Sunday, August 15, 2010

Beyond Belief: The Curious Collection of Rufus Excalibur Bell

Yesterday I visited The Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, MA, which not only features an outstanding collection of arms and armor and featured a demonstration on Viking combat techniques, but now through June 2011 is exhibiting Beyond Belief: The Curious Collection of Professor Rufus Excalibur Bell.

Bell is/was the Higgins Armory Museum's Curator of Curiosities, a position created for him in perpetuity when the museum was established in 1929. Bell has rarely been seen since, but crates and packages of his astonishing findings keep showing up at the museum, and for the first time the public gets to see some of this strange collection.

Here you will find the wings worn by Daedelus, the mounted heads of the jabberwock and many other dragons, a minotaur hoof, a frozen yeti, the contract between Faust and Mephistopheles, a gargoyle skeleton, and a centaur's.

There is the huge scorpion tail of Pazuza, a bird child's hand and items once belonging to Dr. Moreau. You can view the head of Medusa, but only by looking at it through a mirror. There's a fresh water mermaid, strange masks and mummies. A armored deep sea diving suit used by bell as well as some crab-lek machines, and a squid-shaped deep sea probe.

You can also see the sandals worn by Sisyphus as he pushed that rock up hill over and over again. It's right next to Loki's mistletoe spear. The collection even boasts the golden fleece, the left eye of Horus, and the beak of a kraken.

It's a truly stunning collection with Atlantean artifacts, the Mayan Doomsday Clock, a preserved Windigo head, and dozens of unopened wooden crates and brown paper wrapped packages. There was even one belonging to Pandora, that someone tore open, featuring a post-it note from Bell instructing whoever opened it to see him in his office. His office is full of bookshelves containing volumes both common and some very much one of a kind.

The exhibit really tickled my fancy, bringing to life such collections of strange artifacts that I've written about in Midnight, Mass. and other works. It was a treat to see so many items well displayed in one location.

The only drawback was that the exhibit prohibited photography and an attendant made sure this policy remained in effect. Most of the photos here came from Tufts Magazine which has a nice article on the exhibit and Professor Bell,  as well as details about particular items in the collection.

The entire exhibit was the creation of Hilary Scott who conceived of, and constructed everything. There's a touch of whimsy to many of the items, and I think the real goal was to excite  the imaginations of children visiting the exhibit. There really should be a companion book to this exhibit, actually two--one for adults and one for kids.

There's a Youtube video of Scott building these deep sea specimen containers here.

You can also watch an interview with Hilary Scott discussing the exhibit and one of  Scott showing more of the items on display.

The arms and armor that make up the rest of the museum are also a great treat to look at.


Dave said...

Fantastic fun. Thanks for sharing. Ideas and works I love

Robert Pope said...

said it before, say it again: "Wow!"

John Rozum said...

Dave, I thought of you while I was there. It's too bad you live 3000 miles away.