It is often so difficult to find something that the family can enjoy together. Adults want something intelligent and interesting, teens want something cool and scary, and the kids just want to play. Fortunately, the Sternberg Museum of Natural History at Fort Hays State University has found a way to incorporate all these.
The Sternberg Museum is now featuring a traveling exhibit titled "Amber Weaves of Grain" hosted by the Kansas Association of Straw Artists. The exhibit displays detailed and intricate pieces of art created from wheat. The pieces feature items specific to Kansas, such as the Great Seal of Kansas, woven using the technique called marquetry, which combines color with the wheat. Other items include a combine, houses, a classic hat and an American Eagle.
One of the temporary exhibits, Museum Memories, holds a diversity of items ranging from a Japanese newspaper to a World War I German machine gun. One item that has caught eyes for decades is the shrunken head from South America.
In another effort to keep history alive to visitors, Dr. Jerry Choate, museum director, led a group on a two-week safari to South Africa in July of 2003. Photographs and artifacts of the trip are now a part of the museum in their own temporary display, "Journey to South Africa: An Exhibit Experience."
The museum presents one of its finest displays at the very start. In the lobby stands a replica of an enormous Columbian Mammoth dwarfing onlookers at a height of more than 11 feet.
The Sternberg Museum walks people through its exhibits with ease and immerses them in the past. The exhibition models are so well done, you could swear they are real. Such is the exhibit of George Sternberg that greets visitors at the top of the stairs, at the entry to the main display area. He is unearthing the most famous fossil in the museum, the Fish-Within-a-Fish. The model is an amazing replica of Sternberg and the fossil, which is displayed a little further down the path. A video next to the display shows the fossil being unearthed in Gove County, Kansas, in 1952.
The museum works with modern technology throughout the displays. A movie theatre next to the Fish-Within-a-Fish tells the history of the museum, which was once in McCartney Hall on the FHSU campus.
Behind this theatre, a special display allows visitors to view workers working with fossils as the fossils are taken from the stone. Visitors are encouraged to talk and ask questions.
Proceeding through the museum, the displays change into different types of fossils ranging from "dragons of the air," pterosaurs, and "tigers of the sea," plesiosaurs. Along with these displays, signs are posted asking visitors to offer their own theories of how these pre-historic creatures ate, fought and lived.
More fossils are displayed in sets according to the subject. The first display shows life through time, how things have changed since the dinosaurs. Another explains the science of paleontology. One shows the places George Sternberg worked and depicts the fossils he found.
"The things that are here tell a story. These exhibits are very story-based," said Greg Walters, exhibits director.
If a visitor wants to see what some of the fossils may have looked like, an opening resembling a cave entrance next to the Fish-Within-a-Fish exhibit leads to an entirely new dimension of the museum known as Terrors of the Deep. In the cave, visitors view replicas of the creatures that haunted the deep, fossils of which are on display elsewhere in the museum.
After passing through the deep, representing a time in which Kansas was a sea bed in the Cretaceous Period, visitors come to a pre-historic Colorado where dinosaurs rule. Visitors are immersed in the dinosaurs' world. Information about all the dinosaurs is available to the visitors.
The Discovery Room, where live and inanimate displays are waiting to be played with and explored, is especially for children. Parents will not have to worry about children playing with something they are not supposed to because almost everything in this room is meant to be touched.
Entire shelves of fossils, furs, bones, teeth and skulls await. Magnifying glasses are available to help children get a closer look. Younger children can play with stuffed dinosaurs and other toys. Live animals, such as frogs, snakes and Howie the Iguana are at the back of the room.
Sternberg Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and youth and $3 for FHSU students with Tiger Cards. Admission is free for museum members and children 3 years old and under.