The Philadelphia region’s science and history museums and its libraries will present an odd assortment of exhibitions and events this spring. Comic book life will dominate the area’s largest science venue, the Franklin Institute, and mythic fairy tale creatures will take over that venerable life-sciences outpost, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
Best not to parse the reasons.
There will also be more sober fare, including a bicentennial birthday celebration of Walt Whitman across multiple venues.
History buffs should be satisfied with a variety of exhibits and talks, including an exhibition on the largely unknown but pivotal Revolutionary War Battle of Fort Mifflin (appearing first at the Independence Seaport Museum in 2019, and then, next year, at Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River).
The Penn Museum will bring back some major artifacts from its Egyptian galleries, partially closed for renovation for several more years, and the museum’s conservation lab will reopen. The Mütter Museum is gearing up to expand its gallery space, and it highlights the coming change with a temporary exhibition.
New permanent exhibits have just been installed at both the Independence Seaport Museum and the Science History Institute, and the National Constitution Center will open an intriguing permanent exhibition focusing on Reconstruction and the Constitution.
River Alive! (ongoing, Independence Seaport Museum). The museum has opened a large permanent exhibit that focuses on the Delaware River watershed and its meaning for the millions of people who depend on the flow of the river. (215-413-9655, phillyseaport.org)
Discover the Science Behind Everyday Objects (ongoing permanent exhibition, Science History Institute). A new multimedia installation showcasing the institute’s collection of art, scientific instruments, and rare books. The redo includes a two-story-high video column and the “Object Explorer,” a pair of high-resolution, interactive tables where visitors can explore the history and science behind various everyday objects. Flip-flops anyone? (215-925-2222, sciencehistory.org)
Philadelphia: The Changing City (through April 13, Rare Book Dept., Free Library of Philadelphia Central Library). From river to skyline and stoop to stoop, Philadelphia has been reformed and reshaped throughout its history. The library presents 300 years of prints, photographs, documents, and maps. (215-686-5322, freelibrary.org)
Off the Shelf … Game On! (through Dec. 8., Rosenbach Museum and Library). The Rosenbach turns its famous holdings into a giant game board. Test yourself on the Bay Psalm Book, the Ulysses manuscript, Bram Stoker’s notes for Dracula, and more. (215-732-1600, rosenbach.org)
The British Mistake (opens Feb. 15 for about a year, Independence Seaport Museum). The Independence Seaport Museum and the Friends of Fort Mifflin present an exhibit exploring the pivotal Revolutionary War Battle of Fort Mifflin via hands-on activities, an interactive fort experience, and rare artifacts. (215-413-8655, phillyseaport.org)
Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids (Feb. 16-June 9, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University). Mythical creatures are front and center in the academy’s new exhibition – griffins, giants, dragons, unicorns, mermaids, sea monsters. Do any relate to the natural world? The exhibit explores the history (and the possibilities). (215-299-1000, ansp.org)
Philaesthetic: AAMP Celebrates the African Diaspora in Philly (Feb. 16 into June, the African American Museum in Philadelphia and other venues). Performances, films, and exhibitions celebrate and document the history of Africans in North America and their profound impact on world and American culture. First up, Feb. 16, is a performance by Kulu Mele African Dance and Drum Ensemble; on Feb. 23 comes the 23rd annual Schomburg Symposium. Both will be held at Taller Puertoriqueno in North Philadelphia.
AAMP first weighs in with three exhibitions opening March 9: “AAMP on Paper: Selections from the Permanent Collection,” “Baye Fall: Roots in Spirituality, Fashion and Resistance,” and “The Sacred Star of Isis and Other Stories.” (215-574-0380, aampmuseum.org)
History After Hours: Liberty for All? (Feb. 19, 5-8 p.m., Museum of the American Revolution). Representatives of Mother Bethel AME Church and Terry Buckalew, of the Bethel Burying Ground Project, share stories of the seemingly vanished African American past uncovered by archaeology. There will be a pop-up museum within a museum where visitors can share family heirlooms. (215-253-6731, amrevmuseum.org)
From Stream to Sewer: A History of Philadelphia’s Landscape (Feb. 20, 6-7:30 p.m., Wagner Free Institute of Science). Streams buried in massive pipes have become the main drainage arteries in the city’s 3,000-mile sewer system. Historian Adam Levine explains how this happened. (215-763-6529, wagnerfreeinstitute.org)
Ancient Egypt: From Discovery to Display (opening Feb. 23, Penn Museum). How do objects make their journey from excavation site to museum display? This exhibit offers an inside look at where objects come from, how they are researched and cared for, and how they are prepared for display. All while the Egyptian galleries are under renovation. (215-898-4000, penn.museum)
The Artifact Lab: Conservation in Action (reopening Feb. 23, Penn Museum). The museum’s lab, closed for a time during renovation, will reopen as part of the museum’s Ancient Egypt exhibition. Museum conservators will once again ply the tools of their trade in public, preparing an array of objects for exhibition. (215-898-4000, penn.museum)
From Cave to Pub: How Beer Fueled Civilization (Feb. 28, 6:30 p.m., Historical Society of Pennsylvania, holding forth at the Goose Street Brewhouse). Scientist Jessica Zinskie will share how beer pushed our early ancestors from a hunter-gather existence into the stability of village life. (215-732-6200, hsp.org)
Discovering Dark Matter (March 9, Science History Institute). One of the institute’s second-Saturday monthly talks, Dark Matter focuses on what this mysterious stuff can tell us about the laws of physics and the physical processes happening in the universe. (215-925-2222, sciencehistory.org)
Whitman at 200: Looking Back, Looking Forward, A Symposium (March 29-30, Kislak Center, University of Pennsylvania). This symposium, held at the Orrery Pavilion, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, sixth floor, will explore Walt Whitman, his work and his life, from various perspectives. It is part of the Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy initiative. (215-898-7555, library.upenn.edu)
Graffiti & Ornament. (March 31-April 28, the Woodlands). The Woodlands presents site-specific works by artists Roberto Lugo and Leo Tecosky at the Woodlands’ historic Hamilton Mansion. (215-386-2181, woodlandsphila.org)
Sara Berman’s Closet (April 5-Sept. 1, National Museum of American Jewish History). The museum presents an unusual installation and intimate exhibit. Immigrant Sara Berman (1920-2004), who traveled from Belarus to Palestine and on to New York, kept her all-white clothing neatly and revealingly arranged in a closet. Her daughter and grandson, artists Maira and Alex Kalman, are recreating the closet outside the museum. There will be an accompanying exhibit within. (215-923-3811, nmajh.org)
Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes (April 13-Sept. 2, the Franklin Institute). An immersive exhibition featuring more than 300 original artifacts, including some of Marvel’s most familiar costumes, props, and original art. Why can’t people fly? (215-448-1200, fi.edu)
Cold Hard Science in Antarctica: A Paleontology Adventure (April 30, 6:30 p.m., Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University). Academy curator of paleontology Ted Daeschler, recently returned from his second expedition to Antarctica in search of Devonian-age fish, talks with WHYY’s Maiken Scott about the challenges faced in search of a very cold fossil treasure trove. (215-299-1000, ansp.org)
Our Five Senses (May-October, no firm opening and closing dates yet, Rare Book Dept., Free Library of Philadelphia, Central Library). An all-ages, interactive exhibition that connects the senses, the brain, and the literary experience across three centuries of musical, artistic, and literary materials. (215-686-5322, freelibrary.org)
Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality (opens May 9, National Constitution Center). Believed to be the first permanent museum exhibition focusing on the constitutional debates from the Civil War and Reconstruction, this installation will feature more than 100 artifacts, including original copies of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, Dred Scott’s signed petition for freedom, and a ballot box marked “colored” from an 1867 Virginia election. The exhibit will also feature artifacts from the defunct Civil War Library & Museum of Philadelphia — one of the most significant Civil War collections in the country — unseen in Philadelphia for many years. (215-409-6600, constitutioncenter.org)
Whitman Vignettes: Camden and Philadelphia, (May 28-Aug. 23, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, University of Pennsylvania). The exhibition, part of the bicentennial celebration of Whitman’s birth, focuses on the poet’s Camden/Philadelphia connection, both during Whitman’s life and in the decades that followed (including the naming of his bridge). (215-898-7555, library.upenn.edu)
The Art of Reintegration: Veterans and the Silences of War (May 29, 6 p.m., the Historical Society of Pennsylvania). In collaboration with Warrior Writers, the society is hosting an evening of reflection, discussion, and art with veterans and family members, inspired by small-group discussions held at the library. (215-732-6200, hsp.org)
Music for the Hearing Eye: Concert Atop the Crypts (June 1, 6 p.m., Laurel Hill Cemetery). The Divine Hand Ensemble performs atop atop the crypts. Mano Divina, leader of the ensemble, weaves music from the air as master of the theremin, an early electronic musical instrument. The ensemble includes a string quartet, classical guitar, two harps, a glockenspiel, a soprano, and a tenor. (215-228-8200, thelaurelhillcemetery.org)
Building / A Vision: Transforming the College of Physicians of Philadelphia for the 21st Century (opening June 5, Mütter Museum). How does a 1787 medical society flourish in the 21st century? An interactive special exhibition will explore the past, present, and future of our medical history: From the spread of deadly viruses like yellow fever in 1793 to a sneak peek at the Mütter Museum’s proposed gallery expansion. (215-560-8564, muttermuseum.org)