The Bell Museum (formerly known as the “James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History”) is located at the University of Minnesota as part of its College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. It is world-renown for its Minnesota wildlife dioramas.
The museum was legally established to collect, preserve, prepare, display, and interpret Minnesota’s diverse wildlife for scholarly research, teaching and public enjoyment. It was first located in a single room, but was later reorganized by physician and ornithologist Thomas Sadler Roberts with help from his friend James Ford Bell, the founder of General Mills.
Bell was a passionate conservationist, who donated half the cost ($150,000) for a new building to house some new nature dioramas, especially one for gray wolves, since the state paid hunters a bounty for killing them during the 1930s. Other dioramas feature moose, elk, bear, beavers, cranes, and fish, among others and illustrate what Minnesota was like before the ax and plow. Renowned Minnesota artist Francis Lee Jaques completed backgrounds on nine of the large dioramas and ten of the medium-sized ones.
By the 1980s, the building was suffering from leaks, cracks, mold and water damage, which threatened the collections and dioramas. The university agreed to borrow $51.5 million for the project and the state would pay the debt service on the bonds over a span of 25 years. Bell’s grandson, a trustee of the James Ford Bell Foundation, also donated $3 million toward the new museum. Groundbreaking on the project fell on Earth Day (April 22) 2016, and in July of this year, it moved to its new location on the St. Paul campus, after having been located on the Minneapolis campus since its inception in 1872. A digital planetarium theater is one of the highlights of the new facility.
- Visited: Most recently, Feb 2019