The American Museum of Natural History's dioramas of animals in their habitats are one of the most beloved parts of the museum, which is why they are in the middle of getting a $2.5 million touch-up. The NY Times describes the Alaskan Brown Bear diorama:

"The two huge animals, marvels of the taxidermist’s art, have been posed in one of the American Museum of Natural History’s signature dioramas for close to seven decades, brilliant snowy peaks behind them and a fresh salmon at their feet.

In the tableau, rendered down to the finest details of the landscape, the bears are meant to look at home on their native tundra. But the bright lights of New York — the incandescent and fluorescent bulbs in the diorama — have not been kind to their fur, fading its rich ochres and siennas to lighter, less lifelike hues. “It’s sort of dull,” said Stephen C. Quinn, the senior project manager in the museum’s exhibition department.

So what's happening? The bears are getting their fur "airbrushed" with "colorfast dyes" and "the diorama’s grasses and rocks — painstakingly crafted fakes, for the most part — will be gently cleaned and touched up."

The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik also visited the dioramas as the AMNH embarks on the restoration. Steve Quinn, the museum's senior project manager for the restoration, said of the background painter James Perry Wilson, “When Wilson and his contemporaries were working, dioramas were the state-of-the-art virtual reality of the day. They were windows onto other worlds and landscapes, and the engineering that went into making them completely convincing is still astounding now," and added that the hall opened up right after the U.S. joined World War II, "The dioramas became a kind of patriotic pageant, a picture of our land and our values. They stood for America."

Here's a video from the Times. Some of the restored dioramas are on display and the Wilson backgrounds are vivid and stunning while the details around the animals are meticulous. The restoration is expected to be complete in the fall of 2012.