A professor’s research becomes a piece of Nebraska history after major fire

Feb. 7, 2024, 5 a.m. ·

Field Guide front cover.jpg

University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) art professor Dana Fritz specializes in photography at the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts.

Fritz also does creative research, otherwise known as creative activity at UNL. Creative research can include photography, writing, music and multiple other mediums.

She noted that her students are becoming more and more interested in the physical mediums, questioning if the students miss physically interacting with their work.

“There's a strong interest in ceramics and drawing things that students do with their hands that are very physical,” said Fritz. “The rest of the day they spend so much time on computers or cell phones, and I think they miss that physical interaction.”

Creative research paired with traditional research can help give well-rounded reports.

Fritz said the interdisciplinary work she has done at the college is what makes good research possible. She said artists and scientists are often separated from each other but can create valuable work when they work together.

“Artists are siloed away from scientists and other disciplines,” said Fritz. “The only way we can make an impact on each other is to pay attention to what each other is doing.”

Collaborating with those in and outside her field, she documented Nebraska’s National Forest over the last five years making what she calls a “field guide with a wink”.

Her book “A Field Guide to a Hybrid Landscape” was published in January 2023. She said her research was motivated by asking the “why” questions.

“I wanted to understand the forest. I wanted to know how it came to be, why is it there. Whose idea was it? Why would somebody do something like that?”

Just a few months before publishing, a major fire broke out on October 2, 2022, burning almost a quarter of the hand-planted forest.

“The book is more of a historical record than any of us imagined it would be. It gives a lot of perspective,” Fritz said. “You never know whose research will become potentially historically important.”

Sparked by an overturned all-terrain vehicle (ATV), the Bovee Fire was exacerbated by months of extreme drought, high winds, and little to no thinning of the forest. It burned about 5,000 acres, the 4-H camp, the fire tower, and 14,000 acres of private land.

It also claimed the life of Mike Moody, a volunteer firefighter from Purdum, who suffered a heart attack while on duty.

When asked about her reaction to the fire Fritz said it felt like a “gut punch”.

“The camp doesn't regrow itself and neither does the fire tower,” Fritz said. “People don't reappear and hearing all of that [the fire] in Lincoln was really devastating.”

Fritz said the forest will never be the same. Even the picture on the cover of her book is a thing of the past. The trees in the photo and the fire tower she took it from burned down.

Despite the charred forest, Fritz said she has hope in its future and, at least in her opinion, it is coming back beautifully.

Fritz’s photos are a detailed look into the past. This kind of specialized research has the potential to become historically significant, giving people a chance to better understand the world around them.