Exhibits in the Wisconsin Journey gallery of the new Milwaukee Public Museum will highlight different parts of the state
The Milwaukee Public Museum has announced some of the exhibits that will be in the new museum's Wisconsin Journey gallery, one of five permanent galleries that will be in the new museum when it opens in 2026.
According to the museum, the Wisconsin Journey gallery is meant to "highlight Wisconsin natural history, geography and culture through immersive dioramas."
That will be achieved through six areas of the gallery, each focusing on a different region of Wisconsin — the Driftless area, Prairie, Apostle Islands, the Northwoods, the Great Lakes and the Door Peninsula.
Although there are many exhibits yet to be announced (including the plan for the Great Lakes and Door Peninsula areas) , here's what we know so far about the Wisconsin Journey gallery's exhibits.
What's in the Driftless area of the new Milwaukee Public Museum?
Museum administrators and exhibit designers announced three exhibits that will be part of The Driftless area — the region of Wisconsin that was left untouched by glaciers — in the new museum.
Lead Mine Look-in: An immersive exhibit will make visitors feel like they're in a dark lead mine as they learn about the importance of lead mining in Wisconsin history.
Waterways: An area highlighting the importance of rivers in Wisconsin will feature a tactile map of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, as well as an exhibit built around the current museum's famous beaver den.
Wisconsin Dells: An exhibit will highlight the unique geology of the Dells and how that contributes to its popularity as a tourist destination.
What's in the Prairie area of the new Milwaukee Public Museum?
Prairieland Bison Display: A bison from the current museum will make its way into this new exhibit, which will focus on the importance of bison in America's prairies.
Hebior Mammoth Dig Site: The famous Hebior mammoth skeleton sits in the entry of the current museum. It will be in the Time Travel gallery of the new museum, but its story will continue into the Prairie area of the Wisconsin Journey gallery, where an exhibit will feature a scene that shows the dig site where the mammoth was found on the land of Kenosha County's John Hebior.
Grass Dance: The Grass Dance is an important part of some Indigenous traditions. This exhibit will include a video of a Grass Dance being performed and a display of a contemporary Grass Dancer powwow outfit.
What's in the Northwoods area of the new Milwaukee Public Museum?
Describing the Northwoods as a "special place of wonder for so many Wisconsinites," museum administrators say this part of the museum will focus on why this part of the state is unique.
One of the current museum's dioramas — the beloved honey bears — will be featured in this part of the gallery.
Additionally, there will be an immersive experience, using lighting and sound to shift the Northwoods area from day to night, with stars replacing clouds in the ceiling and owl hoots replacing bird calls. After a few minutes, daylight will return.
What's in the Apostle Islands area of the new Milwaukee Public Museum?
The museum announced two exhibits that will be in the area focused on the Apostle Islands, which are on Wisconsin's northernmost edge.
Devils Island: In a re-creation of the rocky caves of the island, there will be visual, audio and tactile effects to show visitors the transition from summer to winter.
Migratory birds: In this part of the museum, visitors will be able to look overhead to see some of the museum's bird specimens as they're posed in flight to look like they're migrating.
Exhibits will encourage visitors to see familiar places in a new light
Museum administrators joined designers from Thinc Design on a 10-day trip around the state in 2021, speaking to people and visiting sites to determine which regions should be highlighted in the gallery.
One of the exhibit designers, Helen Divjak, said the new exhibits will tell stories of the people who have lived in the different areas of the state and will help visitors see familiar places in a different light.
"For example, the Dells is a very popular vacation spot, but people who've been there may not have realized before how different animals live in different parts of the landscape or how Indigenous people's culture has developed there," said Divjak. "It's about peeling back the layers and seeing these places with fresh eyes. The many ways of knowing a place enrich us all."
Designers also considered different ways of telling familiar stories in making the exhibits, a key reason the Hebior Mammoth dig site exhibit will be featured in the new gallery.
"With that display, we wanted to show how this was an ordinary guy who came across something extraordinary," said Divjak. "For visitors seeing this exhibit, they can see that it's not just up to paleontologists to go to a dig site and find something. There are amazing things we discover in our backyards, and sometimes it could be a really cool insect we need to pollinate our cherry trees, and sometimes it could be a mammoth skeleton."
What about the rattlesnake button?
While museum administrators and exhibit designers are still keeping their lips sealed about the location of the new rattlesnake button, they did reveal that there will be many animal specimens from the museum collection throughout the new museum, and probably more buttons.
Divjak mysteriously noted, "Who knows which specimens will come to life when you find a specific trigger or button?"
What are the galleries that will be in the new Milwaukee Public Museum?
Ground will be broken for the new museum later this year, and Wisconsin Journey will be one of the museum's five permanent galleries. The others are:
Time Travel, a gallery focused on the planet's deep past, including when dinosaurs roamed the earth
Milwaukee Revealed, an immersive gallery focused on historical Milwaukee streetscapes and neighborhoods
Living in a Dynamic World, a gallery focused on areas and cultures across the world
Rainforest, an immersive exploration through tropical rainforests.
In addition to the five permanent galleries, there will be a live butterfly exhibit and a planetarium, as well as space for traveling exhibits and to rotate MPM collections that are usually not on display.
Museum officials plan to roll out the details of the remaining exhibits in a series of announcements over the next few months, through May 24.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Public Museum announces Wisconsin Journey exhibits