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Imprint Magazine

Imprint-CoverIMPRINT, the Bell Museum's magazine for donors and members, offers stories of scientific adventure and discovery, insight into today's rapid environmental changes, updates on museum programs and exhibits, and fun activities for kids. IMPRINT is published twice a year.

Read an article from the most recent issue of Imprint, below:

Jaques Dioramas: Our Minnesota Time Machine

by Susan Weller
Executive Director, Bell Museum of Natural History

My first trip to Minnesota and to the Bell Museum occurred Thanksgiving 1992 when my husband and I were about to make the big move and take positions at the University of Minnesota. My hostess Meryl McKinney gave this upstate NY girl a walking tour of Minnesota’s natural areas represented in the Bell’s diorama halls.

Here, I was introduced to the breadth of Minnesota’s wildlife and natural areas—prairies, Eastern and Northern forests, lakes and the North Shore. It was a breath-taking tour. We spent much of our time on the bird floor because Meryl assumed—given that I was recently married to an ornithologist—that I had a deep interest in birds. As I managed to demonstrate, my knowledge was quite rudimentary.

At one point, we sat in front of a springtime diorama that featured little ducklings tumbling from a large tree cavity to join their mother on the ground and a beautiful male was perched on a branch nearby. I wondered innocently what the mallard was doing up in the tree. Meryl’s eyes grew large. “That … is a wood-duck!” she thundered in her most authoritative British accent. Oops—I had to confess that I had never really noticed one before—even though the species is common in New York. But, I had come, seen, and learned!

Since that first visit, I’ve come to learn much more about Minnesota’s birds and other animals, as well as come to appreciate the craft of Francis Lee Jaques. Although Minnesota landscapes have continued to change, the dioramas remain constant—each a snapshot at a unique Minnesota place. In each, a story unfolds: wolves hunting, a love-struck moose, or squabbling shorebirds on Lake Pepin. Our Jaques’ dioramas inform visitors and engage children to look, to notice, and to wonder about the Minnesota nature depicted in them.

The dioramas also remind us of the impact humans continue to have on Minnesota’s nature. Right now we question whether to allow copper mining in our boreal habitat, home to declining moose and many other species that live in the lakes, streams and forests of our North Woods. But, we want our cell phones and other modern life conveniences. The people living there want good, well-paying jobs. How much is the moose-wolf habitat worth? How much is clean, safe water worth? Can we have it all and still conserve these magnificent wilderness areas for future generations? Ponder this dilemma the next time you stand in front of the moose diorama. (Warning: there are no easy solutions.)

Inspiring a conservation ethos for Minnesota’s nature, our dioramas are a product of the timeless contribution of Dr. T.S. Roberts’ vision and Jaques’ legacy. Generations of University student tour guides have gone on to become teachers, researchers and community leaders in environmental issues. Native Minnesotans and immigrants like me need to understand Minnesota’s natural resources in order to make informed choices about the direction of our collective future. Our dioramas provide the starting point for that understanding and those difficult discussions.

Learn more about the Bell Museum Dioramas.