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Academy exhibit: dragons, unicorns and mermaids, oh my! | The Triangle

Academy exhibit: dragons, unicorns and mermaids, oh my!

Feb. 22, 2019
Photograph by Taylor Johnson for the Triangle.

The Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University opened a new exhibit Feb. 16 that is all about the link between real-life and mythic creatures.

The exhibit — Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids — was organized for the Academy by the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

“This specific version of it, [the AMNH] custom built for us here at the Academy because they actually have a much larger version of it,” Mary Bailey, the interim head of public experience at the Academy, said.

Through this role, she oversees all of the public spaces especially from an education standpoint.

“And the reason why this exhibit exists is because people are so fascinated by the topic. We really love it because we also love imagination and flights of fancy. It’s really cool to be able to take the things that human beings talk about and put some science behind them in a really fun, imaginative way,” she explained.

This exhibit, which runs until June 9, is arranged into themes that include sea monsters, mermaids, giants, griffins, unicorns and dragons. It features colorful, life-sized models of mythic creatures like a European unicorn and a sea monster called the kraken. There is also a sculpture of the African water spirit called Mami Wata.

Visitors are encouraged to explore how the creatures depicted could have inspired the stories by people across cultures.

“This exhibit in particular is really interesting because it is a natural inroad for what they already like and they already know. They know what a dragon is. They know what a unicorn is. They know what a mermaid is,” Bailey said. “We’re able to make the connections between that and the real science that is behind those things — the mythology, the folklore. How all of those things work together with things that we also study.”

The topics explored in Mythic Creatures also ties into topics featured in other exhibits at the Academy.

“We also study reptiles and dinosaurs, which is where the mythology of dragons came from,” Bailey said. “We have a really large axiology collection where we’re studying animals of the ocean that are related to the mermaid stories. This is a really easy exhibit for us to be able to interpret and talk about because we have so much good content.”

According to Bailey, the Academy of Natural Sciences has not had an exhibit like this in the past that marries mythology and science together.

“When people walk away from this exhibit, they are going to be able to understand and experience that people make sense of their world in a lot of different ways,” Bailey said. “Some of it is mythological and some of it is scientific. It’s okay to have a little bit of fun with the things that you’re doing and base them in science. I think that’s going to be a great way for kids to get excited about the world that they live in.”