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University of Iowa News Release


April 8, 2010

PHOTOS: Rusty the Sloth (top photo, left), one of the main attractions in Iowa Hall, was carved out of wood and foam and then covered with 1,500 cow tails. (Photo to right) Iowa Hall Model. Students look over a model of Iowa Hall prior to its opening.

Museum of Natural History celebrates 25th anniversary of Iowa Hall

Just a few years after celebrating its sesquicentennial, the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History (MNH) has another important milestone to celebrate. This May marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Iowa Hall gallery, which has become a vital educational resource for the UI and the surrounding community.

Festivities include a May 1 panel discussion with members of the original research and design team, and a public reception where the visitors will have an opportunity to interact with members of the panel. The MNH will also release its new book, "Window to the World," by MNH Collections Manager Cindy Opitz, offering a history of the museum as well as a pictorial guide to the exhibits.

On May 11, the actual anniversary date, the MNH will also host a family-friendly birthday party for "Rusty," the giant ground sloth, which will include birthday cake, a costume contest and the unveiling of Rusty's new costume. Birthday party participants will have an opportunity to see and touch real fossils and artifacts.

All anniversary programs are free and open to the public.

The MNH opened in 1858, as a repository for the UI's teaching collection of natural history specimens. It later offered public galleries featuring many items from its worldwide collection but lacked a dedicated account of Iowa's natural heritage.

The idea for Iowa Hall was developed in 1978, when a Museum Advisory Committee identified the need for educational displays on the geologic and anthropologic history of Iowa. A plan to create the gallery was approved in January 1980. That was followed by a campaign to raise the $1.9 million needed to complete the project. The response was tremendous. By the end of the campaign, more people had supported Iowa Hall than any other UI Foundation project, with the exception of the Hawkeye Arena/Recreation campaign.

Iowa Hall opened to the public May 11, 1985. Since then, more than 750,000 people from all over the world have visited the gallery. Many school groups and UI classes use the gallery to reinforce concepts explored in their coursework.

"Today Iowa Hall has become our centerpiece gallery, as its focus on Iowa is unmatched by any other museum in the state," said Sarah Horgen, MNH education and outreach coordinator. "Thousands of University of Iowa students use the museum each year from traditional departments like geology, biology and anthropology to diverse departments such as rhetoric and engineering. Many elementary schools from around eastern Iowa also include a trip to Iowa Hall as part of their Iowa History curriculum."

Shalla Ashworth, MNH director of operations, said that the work done by the Iowa Hall committee still has a tremendous impact today. "The vision and insight of the original Iowa Hall committee has allowed us to further the education and enlightenment for Iowans and all visitors," she said. "We will honor that vision by updating our exhibits so that future visitors will continue to be awed and inspired by Iowa Hall's depictions of our state's natural history."

Activities for Iowa Hall's 25th anniversary include:

Saturday, May 1:

--Displays of materials from the development of Iowa Hall, 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m.

--Panel discussion 3-4:30 p.m., Macbride Auditorium.

--Reception and book signing 4:30-6:30 p.m., Iowa Hall.

Tuesday, May 11:

--Displays of materials from the development of Iowa Hall, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Iowa Hall.

--Rusty's birthday party, 3-7 p.m., Iowa Hall.

For museum information, visit, or call 319-335-0606. To receive email news from the museum, please visit

For more information about the UI Foundation, visit its Web site at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Sarah Horgen, Museum of Natural History, 319-335-0606,; Steve Parrott, University Relations 319-384-0037,; Writer: Holly Berg