Most people don’t think much about fish bones beyond avoiding accidentally ingesting them while eating a fillet.

Two new exhibits from the Bell Museum – “X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out” and “Cleared” – elevate fishbones into stunning works of art. They debut on October 15 and run through January 2 inside the museum’s Nova galleries.

“X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out” is the first fruit of the St. Paul Museum’s new partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. It features x-ray prints that expose the inner structures of fish with a level of detail reminiscent of fine engraving.

“Cleared” focuses on dazzling photographs of fish specimens that have been stained in vivid colors to illuminate their skeletal structure. They are by biologist Adam Summers, professor of biology and school of aquatic and fisheries sciences at the University of Washington.

“The exhibits really demonstrate the interplay between science and art,” said Andrew Simons, professor and curator of fish at the Bell Museum. “People can see how doing scientific research can lead to great things.”

Andrew Simons with the Bell Museum’s Freshwater Mussel Collection in a 2020 courtesy photo (Joe Szurszewski / Bell Museum)

The Smithsonian’s National Fish Collection is the largest and most diverse collection of its kind, with approximately four million fish specimens representing over 70 percent of the world’s fish species of all sizes and ages and even eggs. The bell is only the second institution in Minnesota, after the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis, to be designated an affiliate of the Smithsonian.

“I consider the Smithsonian to be the premier natural history museum in the country, if not the world,” Simons said. “It’s an exceptional research institute and for small museums like ours, this connection puts the bell on the map nationwide.”

The Bell also maintains its own collection of fish, with an emphasis on Minnesota. They serve as a historical record of fish biodiversity and distribution and are working reference libraries for scientists around the world. Simons said the physical documentation of fish diversity in Minnesota began in the late 1800s and the museum now has nearly 50,000 jars of fish, with each jar containing one or several hundred specimens.

“We have maintained these research tools for over 100 years,” said Simons. “It is an honor to take care of them during my career as a scientist. I suspect that in the future, say 100 years from now, they will still be using the collection in ways that I have no idea. “

Both exhibits allow viewers to appreciate the intricate structure, beauty and diversity found within fish, said Holly Menninger, Bell’s director of audience engagement and science learning.

Plus, they look really cool.

“They are so striking,” Menninger said. “At first glance, it’s like ‘Wait, what? Are they fish? They are beautiful as works of art in themselves, but also incredibly useful for scientists. “

Holly Menninger, Director of Public Engagement and Science Learning, Bell Museum. (Courtesy of the Bell Museum)

Some of the “X-Ray Vision” fish look like monsters taken from a dark nightmare. The bell takes this notion fully, opening it just a few weeks before Halloween.

Children are encouraged to dress in their best costume, take a photo on the spooky photo wall, and have a chance to win a prize. From October 20 to 31, visitors can also take part in the Bell Museum’s Spooky Quest which features a series of observation-based tasks with, yes, another chance to win a prize.

“The Halloween connection has not been lost on us, with all of these awesome images of skeletons,” Menninger said. “We’re running with this.”

What: Two new exhibits that take a peek inside a variety of fish
When: From October 15 to January 2.
Or: Bell Museum, 2088 Larpenteur Ave. W., St Paul
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday
Admission: $ 12 adults, $ 10 seniors, $ 9 youth (3-21), free for children 2 and under


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