Bagley Wildlife Museum, Bagley, Minnesota

The slogans announce this museum before you enter:

"The Largest Little Museum In The Northwest"

"Over 750 Speciments - Souvenirs

"Mouse to Moose -- Minnow to Muskie
Hummingbird to Eagle -- Animals, Birds and Fish"

And sure enough, the Bagley Wildlife Museum is a jam-packed ark of a place, an extravagant monument to nature's fertility. This collection long ago outgrew the front window of a shoe store and now occupies half of a ranch home on the edge of town. Most of the animals were bagged and mounted by Bagley shoemaker Hank Haug from the 1940s through 1970s. Since everything in this space is Mr. Haug's creation there is a notable unity to the collection and displays, not only in the selection of items and their preparation but in the construction of exhibits and wording of labels. The museum is an all-encompassing work of untrained genius. Hank Haug's collection is a real compendium of nature's wonders of the northern prairie.

One of the most interesting things about this museum is the density of the displays. The confined space of the galleries produces unexpected and surreal collages of animal species compressed into tight quarters. The painted backdrops to the dioramas do not provide the illusion of a larger space but instead flatten and compress it into solid walls defining the boxes of the museum. Occasionally a mount will attempt to break that back wall of museum space, with mixed results, as seen in the antelope photo above. In the boxy world of this museum, the animals crowd close to one another, but without much of the snarling and snapping so often seen in other taxidermy mounts. Instead these critters cohabit patiently, as if waiting for Noah to open the door to let them free again.

Like the constricted space of the museum, the explanatory labels on the displays are terse, perhaps elegantly enigmatic:

"Weasels in Winter"
"Waffle Iron from Gold Rush days"
"Hind Foot of World's Smallest Deer"
"Bone Sex Organs from Animals"
"Sheep Ram Horn - Tree Grew Inside"
"Five Eastern Brook Trout"
"8 legged Pig. Born on a farm near Bagley"

And so on. A surprising and well-crafted museum crammed into a small space.

Highway 2 West
Bagley, Minnesota 56621
Sadly the Bagley Wildlife Museum has been closed.
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Copyright 2015 Matt Bergstrom