Ada “Iris” Dougherty Nunley was a student at Hastings College, majoring in Language Art. Her instructor, Helen Tilden, notified her that Hastings Museum founder, Albert Brooking was looking to hire an art student. Iris started working for Albert in 1943. Before this date, Iris’ main art medium was pencil and crayon. It was not until painting murals at the Museum that she taught herself to mix and use paints.
Iris took flying lessons at the Hastings Airport in the summer of 1944, and had two hours of solo flight. Travel was her chief ambition. Art, aviation, and languages were a means to that end. For a wage of $25 a week, Iris painted the backgrounds of the dioramas, mounted animal skins, and completed other exhibit construction-related tasks, even dabbling in sculpture and creating life-like wax figures.
Although she had never seen some of the landscapes she painted, many museum professionals consider her work on the dioramas some of the best in the country today.
Albert spoke of Iris as the “best artist he has ever had” and wanted her to stay on with the Museum. However, in 1947, she left Hastings to attend art school in New York. She later worked at the Anchorage Museum in Alaska before returning to Nebraska, where she worked for the University of Nebraska State Museum, the Nebraska State Historical Society, and Hastings Museum.