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MPM takes us further into the Future Museum with ‘Wisconsin Journey’

Milwaukee Public Museum / Thinc Design

Following its “Time Travel” unveiling earlier this month, the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) pulled back a little more of the curtain to its Future Museum today by sharing sketches and details of the “Wisconsin Journey” gallery.

This one is, as its name suggests, a journey through Wisconsin that focuses on the connection between natural and cultural aspects of the Badger State, dividing them into six segments: the Driftless Area, Prairie, Apostle Islands, Northwoods, Great Lakes and Door Peninsula. Today’s reveal only included information about the first four, as well as some context from MPM president and CEO Dr. Ellen Censky on how they crafted the gallery.

“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,” Censky said. “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.”

Along with news about the gallery itself, we also found out about the Associated Bank Gathering and Education Space that will live at the entrance to “Wisconsin Journey.” Fueled by a $1 million donation from the Green Bay-based financial institution, the space will support special programming and interactive learning experiences connected to the gallery’s theme. MPM also revealed that “each of the Future Museum’s five permanent galleries will include a similar entrance area for gathering and programming.”

Below, you can find details and drawings from the four sections the museum shared today (as well as good news for any fans of the candy shop in the Streets of Old Milwaukee). As always, they came with the caveat that they “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 Area

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. 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, Thinc Design’s senior curator of experience and interpretation, 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 while learning the stories of galena, one of the country’s first “rushes” and Indigenous mining. In doing so, the museum hopes to illustrate the strong connection between the state’s unique nature, and the culture and practices that developed in response to the land.

Milwaukee Public Museum / Thinc Design


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

Known for its distinctive Cambrian sandstone formations, Wisconsin Dells has a unique geological history visitors will explore, 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.

Milwaukee Public Museum / Thinc Design


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. They’ll 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.

Milwaukee Public Museum / Thinc Design

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

The Hebior Mammoth Dig Site 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 — while 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,” Dr. Censky said. “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.

“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.”

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.

Milwaukee Public Museum / Thinc Design

Migratory Birds

Overhead, visitors will see 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 and throughout other galleries of the Future Museum.


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 — including 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. They’ll also highlight those who best know the Northwoods, sharing unique stories, memories and understandings they have of the region.

Natural Cycles in the Northwoods

Each distinct area throughout “Wisconsin Journey” 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.

Milwaukee Public Museum / Thinc Design

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.

Future announcements

  • April 14 — Milwaukee Revealed: Explore city streetscapes 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: Take an unconventional journey to five distinct ecosystems across the globe, and be immersed in the landscapes and cultures that occupy them.
  • May 9 — Mixing Zones: 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: Travel to the tropics to learn about the biodiversity that flourishes in tropical rainforests and the life rainforest climates support.
  • May 23 — Puelicher Butterfly Vivarium: Step into a warm, lush greenhouse thriving with real tropical plants and live butterflies flying freely throughout the space.
  • May 23 — The Bucyrus Rooftop Terrace: A gathering space to reconnect visitors to the outdoors and natural world.