Mary Schnadt leaned on her walker as she spied the white-furred oarsman peeking out from the forage, four whitetail deer standing nearby.
At 89, Schnadt doesn’t camp and travel as much as she used to. So she wanted to get up close and personal Thursday with the Bell Museum’s staged wild animals before the museum’s final day on SE. Church Street in Minneapolis.
“It’s as close as you get to the real thing,” Schnadt said.
After 75 years on the University of Minnesota campus, the Bell Museum will close Saturday. It will move in 2018 to a new $79.2 million complex near the State Fairgrounds in St. Paul, to be called the Bell Museum + Planetarium.
The new museum will be surrounded by native Minnesota landscaping on a 5-acre site and feature a 120-seat domed planetarium/theater, galleries and interactive exhibits — along with the wildlife dioramas that have made the Bell so memorable for generations of visitors.
Tom Schnadt, 63, said he hopes the new museum will be more accessible than the old one, which he said has too many stairs.
“Bringing my parents with walkers, it was difficult to get access,” he said.
The move had some museum patrons concerned about the future of the dioramas. But all nine of them, painted by Minnesota artist Francis Lee Jaques, will be transported to the new museum.
Back in the 1960s when George Jaquith, 68, attended the U, students would study near the dioramas, he said.
“I practically lived here as an undergrad,” he said, while visiting the Bell with some friends Thursday.
For Jaquith, the dioramas serve as a reminder to preserve wildlife for the future. He said that every time he visits the museum, he is impressed by the towering moose diorama.
“We are losing dozens of species every day,” he said.
Adam Salo lent a hand as his 8-year-old son, Alex, attempted to lift some moose antlers, part of an interactive feature in the museum’s moose exhibit.
“We hope [the new museum] will have more hands-on activities,” Lyndee Salo said.
Paul Sandberg, 7, prepped for his day at the museum Thursday by putting on a lab coat and safety goggles. He and his family visit the museum each year around Christmas, and his mother, Beth Holbrook, said she hopes to see the dioramas at their new location in 2018.
Paul used the goggles to get a closer look at the dioramas.
“The art sucks you in,” he said. “It looks like it’s almost alive.”