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For Immediate Release: May 19, 2009
Contact (also for exhibit photos and tours):
DRAGONS AND FAIRIES AND HARPIES – OH MY!
HIGGINS’ EXHIBITION IS “BEYOND BELIEF”
WORCESTER, MA – No one’s seen Professor Rufus Excalibur Bell, the Higgins Armory Museum’s Curator of Curiosities, for years. Bell is trekking around the world in search of mythological creatures great and small and the specimens he sends back to the museum -- including baby dragons, a sleeping fairy, the wings of Daedalus, a harpy’s claw -- are compelling. Unlike modern scholars and archaeologists, Bell travels through time and space. His discoveries seem to validate the existence of creatures typically considered mythology and legend.
That’s the premise behind Beyond Belief: The Curious Collection of Professor Rufus Excalibur Bell, a new exhibition opening Saturday, June 20, at the Higgins. Although Bell is an imaginary character, the dragons, gargoyles and myriad of fantastic creatures he’s “discovered” come alive through the talents of Somerville, Mass., artist Hilary Scott. The 70 artifacts and specimens, as well as the equipment that Bell uses to find his discoveries, are displayed in a recreation of Bell’s Edwardian study and the museum space where they are unpacked and identified. “Beyond Belief” is open through 2011; accompanying programming will run throughout the year. For more information, visit www.higgins.org or call the Higgins Armory Museum at 508/853-6015.
“Our goal is creating an exhibition that stimulates visitors’ imaginations while also informing them about mythology and the known story behind some of the objects,” says Linda Woodland, curator of the exhibition. “Visitors can tour Professor Bell’s study and examine the storage area where his works are unpacked.”
The exhibit was conceived in conjunction with Scott, a self-taught artist whose life-sized dragons and whimsical sculptures fill his home and studio. “Even though Professor Bell is a fictional character, he lives through his collections,” says Scott. “I created the pieces after researching specific myths from around the world, and the Higgins staff developed the back-stories of how the Professor encountered each one.”
Exhibit Allows for Exploration
Many of Scott’s sculptures and creations are displayed in Bell’s cluttered study, including the wings of Daedalus from the fabled Greek myth. A fairy in a bell jar sits on Bell’s desk, along with a shrunken head. Baby dragons hang from a nearby coat rack. A second room, a stark-white recreation of a museum storage area, features an interactive touch-screen computer where visitors can look at items Bell has discovered from around the world and read about the stories behind the objects.
Visitors can observe a hibernating mermaid in a Plexiglas box and submit suggestions on how to remove her without disturbing her slumber. There’s also a “miniscule winged specimen influxator,” or fairy vacuum, that Bell used to collect fairy specimens. An online component to Beyond Belief allows users to log onto www.higgins.org and answer the question “where have you seen Professor Bell?”
“This exhibit allows visitors to explore rather than observe objects in a linear way,” says Woodland. “There are comfortable chairs where people can sit and leaf through books explaining some of the legends behind the objects. We want people to really observe their surroundings.”
The Story Behind the Department of Curiosities
The story behind the Higgins’ Department of Curiosities begins with Professor Bell’s appointment as Curator of Curiosities by museum founder John Higgins. Bell studies mythological creatures such as harpies, griffins and dragons, insisting that they exist. Accompanied by Benjamin, a penguin who is his trusted companion, Bell travels the globe studying dragon-lore and mythology, encountering dragons and dragon-hunters along the way. In anyone’s living memory, Bell has not returned to the Higgins for more than a brief moment, but his mysterious boxes and crates keep coming. His discoveries seem to support the existence of these mythological creatures.
About Hilary Scott
Beyond Belief is Hilary Scott’s second exhibition at the Higgins. An academic by training, Scott taught international relations for Tufts University. He has a doctorate in international law and is the recipient of several postgraduate fellowships in public diplomacy and security studies, and has lectured widely on European political history. Beginning with fantastical toys created for his young children, Scott became a regular on the annual Somerville Open Studios tour. Private and public commissions, and group shows of his wire sculptures, stained glass, furniture, dragons and children’s toys followed. Scott started to sculpt full-time in 2002. For more information on Scott’s work.
About the Higgins
The Higgins Armory Museum is the only American museum dedicated solely to the art of arms and armor. The museum’s 5,000 artifacts center on the arms and armor of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, including comparable pieces from the ancient period and from around the world. The Higgins Armory Museum is located at 100 Barber Avenue; 508/853-6015. Admission: $9, adults; $7, children ages 6-16; $8, seniors, age 60+; free, children 5 and under, and members.
The exhibit opens June 20 and closes in 2011 (no confirmed ending date).
Photos by Hilary Scott
The first photo is a selection of pieces from Professor Bell’s Curious Collection: