Friday, March 14, 2014

Snow White (& Her Apple) is on Display at the American Museum of Natural History

The poisonous apple that Snow White ate, causing her to collapse, produced a similar effect to pufferfish poison, according to the exhibit. The poison blocks nerve signals that make muscles move, but victims are otherwise awake.

A new exhibit called The Power of Poison opened in late November in New York, at the American Museum of Natural History, last year and our gal Snow White - and her poisoned fruit - features as a major installment. (Yay!)

The whole exhibit looks fascinating but the section on Poison in Myth and Legend (get a brief overview HERE, though I gather there is much, much more) looks particularly so, with nods to the Mad Hatter, Harry Potter, the witches of Macbeth and much more. Take a look at this brief video by curator Mark Siddall (who seems very in touch with the 'now' and obviously loves educating people in the most entertaining way possible) and tell me you're not intrigued:

Here's a summary of the exhibit from popular family blogger MommyPoppins, who picked it as one of the best family exhibits currently out there this 2013/2014 Winter:
The exhibit begins by putting you in a Columbian rainforest, complete with toxic creatures...
The Power of Poison examines facts, fictions and legends about deadly toxins. While the subject may seem offbeat for families (how many kids know what arsenic or mercury are anyway?), the presentation is totally engaging. Kids can explore the role of poison in famous fairy tales, solve mysteries at digital kiosks, get up close and personal with deadly creatures, and watch a live presentation about a historic poisoning. Both my son and I were completely absorbed by the one-of-a-kind display. For once, picking our poison had a totally awesome outcome. 
The Power of Poison is divided into two distinct sections connected by a live dramatic presentation. The first part explores the back story of toxins: where they come from, what they do, how they were used and who used them. Armed with this knowledge, you're able to solve three different poison-related mysteries in the second section. 
You enter The Power of Poison through a dimly lit Colombian jungle where you're introduced to poisonous plants and animals like live golden poison frogs and Zebra Longwing caterpillars. There's also an interesting short about a lone camper found dead in the woods with no evidence of foul play. I won't give away the ending, let's just say the culprit turns out to be one of nature's toxic creatures. 
One of our favorite parts was the Poison in Myth and Legend gallery, where life-size dioramas reveal the truth behind well known legends and stories. Find out why Lewis Carroll called hatters mad in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, whether Snow White would have really died from eating a poisoned apple and just what those witches in Macbeth were brewing up in their cauldron. 
We also enjoyed searching through the Hogwarts-style magic book, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks and Dioscorides' De Materia Medica. As you flip through the animated tome about poisonous plants, the text and illustrations seem to appear out of nowhere as if the book were enchanted... 
(Read more on the fascinating exhibit areas HERE.)
Apparently the presentation is quite different from the usual AMNH exhibits, being rather more interactive and hands on. There's even a section where you can solve a mystery by following clues It's very multi-media too. There are full-scale, semi-animated scenes, actual venomous/poisonous creatures, audio and visual presentations and slideshows and a very special interactive projected 'Enchanted Book' (also mentioned above), which looks like something straight out of the Hogwarts library, that you can turn the pages of and see move under your hands when you touch the pages (much like you might expect a magic book to do), to learn more about poisons. There's an online version of it HERE
This “enchanted” book resembles an ancient botanical volume. It displays animations of poisonous plants and how they were used in the past. Drawings appear to come to life as the reader touches the pages.
While it's nothing compared to the exhibit piece, it still gives a lot of truly fascinating information on various poisons, how they came to be, the history and myth-tory behind them and more and is well worth your time to browse through and set all the animations and videos happening.)
The exhibit also explores myths and legends associated with poison. It features a life-sized scene of the Mad Hatter from the book "Alice in Wonderland" to explain the origin of the term "mad as a hatter." The saying dates back to the 19th century when mercuric nitrate was used by hat makers to turn fur into felt. Prolonged exposure led to mercury poisoning with symptoms that included trembling, memory loss, and anxiety.
I'm so thrilled that fairy tales are not only included in the exhibit but are showcased the way they have been. While the truth is you could have an entire exhibit just on poisons in fairy tales, getting people thinking about possible real-world origins of tales is a good way to get people to go back and look at their favorite tales, rethink folklore they know, and maybe do a little research beyond as well. Blogger Sonic Eclectic looks to be one of these since their summary of this part of the exhibit is as follows (section in bold is my emphasis):
Once the exhibit gets into the details of the environment then the specifics of countering poisons and folklore arrives.  Details are offered about witches, stories of Hercules using the toxic hydra blood, an excerpt of Snow White, and also information from Harry Potter.  What’s best is the exhibit ties the fiction and folklore to real life.  Tying poison and its affects to literature is something I would not have guessed to read and see.  Paired with the information are well-crafted artistic visuals and interactive information you can touch and hear.  Thankfully we don’t have to smell it if we could because that would not be enjoyable.
This life-size diorama of three witches circling a boiling cauldron recreates a famous scene in Shakespeare's "Macbeth." The witches are drawing on the magical powers of a few highly-poisonous plants.
The AMofNH also has a great Pinterest board full of information (and cool visuals) that you can browse HERE. While fairy tales aren't featured here, it's still intriguing (I need more words for fascinating...).

You can see more displays from the exhibit HERE and there's a whole set of behind-the-scenes photos on creating the exhibit HERE, where you can see much larger images of those below, get more information about the section, what went into putting it together and some of the varied skills employed for the presentation. (I don't see the video and animation artists included but no doubt they were hard at work as well.)
I now want to see a fairy tale exhibit JUST LIKE THIS! (Please.)
The Power of Poison runs until August 10, 2014.

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