For those who grew up fascinated with the mythical worlds of dragons, sea monsters, and mermaids, the “Mythic Creatures” exhibition, held at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, is the perfect place to rediscover that old love.
In a fresh take on the relationship between magic and science, the Academy invites visitors to explore sculptures, replicas, art pieces, and activities that focus on mythic creatures and the real life phenomena that may have inspired them. Through interactive exploration, the exhibit offers a unique opportunity to draw tangible connections between mythology and our natural world. During its opening weekend, the Academy offered activities such as handling specimens and practicing penmanship with squid ink. Highlights of the exhibit include a vibrant sculpture of the African water spirit Mimi Wata, a “life–size” model of a European unicorn, and a dramatic model of a Kraken, whose tentacles appear to rise out of the floor as if surfacing from the sea. A replica of the “Fiji mermaid,” made famous by showman P.T. Barnum, can be seen as well. Originally created by sewing the head and torso of a juvenile monkey to the tail of a fish, the specimen was presented as the mummified body of a "mermaid."
“Mythic Creatures” successfully examines the many ways cultures around the world have explained natural phenomena. Academy President and CEO Scott Cooper says in an Academy statement, “I think our ancestors would have been relieved had they known that the scary and odd–looking creatures they encountered were really just part of our magnificent natural world.” By emphasizing cross–cultural myths as explanation of astounding science, and by depicting both similarities and differences between representations of the same mythological creatures, “Mythic Creatures” emphasizes human connection while leaving room for unique cultural identities.
The exhibition indicates an equally profound understanding of the importance of natural life and humans' relationships with the world we inhabit. Cooper asserts “every animal and plant has its place in the ecosystems of the planet and each has a role to play, as our Academy scientists continue to demonstrate through their research. By experiencing this exhibit, we hope our visitors will have a renewed appreciation for all living creatures.” In allowing attendees to experience the excitement of mythic understandings of natural life, the Academy restores a sense of childlike wonder for our natural surroundings.
A sense of individual impact permeates the “Mythic Creatures” exhibition. Through a hands–on, historical approach, “Mythic Creatures” educates visitors to feel connected to nature and its role in myth, and to see some cool creatures along the way. In crafting a space to explore our own human nature cross–culturally and cross–temporally, attendees should walk away from the Academy with a better understanding of natural world’s importance to our ancestors and to us today.
“Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids” is on display at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University from Feb. 16 through June 9, 2019.
Images courtesy of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University