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Arts and Culture

Minnesota Wild

The Bell Museum unveils its new outdoor sculpture garden

When Ian Dudley, the exhibits coordinator for the James Ford Bell Museum, went up to Isle Royale in the spring of 1996, he wondered whether he’d get to spot a real, live moose. After all, aren’t these giant inhabitants of the northern forests and peat bogs supposed to be as elusive as they are majestic?

Dudley was hoping to observe moose in the wild to help him in executing the monumental sculpture project he’d proposed for the Bell: a life-size, bronze casting of a moose being attacked by wolves.

As it turned out, moose watching on Isle Royale proved to be no problem. "You could set your watch by it," he says. "At about 3 o’clock each afternoon I’d go and sit by one of the rivers on Isle Royale, and the moose would walk out into full view.

"It was great for me because it gave me a sense of their movement and their incredible agility in walking over rocks and rough terrain. They are incredibly well-adapted to the North American environment."

Armed with photos and videotape, his mind abuzz with images—and advice from Peter Jordan, a professor of wildlife biology at the U and an expert on wolf/moose interactions—Dudley went directly from Isle Royale to his studio at his Wisconsin home. There he spent three months creating preliminary models of the grouping that is the centerpiece of the Bell’s new open-air diorama/sculpture garden. Dudley’s bronzes— a bull moose fending off an attack by three timber wolves—are set in a realistic north woods setting designed by students in the U’s landscape architecture program.
In all, Dudley spent over a year on the sculptures, which were cast in Osceola, Wis., by American Bronze Casting. Besides the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, he also worked with Mayer Electric, a local lighting firm, Schuler & Shook, a
Minneapolis firm that specializes in theatrical lighting, the landscape firm Close Associates, and a general contractor called Second Nature to create the proper look for the garden setting, which features rocks and vegetation native to northern Minnesota; perhaps the most distinctive touch is a simulated creek, made of St. Cloud granite, that wends its way across the exhibit.

"It was a wonderful combination of talents," he says. "Often, the architect on a project walks away once the plans are drawn up, but in this case the architects worked closely with the contractors. Everyone has gone out of their way to get the right materials and to take special care with the installation."

Dudley estimates that the entire project cost between $225,000 and $250,000, most of it privately funded. Unveiled in late September, the 5,000-square- foot sculpture garden marks the Bell’s new mission to integrate art and science in exhibits, programs, and classes.

"It’s been the most incredible experience for me," says Dudley. "Working with so many talented people who have been so excited about the concept.

"There have been days when I had to pinch myself to make sure it was really happening."

—Richard Broderick

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