The Traveling Exhibition Explores the Intersection Between Science and Legend and How Mythic Creatures Explained the Unexplainable
(MIAMI) – June 14, 2023 – Larger than life creatures will fill the galleries at HistoryMiami Museum for its newest exhibition Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids opening July 8, 2023, at the downtown Smithsonian Affiliate. The exhibition traces the natural and cultural roots of some of the world’s most enduring mythological creatures from Asia, Europe, the Americas, and beyond, and even how Miamians embrace their own mythic fantasies. Organized by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in collaboration with Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney; Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau-Ottawa; Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta; and The Field Museum, Chicago, visitors to the exhibition will come face-to-face with a 17 foot-long dragon with a wingspan of over 19 feet, a giant Kraken sea monster with 12-foot-long tentacles rising from the gallery floor, and a 10-foot-long unicorn, capturing the imagination of every child.
For centuries, humans have brought mythic creatures to life in stories, music, and works of art. On display are cultural objects from around the world including paintings, models, textiles, Chinese shadow puppets and Greek coins, that bring to light surprising similarities and differences in the ways cultures have been inspired by nature to depict and explain these unique and imaginative creatures. After all, it was Pliny the Elder, who in 77 CE, asserted that mermaids were “no fabulous tale,” and current sightings of Scotland’s renowned, but unsubstantiated Loch Ness Monster, continue to this day.
From around the world to our own backyard, a companion exhibition called Mythic Miami features tales of the fantastical creatures inhabiting our waters, forests, and skies. Lasting stories of Caribbean mermaids, the Chupacabra from Puerto Rico, and Florida’s own Skunk Ape have fascinated Miamians for generations, while newly uncovered creatures make us imagine what else could be out there. Mythic Miami brings to life the stories and artifacts that give us a glimpse into the worlds of these extraordinary creatures.
“We were so excited for the opportunity that Mythic Creatures provided us to dive into the stories behind the creatures of South Florida, like the skunk ape and chupacabra.” said Folklife Curator Vanessa Navarro Maza. “With our unique environment and the diverse mix of people living here, there are so many interesting stories and legends to explore about creatures native to our region or ‘imported’ from other places. Mythic Miami dives into the historic and cultural context behind some of the creatures that have mystified our communities for years and caused people to wonder, ‘could this really be true?’”
Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids encourages visitors to investigate for themselves how cast fossils of prehistoric animals could have, through misidentification, speculation, fear, or imagination, inspired the development of some legendary creatures. For example, visitors will discover how narwhal tusks from the North Sea, introduced to continental Europe by Scandinavian traders, lent credence to the centuries-old belief in the unicorn, and how dinosaur fossils uncovered by Scythian nomads may have been mistaken for the remains of living, breathing griffins. Persistent tales of undersea monsters may simply be sightings of real creatures such as the oarfish and giant squid, which are just as wondrous as any imaginary denizens of the deep.
Exhibition highlights also include: a 120-foot-long Chinese parade dragon, used in New York City’s Chinatown to perform the traditional dragon dance at the Lunar New Year; a replica “Feejee mermaid,” of the type made famous by showman P. T. Barnum, created by sewing the head and torso of a monkey to the tail of a fish; and four tremendous, “life-size” models of mythical creatures: an 11-foot-long Roc with large, sharp talons swooping above the heads of visitors with a wingspan of nearly 20 feet; plus two actual life-size models—an over-6-foot-tall, extinct primate called Gigantopithecus; and the largest bird ever to have lived, the over-9-foot-tall, extinct Aepyornis. Each item featured brings to life ways in which myths could have had their beginning.
The exhibition offers numerous interactive stations and activities including rearranging scale models of mammoth bones to look like a giant human skeleton and Protoceratops bones to look like a griffin skeleton. Visitors can build their own dragon in an engaging touch-screen interactive and watch it come alive before their eyes in a virtual environment. Videos include interviews with experts in various fields discussing the significance of mythical creatures and their possible real-life counterparts.
Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (amnh.org), in collaboration with Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney; Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau-Ottawa; Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta; and The Field Museum, Chicago.
Pricing for the exhibition is $15 adults, $10 Students/Seniors, and $8 For Children. The exhibition is open through March 31, 2024. For more information visit historymiami.org.
About the American Museum of Natural History (amnh.org)
The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869 with a dual mission of scientific research and science education, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses more than 40 permanent exhibition halls, galleries for temporary exhibitions, the Rose Center for Earth and Space including the Hayden Planetarium, and the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation. The Museum’s scientists draw on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, some of which are billions of years old, and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, the Museum offers two of the only free-standing, degree-granting programs of their kind at any museum in the U.S.: the Ph.D. program in Comparative Biology and the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Earth Science residency program. Visit amnh.org for more information.