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Dr. Walter J. Breckenridge

Ecologist, Ornithologist, Conservationist, Friend
Painting by Murray Olyphant


Longtime Chapter member and Professor of Ecology at the University of Minnesota, Walter was born in 1903 in Brooklyn, Iowa. He attended the University of Iowa where he majored in zoology and took numerous courses in painting, drawing, and anatomical molding.  He was captain of the gymnastics team his junior year.

Walter later earned his Masters and Doctorate in ecology  at the University of Minnesota. He began working as a preparator at the Bell Museum of Natural History in 1926, and served as its Director for 24 years. At the age of 90 he began writing his autobiography, My Life in Natural History.

Dr. Breckenridge was a nationally renowned wildlife author and artist, and helped author and illustrate numerous books on natural history. Over the years he produced a number of nature films, including Island Treasure, a film he used on his lecture tours featuring the island opposite the Chapter House. At his retirement in 1969 Northern States Power Company donated Banfill Island (aka Breck's Island) to the University of Minnesota in his name, and the Chapter bought it in 1980, with the stipulation that it be maintained in its natural state. The film was restored in 2001 by the Bell Museum with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, and when a tape of his lecture was found, a sound track was added in 2009. The film is available on DVD from the Bell Museum for $25 + shipping by calling 612-626-9660.

Some of Breck's artwork appears in "A Naturalist's Eye, and Artist's Hand" in the March-April 2009 issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. For a slideshow of some of his other paintings click here: Breckenridge's Minnesota


Book traces life of Walter J. Breckenridge


The following article, written by journalist Sharon Schmickle, appeared on Thursday, December 10, 2009.

The life and times of one of Minnesota's most legendary naturalists is the subject of My Life in Natural History by Walter J. Breckenridge, just published by the University of Minnesota Bell Museum of Natural History. The 178-page softbound book also features 44 pages of color plates of his paintings – many of which became limited edition prints.  Breckenridge also is widely recognized for pioneering the craft of wildlife filmmaking – done in passionate response to human pressures facing animals and their ecosystems. His scientific work and environmental advocacy led to the establishment of parks, wetlands and wildlife areas including Nerstrand Woods State Park, the Springbrook Nature Center and the University’s Cedar Creek Natural History Area.


Breck's 100th birthday celebration at
the Chapter House on March 25, 2003

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