A field trip to the Nebraska State Capitol led Bob Diffendal on an unexpected journey nearly 90 years in the making.
“One of the places we visited was the capitol archives,” said Diffendal, an emeritus professor in the survey division of UNL’s School of Natural Resources. “The capitol archivist showed us many items in the collection. The most interesting to me were the large drawings done in color on tissue by the famous Nebraska paleontologist Erwin H. Barbour.”
In 1927, Barbour, a professor of geology and zoology at the University of Nebraska and director of the NU State Museum, was asked to fill another role: artist.
“He drew pictures of fossil plants and animals for artist Hildreth Meiere to copy,” Diffendal said. “She used some of these drawings to make some of the mosaic pictures of fossils on the floor of the Nebraska State Capitol Rotunda.
Barbour’s drawings had been missing for decades. Several were discovered in 1982 and donated to the capitol archives.
Seeing the resurfaced drawings inspired Diffendal to write two books about the fossils and mosaics on the Nebraska State Capitol’s Rotunda floor.
“These images captivate thousands of visitors each year,” he said. “I’ve heard parents, tour leaders and teachers struggle to describe what they’re looking at when they’re looking at the mosaics. I wanted to put something together to give them a fighting chance at telling kids what these mosaics are depicting.”
“Fossils on the Floor in the Nebraska State Capitol” is an activities and coloring book geared toward children of all ages. Black-and-white pictures of the mosaics are paired with scientific drawings. Readers can choose their own colors for images and complete questions and activities.
“Fossils on the Floor: Mosaics in the Rotunda of the Nebraska State Capitol” is a companion to the activities and coloring book that provides teens and adults with additional information about the creators of the mosaics, the materials used and the project overall.
Both publications are available for purchase from the Nebraska Maps and More Store on the first floor of Hardin Hall at 33rd and Holdrege streets. The book can also be purchased online at http://nebraskamaps.unl.edu. To place an order over the phone, call 402-472-3471.