The revamped Bell Museum is ready for its close-up, taking visitors through an upgraded and interactive view of nature.
Set to open on July 13, the natural history museum previewed its new building Tuesday.
“Museums used to put nature in a box,” said science director George Weiblen. “This museum immerses the visitor in nature.”
That includes traveling through time and space in the new planetarium, touching badger fur and beaver skulls in the updated touch-and-see lab and helping contribute to scientific discovery through the museum’s citizen science initiative.
The Bell, previously known as the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History, has been Minnesota’s official nature museum since 1872. Before moving to its new location in Falcon Heights, the Bell spent more than 75 years at the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus.
The new building, which is 30 percent larger, allows the museum to “reinterpret exhibits from the ground up,” Weiblen said.
The upgrade, which began on Earth Day 2016, cost $79.2 million in construction and landscaping.
The design is all Minnesota-friendly, too, including thermally treated white pine, rock-core cylinders from all seven regions of the state and bird-safe glass.
While the museum is in with the new, it isn’t necessarily out with the old. The museum launched the Diorama Legacy Society to preserve its famed three-dimensional scenes of taxidermied wildlife displayed against the original 1940s painted backdrops by Francis Lee Jaques. The paintings — and their original canvas-and-plaster walls — were carefully removed from the old museum and transported to the new location on the U’s St. Paul campus.
“A lot of people think we changed the color scheme,” said Andria Waclawski, communications manager. “That’s just how dusty they were.”
Oh, and don’t forget the full-scale woolly mammoth — the first new diorama in 60 years.
The new building’s must-see addition? The Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Planetarium, Minnesota’s first since 2002.
The planetarium’s dome structure appears to engulf viewers in space as they travel from day to night, from planet Earth to outer space.
As the sky moves, viewers can watch constellations form or figuratively travel back in time as they move faster than light. The interactive viewing turns “the audience into a group of astronauts,” said Sally Brummel, planetarium manager.
The Bell Museum, 2088 Larpenteur Av. W., Falcon Heights, will open to the public on July 13. Tickets are available at bellmuseum.umn.edu or by calling 612-626-9660.