Milwaukee Public Museum provides first look at Thinc's designs for the future museum
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Milwaukee Public Museum provides first look at Thinc's designs for the future museum
In the Wisconsin Journey gallery’s Driftless area, visitors will explore the region’s unique geological history and the ways in which the land has shaped Wisconsinites and industry – particularly lead mining.



MILWAUKEE, WI.- Today, Milwaukee Public Museum and exhibit design partner Thinc Design unveiled sketches of the Future Museum’s Wisconsin Journey gallery, the second of five permanent galleries to be revealed through the coming months. Each gallery, or group of related exhibits, will focus on a specific overarching theme, and its many dioramas and individual features will help visitors learn about the interconnectedness of nature and culture tied to that larger concept.

In Wisconsin Journey, visitors will take a look at the wealth of natural and cultural wonders Wisconsin offers and its distinct, diverse and dynamic natural and cultural landscapes. The gallery will also examine how people are part of Wisconsin’s many wonders and share the responsibility and privilege of caring for them.

“At the outset of this once-in-a-generation project, MPM staff took a tour of Wisconsin with our design partners to draw inspiration from the natural landscapes and cultural traditions that make Wisconsin a diverse, unique place,” said MPM President & CEO Dr. Ellen Censky. “That tour underscored the importance of and value in learning about the familiar, and the Museum determined it wanted to explore Wisconsin in a way not done before.”

In keeping with the curious spirit of MPM and the vision for the Future Museum, Wisconsin Journey will bring visitors on an immersive trip around the state through an exploration of six distinct areas of Wisconsin. MPM is offering a glimpse of some of the exhibits that will comprise the Driftless Area, Prairie, Apostle Islands and Northwoods. The final gallery will also include exhibits about the Great Lakes and Door Peninsula.

Gallery sketches and exhibit previews

The gallery details and exhibit examples shared below and in the enclosed sketches represent only a fraction of what visitors can expect in the Future Museum’s Wisconsin Journey gallery. The final gallery will include many more exhibits, collections items and opportunities to learn.

Driftless

Untouched by the grinding glaciers that shaped the rest of the state, the Driftless Area is evidence of an ancient Wisconsin that continues to be shaped and reshaped by its diverse inhabitants – old and new. In the Wisconsin Journey gallery’s Driftless area, visitors will explore the region’s unique geological history and the ways in which the land has shaped Wisconsinites and industry – particularly lead mining.

Lead Mine Look-In

In this exhibit, visitors will learn why Wisconsin is known as the Badger State – not after the animals, but for the 19th-century lead miners who sheltered in dens, reminiscent of badgers’ burrows (or “setts”), dug into southwestern Wisconsin hillsides.

“The history of lead mining is a prime example of how nature and culture intersect,” said Helen Divjak, Senior Curator, Experience and Interpretation at Thinc Design and a lead designer on the Future Museum project. “In diving deep into Wisconsin, visitors will be able to see and understand the intimate connections Wisconsinites past and present have with the land.”

The lead mine look-in will be a key immersive exhibit and make visitors feel like they are in a dark lead mine, telling the stories of galena, one of the country’s first “rushes” and Indigenous mining, as a way to illustrate the strong connection between the state’s unique nature, the culture and practices that developed in response to the land and how the two interact and impact one another.

Waterways

Wisconsin is celebrated for its lakes, but the state’s vast system of rivers have played an equally important role in the region’s ecological and cultural history. Visitors will be able to explore waterways through a tactile map of Wisconsin’s most significant rivers, the Mississippi and Wisconsin, to better understand how the region’s watery highways have connected people to the land, and to each other, for millennia. Alongside displays about human control of the rivers’ paths, visitors will encounter MPM’s famous beaver den and explore how the beaver is a controversial teacher when it comes to flood prevention and sustainable water management practices.

Wisconsin Dells

Another place of note within the Driftless Area is the Wisconsin Dells, known for its distinctive Cambrian sandstone formations. Visitors will explore this unique geological history, including how the many characteristic features of this landscape were shaped and why the Dells has been such a popular destination for tourists throughout the ages.

Prairie

Wisconsin is known for its vast prairielands. In the Prairie, visitors will find out what makes this landscape – both above and below ground – so verdant, resilient and attractive to those who have cultivated the land and made it an agricultural force.

Prairieland Bison Display

At the forefront of the Prairie area, visitors will encounter an exhibit of a bison, or American buffalo, featuring a specimen currently on display at MPM and learn about the animal’s role as a keystone species, including how that role has changed over time, Indigenous connections, extirpation of the species in Wisconsin and ongoing restoration efforts.

Hebior Mammoth Dig Site

The story of the Hebior Mammoth will carry through from the Time Travel gallery all the way to the Prairie, offering visitors multiple perspectives on one of the Museum’s most significant specimens and the opportunity to touch a cast of the fossil. The Hebior Mammoth Dig Site exhibit will be a core scene in the gallery’s Prairie area, demonstrating to visitors how the giant Mammoth bones emerged from the dirt – as if just discovered by John Hebior – and asking questions about what the soil and its contents can teach us about life in Wisconsin.

“Visitors have long been greeted by the Hebior Mammoth, which stands in our current lobby space. Discovered in Kenosha County on the property of John Hebior, 85 percent of the mammoth’s bones are intact and present – making the find significant for that reason alone. By analyzing marks on the bones, scientists have determined the animal was alive alongside its human butchers about 14,500 years ago – proving humans were in Wisconsin 1,000 years earlier than was previously thought,” said Dr. Censky. “In the Future Museum’s Wisconsin Journey gallery, we want visitors to come to understand stories like this one that illustrate just how incredible and significant our state is to scientific discovery.”

Through this exhibit, visitors will unearth stories about the Ice Age, mammoth migration and the roots and soil beneath the surface.

Other exhibits in the Prairie will demonstrate how humans have impacted Wisconsin’s prairies, how the landscape supports human communities and how prairie inhabitants work together to create a community. Visitors will learn about European immigrants’ agricultural knowledge and practices, have the chance to observe a contemporary Grass Dancer powwow outfit, watch a video of the Grass Dance being performed and hear a first-person description of the Grass Dance’s importance in certain Indigenous traditions.

Apostle Islands

At the state’s northernmost edge, the Apostle Islands are a beautiful natural sanctuary. In the Future Museum, visitors will be able to witness the wonder of the Apostle Islands with immersive environmental elements that shift from summer to winter.

Devils Island

A combination of graphic and tactile scenic and environmental elements recreates the rocky caves of Devils Island as the landscape transitions from the warmth of the summer across to the icy stillness of winter.

Migratory Birds

Overhead, visitors will see on display a flock of migratory bird specimens from the collections, suspended as if in flight, demonstrating one way life in and around the state shifts across seasons and highlighting the many native specimens in the Museum’s care. The story of migration will carry through all of Wisconsin Journey, and visitors may notice more migratory birds soaring around other sections of Wisconsin Journey and throughout other galleries of the Future Museum, too.

Northwoods

The Northwoods is a special place of wonder for so many Wisconsinites, and the exhibits in this area will explore what makes it one of the many unique and memorable regions within the state. Visitors will find exhibits depicting a rich woodland landscape and discover how the Northwoods – and the habits and habitats of its residents and visitors – shifts through the seasons.

Exhibits will display the landscapes and plant, animal and human communities that make the region such a distinct place and will highlight those who best know the Northwoods, sharing unique stories, memories and understandings they have of the region.

Natural Cycles in the Northwoods

Throughout Wisconsin Journey, each distinct area will be augmented with diorama scenes, naturalistic lighting effects and environmental audioscapes that bring the gallery’s exhibits to life. In Northwoods, choreographed lighting and soundscapes will shift the woodland space from day into night; stars will replace clouds in an environmental ceiling treatment and the hoot of an owl will replace bird song. After a few minutes, “daylight” will return and the cycle will begin again.

In addition to transitions from day to night, Northwoods will focus on Wisconsin’s distinct seasons. Visitors will be prompted to pay close attention to how forest communities behave in the ever-changing environment of each of Wisconsin’s four seasons through dioramas like the honey bears, which current MPM visitors know and love.

This gallery section will also depict some examples of how humans mark the season, how these cultural practices developed in relation to Wisconsin’s natural cycles and stories of nocturnal animals, stars and astronomy, such as the Northern Lights.

Throughout Wisconsin Journey – and the Future Museum as a whole – Indigenous stories will anchor exhibits and galleries to teach us about the various cultures and relationships that impact and are impacted by the land.

The Associated Bank Gathering and Education Space, made possible by a generous $1M donation from Associated Bank, will exist at the Wisconsin Journey gallery entrance and support special programming and interactive learning experiences connected to the gallery’s theme. Each of the Future Museum’s five permanent galleries will include a similar entrance area for gathering and programming.

Future announcements

Milwaukee Public Museum and its exhibit design partners at Thinc Design will be rolling out previews of each gallery from now until May 23. Each announcement will provide an inside look at a sampling of exhibits, collections items and features visitors can expect to encounter upon the Future Museum’s opening in late 2026 as the design team continues its work to identify each collections item and exhibit that will be on display. Below is a list of upcoming announcements. Additional details about announcement news conferences will be distributed in advance of each event.

Gallery announcement schedule

● April 14: Milwaukee Revealed

Milwaukee Revealed will immerse visitors in city streetscapes they can explore to learn about the history of Milwaukee, the people who came to settle and live here and its interconnected systems, neighborhoods and ecologies (and where future generations of children can shop for a sweet treat).

● May 9: Living in a Dynamic World and Mixing Zones

In the Living in a Dynamic World gallery, visitors will take an unconventional journey to five distinct ecosystems across the globe and be immersed in the landscapes and cultures that occupy them. The Mixing Zones, including the Burke Foundation Mixing Zone, are two spaces in the Museum that will provide rare, behind-the scenes views into the collections’ storage areas and turn the Museum “inside out.”

● May 23: Rainforest, Puelicher Butterfly Vivarium and the Bucyrus Rooftop Terrace

The Rainforest will take visitors to the tropics to learn about the biodiversity that flourishes in tropical rainforests and the life rainforest climates support. The Puelicher Butterfly Vivarium will welcome visitors into a warm, lush greenhouse thriving with real tropical plants and live butterflies flying freely throughout the space. The Bucyrus Rooftop Terrace will be a gathering space to reconnect visitors to the outdoors and natural world.

Additional specific details about the full array of exhibits and collections items that will make up each gallery are still being determined and are subject to change as the design process progresses. Additional information about visitor amenities, including the lobby space, Museum store, café and programming, will also be shared in the future.










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