Museum Monsters

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.

Pretty cool!

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!


  1. Beth M.

    I am happy to hear that your museum trip was a monstrous success! I look forward to hearing about more details of your adventures. 🙂 The Quileute Legends sound very interesting and I will have to look them up. I think I remember hearing the name of this tribe when I had visited the Hoh Rain Forest in Washington State. American Indian history, myths and legends are always so interesting aren’t they?

    • Candy

      I’ll be the first to admit a lack of knowledge when it comes to the tribal legends of the Northwest, but I’m for learning! The artwork on display was marvelous. Maybe I need a field trip to the Hoh Rain Forest?

      So many monsters, so many trips to plan…. Lots of fun!

  2. You have a Mall full of museums????? Sorry, I know the location is not the point of your post but I’m amazed at the very concept. Definitely nothing like that here in Australia.

    Sounds as if your trip has been highly productive. Just wondering if there are any interesting monsters in the Mayan or Aztec mythologies?

    • Candy

      The Mayan, Aztecs, Inca etc. have TONS! Great stuff, plus a little human sacrifice, mummified remains and then there’s that Mayan calendar ‘end of the world’ thing to contend with.

      As for the mall joke…. it was a very U.S. centric quip. The Washington ‘Mall’ is the big park in Washington DC that is the site for most of the Smithsonian Museums (The Air & Space Museum, The Museum of Natural History, The Freer, The Sackler, etc. ) and the Washington Monument and the Capitol building, etc. I’m NOT a mall shopper. Particularly because I live in the middle of New York City and also because I really can’t stand them. That’s why the silly joke. Oh, well… It’s not going to play with the Europeans either, unless they’ve visited DC as a tourist as all DC tourists wind up on THE Mall eventually. An actual mall of museums would be interesting. Don’t you think?