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Minnesota Museum of Mining is working on a new exhibit

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CHISHOLM — The Minnesota Museum of Mining recently announced that it is working on a new exhibit, “From Ore to Steel: The Mining Process.”

This new exhibit is aimed at telling the story of steel making.

Carol Borich, treasurer for the Minnesota Museum of Mining Board of Directors and longtime museum volunteer shared details of the project in a recent interview.

“So, it’s really the story of how mining happens, and how ore is explored for and discovered,”explained Borich. She also provided a basic rundown of some of the steps that it will depict.

The first steps of the process include geology and ore exploration and test drilling, sampling and evaluation, she said. If mining is feasible, it proceeds with: drilling, blasting, hauling, crushing, separating, pelletizing and steel making.

A $3,000 matching grant from the Chisholm Community Foundation is being used to help cover the cost.

Tucked away at the top of Chisholm’s main street, the Museum of Mining at 701 Southwest Lake St., the Museum of Mining has told the story of mining history on the Iron Range for more than 65 years. The museum boasts 13 acres of outdoor exhibits in addition to the exhibits found inside the various buildings on site.

The museum is contracting with a Duluth-based company called Venture Exhibits to come up with the design and sketches for From Ore to Steel: The Mining Process.

Alan Noska and his wife, Carnita Tuomela, owners of Venture Exhibits are familiar with the Museum of Mining as they had previously designed and built the F. Lee Jaques diroma and the Iron Range Life exhibits there.

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An early lab display shows the tools and working conditions from the early days of mining.

Noska described the new exhibit as a “real eclectic collection of artifacts, gems and stones.” “The exhibit will tell the story of mining in an eclectic way,” he said.

On the grounds of the Minnesota Museum of Mining there is a collection of retired mining equipment, which will complement the new addition inside.

Tuomela and Noska agree that the new exhibit will help develop a story line of the mining process and how it has changed throughout the years, starting with the underground mines of early mining, evolving to the open pit mines, and taconite mines of today.

It will also tie into the Iron Range Life exhibit at the museum, providing a better understanding of the people featured there.

The museum has already sent more than 100 photographs to Venture Exhibits to be considered for this new exhibit, according to Borich.

Anticipating there may be some key photos missing needed to tell the story of mining, the board reached out to Kelsey Johnson, President of the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota, who has offered to reach out to mining companies in the event there are photos needed to show the different stages of ore processing.

“I think it’s really important that all Minnesota or any visitors to the Iron Range understand the connection that iron mining brings to their daily lives through steel making,” Johnson said in a recent interview.

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After a COVID-19 shortened spring the Minnesota Museum of Mining is reopening to bring the story of the area's history to the public.

She went on to talk about the potential for the exhibit to “connect the dots” between steel making and everyday items made from steel, such as cars, trucks and household appliances, to name a few.

Johnson said she often refers tourists to the Minnesota Museum of Mining to learn about the history of mining.

“I try to send people to see the history and how it evolved over time,” Johnson said.

A number of items are being considered for the new exhibit are readily available in the museum’s vast collection.

“We’ve always had pieces of that exhibit in place,” Borich said.

Borich said creating the project largely involves reconfiguring an exhibit that “was not well planned.”

In its collection the Minnesota Museum of Mining has samples of ore, taconite and various minerals from around the region.

Some of the rocks in the collection are quite sizable, equal to that of three footballs, according to Borich.

“There’s an advantage to a large format rock, because you can see the variations and how it occurs in nature,” Borich said. “So, they’re very darn cool, and hard to get – there’s a nice assortment of rocks in there.”

Artifacts in the museum’s collection include original survey markers from when Stuntz was exploring in the 1800s. There’s also Mine office equipment, including a blueprint machine that’s there that is the size of a man.

“They are very large, unique pieces in there,” Borich said. “It’s been collected, it’s on display, but not explained or labeled. So that needs to be much better.”

Throughout the years some of the artifacts at the museum have been moved around and are no longer in a “logical” place. This new exhibit will help bring them together to tell the story of mining.

There’s also various models owned by the museum.

Some of them are professional models, once used by companies selling mining equipment; others are more ameture, including some believed to be former Boy Scout projects.

“They’re really interesting, even though they weren’t professionally done,” Noska said of the models as he talked about the connection between the models and their creators, who poured their hearts into them.

When the visitor leaves, they will have an understanding of the process of mining through what the mining has in its collection. It will also help better understand who the people are as well.

Work on the new exhibit is anticipated to start this summer, and if all goes well it will be completed by fall. Some of the signage may be of a temporary nature with fonts to match permanent signs ordered for the exhibit, depending on what funding allows.

The Museum of Mining is delayed from its traditional May opening due to state restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). In the meantime, the museum board is working on a plan for a phased opening toward the beginning of July.


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