New ’Birds of Paradise ’ Exhibit at the Nature Museum Soars Beyond Expectations
by Alex Barnes
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has always been a special place for many Chicagoans. From the magic of the butterfly haven to the silliness of the room where you can change the flow of the river with elaborate wooden models, this little establishment is often left off the list of great Chicago museums, but is packed wall to wall with childish wonder. Though it is very much geared towards kids, teens and adults can still enjoy walking through its native prairie and the beautiful modeled indoor habitats, as well as reliving some of the sweet nostalgia that came with field trips to the charming building as children.
Unfortunately, the museum suffered from some neglect for many years, as exhibits were never updated. While stuffed animal displays and live insects and reptiles were timeless, spaces like the green technology rooms, boasting ´new and eco friendly developments,´ have since been proven otherwise or even banned. The games felt like a flashback to the early 2000s, and were not holding anyone´s interest.
Most of those outdated rooms were taken out to make space for this new bird exhibit, and the empty halls leading up to them were beautifully decorated. The roughly 200 foot hallway filled with different bird themed art is a spectacle. This hallway featured a small sculptural section, many paintings -- ranging from current trends (with a heavy presence of photorealism) to more classical styles -- and even a few graphite drawings. Every single piece displayed was breathtaking, and all of the pieces were created in the last 5 years, meaning that the museum was supporting contemporary painters.
At the actual entrance to the exhibit, the curators smartly transport the viewer into the rainforest environment with a pathway made up of screens with trees and wildlife projected onto them, along with the appropriate soundtrack, before opening up into a colorful and fully decorated room. Naturally, it was full of the bird of paradise´s crown jewel: gorgeous and ornamental feathers. Between all the showcases were tropical photos by Tim Laman, a wildlife photojournalist who published a piece about birds of paradise in National Geographic in 2007, showcasing many different varieties of the birds. Plenty of information was also available, covering historical hunting of the birds, their use by the tribes in their native New Guinea, and general biological information. The star of the room for the kids seemed to be the giant mechanized metallic bird which rose into its mating dance position when a button was pushed.
This new exhibit was clearly a success, giving the Nature Museum a much needed update, as well as providing a very well done showcase. It had something for all ages, including games and animations for younger viewers, beautiful art for more mature ones, and of course the gorgeous feathers that captivated both. At only $7.00 admission for students, this is a great weekend trip for any Northsider looking for something to do.