Pointing up to a white, rearing unicorn statue late Saturday morning, 5-year-old Ayria Smith said, “They’re my favorite animal.”
It’s not hard to see why ancient people believed in the mythical creatures – and why some modern people still do – especially when apparent evidence like a narwhal tusk, one of which stood a few feet away from Smith and the unicorn, are around to spark imaginations.
A new exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture called “Giants, Dragons and Unicorns: The World of Mythic Creatures” relives the origins of legendary monsters created long ago, after people misunderstood elements of the world around them, mistaking a dug-up mammoth bone for a giant’s bone or a beached 30-foot-long oarfish for a sea monster.
“This exhibit traces those thoughts back to how the myths came into being,” said Wes Jessup, executive director of the MAC.
The exhibit, which popped up in Spokane on Friday and runs through Sept. 2, is in the midst of a cross-country tour. It originated at New York City’s Museum of Natural History, where “they typically are working with paleontology, but they bridged that to myths,” Jessup said.
One of the biggest pieces on display for the traveling exhibit is what appears to be a kraken head and tentacles.
Near it, a giant squid eye replica sits next to a hatch drawing of a pirate wielding a hatchet and swinging at a tentacle creeping into his wooden ship.
The eye is one of the molded re-creations of myths in the exhibit. Also on display are ancient pieces of art from the periods when the myths emerged, such as a griffin-imprinted piece of metal from the Gobi Desert in the 8th century B.C.E. or a blue Venetian vase from the late 1800s with a coiling dragon around its stem.
Jessup said the museum has had this exhibit on its radar since he started as director two years ago and that he wanted to target a family audience while children are out of school for the summer.
Staff members also created Spokane-specific elements of the exhibit that pertain to local myths about creatures like Bigfoot, fairies and foxes.
“This is our own take,” Jessup said.
The exhibit’s Bigfoot section features models of territory where the creature has supposedly been spotted, reproductions of their alleged tracks and more.
To add to the offerings, the museum is bringing Dr. Jeff Meldrum, a Sasquatch expert and professor at Idaho State University, to talk about Bigfoot and show artifacts like skeletal Sasquatch feet on July 18.
And through a partnership with Spokane Public Libraries, a reading list accompanies the exhibition. It can be found at library branches.
The Spokesman-Review provided support for “Giants, Dragons and Unicorns.”
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