in particular, drove the entire process and it was a joy to work with and learn from her. I also want to call out Zak Kathol for his amazing work in constructing the exhibit itself. When we first decided to pursue this exhibit, I said my dream would be to provide actual square meters of prairie for people to explore, but that I knew that was pretty impractical. Thanks to Zak’s willingness to innovate, we ended up exactly what I’d hoped for! He is also a wizard with PVC, as you’ll see in both the Maximilian sunflower and sideoats grama sculptures he created.
There are several activities for kids (and adults) within the exhibit, including a sorting blocks exercise displaying the key characteristics of various insect groups, a couple activities related to research on the variety of insect larvae that can be found inside sunflower heads, and a video screen that encourages visitors to practice dancing like various prairie organisms. There are also several videos that talk about both the ecology of and cultural relationships with prairies, including indigenous perspectives and both historic and modern relationships between people and grassland.
If you live near, or will be traveling through Lincoln, Nebraska between now and May, I hope you’ll stop and visit the exhibit. Hopefully, you’ll be joining many many others who will be exposed to what most us already know – the fascinating and complex communities that live in prairies.
This looks amazing! I wonder if there would ever be a chance the exhibit could go on the road. Thanks for all you do Chris.
Thanks. We’re definitely trying to come up with ways at least some of the exhibit can travel… Stay tuned!
The exhibit looks awesome! What a great idea!!! I hope to get there!
Fantastic! The result of great work and lots of personal enthusiam.
This is awesome! That was a brilliant idea to focus on one square meter. Congratulations!
:o :o lots of amazing skills on display in this exhibit!! kudos to Angie, Zak, MJ, and you on a great collaboration!
This is incredible!
Sarah Geurtz, PLA
Congratulations, Chris! This is just phenomenal! I was just talking this weekend about how long it has been since I went to the museum – that’s going to change very soon!
Congratulations! This is a beautiful exhibit to accompany your wonderful book. Well done!
Way to go Chris what an accomplishment with a very important message. Beautiful exhibit. I hope it comes just in time for us to take much needed care of all inhabitants of our planet.
Great idea Chris and beautifully done. Hope we can see it next time we’re visiting.
Road Trip!!! 🌻🦋🌾
What an awesome display! Congratulations on your 1 sq. meter project being made accessible to the public. Wonderful collaboration of all you talented people.
Looks fantastic! I think I need a road trip west this spring!
Hearty congrats, Chris. Hope to get there soon.
This is amazing, Chris! What an amazing way to bring attention to prairies, the red-headed stepchild of the plant world, unappreciated and overlooked.
Congratulations! What a wonderful way to interest people in something you’ve helped us all see in its fascination.
omg that’s gorgeous!
Looks fabulous Chris. Congratulations! >
That is fantastic and I love the huge model plants! Especially the grama!
Congratulations Chris. You have wonderfully shared via your great blog and now you have another special success. How grand.
Congratulations, Chris, this is a beautiful exhibit! We Californians hope to visit one or more of “your” prairies some day when we are in Minnesota at our daughter’s house. Seeing the exhibit would be a plus… Anna van Raaphorst and Dick Johnson
Wow…and thank you! What a gift you’ve given through the eyes of your trusty camera.,
Congratulations. I hope the exhibit will be virtual soon!
CHRIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is so cool! Congratulations! –Kim
Kimberly R. Hall, PhD
Climate Change Ecologist
The Nature Conservancy
North America Conservation Region
Oh, wow! This is amazing! Looks like an absolutely gorgeous display. Congratulations!!
Wow! Fantastic, Chris! I plan to be in NE a couple of times between now and next May. I’ll be sure to stop by your exhibit.
Wonderful exhibit! Congratulations!! I will check it out this week and I can’t wait to see your dream project.
CONGRATULATIONS Chris! I’m sure this is AMAZING and well deserved! Keep doing what you love as it shows!
Absolutely awe inspiring. Peter J. Hahn, commissioner, PHNRC
On Mon, Oct 18, 2021 at 1:29 PM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:
> Chris Helzer posted: ” Well, last week was pretty great. Thursday evening, > we had the opening reception for the Hidden Prairie temporary exhibit at > the University of Nebraska State Museum’s Morrill Hall. The exhibit, which > runs from now until May, 2022, features the square m” >
Congratulations to you and the people that helped make this dream happen.
Congratulations! That looks amazing!
I am so happy for this guy. His photography alone could carry an exhibit!
Saundra Sent from my iPhone
I for one am not surprised. This is fabulous. Congratulations.
Wow! That is wonderful! Well deserved – and what fun it will be. Planning to check it out soon! Thank you again for reminding us to stop and take a closer look at the important stuff!
What a fabulous exhibit. Big oaks, little acorns, and all that. I’m glad it’s going to be available well into spring. If I’m in the area, this would be at the top of my to-visit list. Congratulations!
As a former Chief Naturalist in the Dallas Museum of Natural History, sadly gone now, I applaud this work by staff, entomologists, photographers and You, bringing the prairie up close and personal to the many who will attend!
Very important research and observations from a critically endangered ecosystem that is vitally important, especially now!
Will this be a traveling exhibit???
Thanks for sharing this momentous occasion with us 😊
Thanks Becky, we hope parts of it can travel, but the cool square meter cases probably won’t be feasible to ship anywhere.
Awesome and amazing! I do hope this can become a traveling exhibit. I would be willing to make connections with the Greeley (CO) History Museum and/or the Museum of Discovery in Fort Collins CO.
This is amazing and fantastic!! As an interpretive naturalist, this is the kind of exhibitry I love to see – and wish we had at our small nature center (maybe some day, if we have a new building…).
Wow! Congratulations! This looks beautiful and fascinating. Is there a virtual tour of the exhibit?
Not at this point, but I’d like to see that. I know there will be curriculum built around it, but I’m not sure if a virtual tour is part of that plan. I’ll ask!
Beautiful and inspiring exhibit! Wish we lived closer to visit the museum.
Congratulations, Chris! The exhibit looks fantastic with your images and displays. What a great idea. Bravo!
Very nice . . .
This is Awesome!Â Congrats to you and the entire museum staff, what a great exhibit, so creative and engaging.Â Wonderful for the Prairies too.Â Maybe you can make it a traveling museum/exhibit, good for Nature, TNC, and the communities who get to view it.
113 species in one square meter? You might be bumping into the max species limit that some have found for grasslands, which are the most biodiverse ecology at that scale.
That number is mostly invertebrates… Of those 113, only 15 were plants.
Wow! This exhibit is a tremendous success story, Chris — we’re all elated for you. The displays, photos, videos, interactive opportunities — everything is outstanding. A year spent with one square meter. You probably will never fully know how many minds and hearts you’ve touched, how many folks have discovered — like you and us — what an fascinating place prairies are. I, too, wish the exhibit would go on the road. Would that be possible if there was demand?
Chris this is fantastic, nice work. It has been fun watching you progress in your career from a talented undergraduate to now. Keep up the good work. I shared this with my daughter in-law, the Senior Gardner at Lauritzen, hope the Garden reaches out as well.
Thanks great!! Congratulations!!