Stepping into the lower level of the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan is an experience in native flora and fauna. The area continues to intrigue visitors drawn to the colorful exhibit of indigenous fish, the realistic animal mounts done by local taxidermists and an extensive framed leaf collection that includes every tree found within the state.
The focus on natural science just became even more pronounce with the opening of a new wildlife room on the same level.
Almost since the establishment of the Besser Museum nearly 50 years ago, this particular room housed a static lumbering and agricultural exhibit. Staff recently opted to change things up by redistributing the lumbering/agricultural-related artifacts in other areas of the museum and converting the space into a gallery for a topnotch wildlife collection.
"We've retold the story of lumbering upstairs in the Avenue of Shops and the agricultural aspect on a back wall upstairs," said Facilities and Exhibit Director Randy Shultz. "People are walking by and seeing the artifacts with new eyes, and they tell a better, more complete story this way."
Placing those important tools and other implements in new locations within the museum freed up the space downstairs for 50 animal mounts acquired from the Cranbrook Institute of Science. When the museum first took possession of the animals a year ago, Shultz curated what proved to be a very popular exhibit around them in the main floor Wilson Gallery.
When that exhibit closed, Shultz and Museum Executive Director Chris Witulski didn't want to stash the animals in storage where the public could no longer enjoy creatures such as zebra, ostrich and moose. They began planning for the new wildlife exhibit that now features animals from all over the world.
"The exhibit is in keeping with the stated intentions of Jesse Besser (the museum's namesake) who said the purpose of the museum was to bring the people of Alpena items they would never have the chance to see, and where else are they going to see a life-size ostrich?" said Shultz.
The exhibit is enhanced by artistically rendered backdrops created by local artist, taxidermist and wildlife enthusiast Betsy Willis. A hands-on educational component also was added for further interest. Kids and adults alike can place their hands in a series of enclosed boxes, feel the hidden objects inside and try to guess what they are.
Additionally, several animal pelts invite visitors to touch and feel. Shultz also provided museum guests with a unique seating area perfect for photo opportunities.
While the bulk of the exhibit is currently in place, the staff still has a few finishing touches to complete and a wish list. On the wish list is better lighting, which would require additional funding.
Still to be added are a few more signs, plus an educational brochure that will give details about each of the animals featured in the exhibit. The brochure is expected to be completed within the next few weeks.
Two additional exhibits will be opening at the museum later in January. Featured in Trelfa Gallery will be a display of quilts from the museum's collections. In Wilson Gallery will be a model train exhibit by local train enthusiast Ron Cady. Both are changing exhibits.
For more information about the museum or any of its exhibits, call 356-2202.