No, I’m not referring to the gigantic retrospective art shows like the recent and overwhelming Wilem de Kooning show at MoMA or the epic Salvador Dali show that I traveled to see in Philadelphia in 2005. (It was May 5, 2005 — 050505 so it’s hard to forget the exact date.) I’m talking about the wild variety of monsters depicted in art. Before and after my Poe hunt in Richmond, Virginia and dipped my toe into a few of the museums on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
I found some great monsters!
Since the Twilight series of books and movies have inspired widespread interest in the Quileute people and their wolf legends, the National Museum of the American Indian had a small but beautiful show. The Quileute legends are not about werewolves in the current fantasy/horror sense, but their mythology traces their ancestors to wolves.
Traditions include secret societies devoted to specific roles in the community, i.e. whaling, basket weaving, etc. Each group is connected to one or more animals. The warrior group is associated with wolves and new members are initiated in a six-day-long ceremony.
My ‘this may be a new monster arena for me’ alarm went off when I saw that the Shaman were associated with a fearsome two-headed creature — one that deserves further research — as well as lizards, snakes and screech owls. The two-headed beast — with one head going one way and the other the opposite direction — is worthy of some serious investigations.
In another exhibit at the museum, there was a lovely tidbit about the first encounters between the Native Americans and Spaniards on horseback. The Spanish must have looked like centaurs — half human and half beast.
A couple of Poe-ish days in Virginia later, and I was back on the Mall at the Sackler and the African museums. At the Sackler, I met a Senmurv (a mythical winged creature from Persian legends with the head of a female lion), winged horses from the Zoroastrian astronomical tradition and a beautiful and fierce Chinese Chimera (winged lion/unicorn combo).
At the National Museum of African Art I was captivated by a traditional mask of the Ogoni people in Nigeria — the melding of human and horned animal features was seamless and stunningly beautiful design.
All in all, my kind of trip to the mall!