Mystic Seaport to unveil five new exhibits next year

Mystic — In an effort to appeal to an even wider audience, Mystic Seaport announced Tuesday the opening of five new major exhibits next year including the first known museum use of Microsoft’s new holographic technology, an exhibition of Viking artifacts and the first U.S. display in 50 years of the Norse Vinland map.

There are also exhibits on a doomed 19th-century Arctic expedition, which remained a mystery until three years ago, when one of the ships was found, as well as another Arctic expedition, which is credited with creating a greater understanding of the native Inuit people.

Several of the new exhibits will be housed in the new Thompson Exhibit Building and its Collins Gallery, which were designed in part to be able to host large traveling exhibits, something that the Seaport could not do in the past. The exhibits are also the result of the Seaport’s collaboration with museums around the world. One such collaboration is with the Royal Museums Greenwich in London, England, which sent its popular longitude exhibit and its intricate clocks to the Seaport two years ago and now is involved with one of the new Arctic exploration exhibits.

“We are a maritime museum but we’re trying to reach a more diverse and wider audience with these exhibits,” Seaport spokesman Dan McFadden said. “This is completely different from what Mystic Seaport has ever done before.”

He added the museum’s aggressive schedule of rolling out the new exhibits is possible because of its partnerships with the other museums and having a state-of- the-art facility to showcase them.

The first of the new exhibits, "Murmur: Arctic Realities" by contemporary artist John Grade, will premier in January at the Seaport.

Grade has recreated a pingo, a hill of ice that grows over decades or centuries in the Arctic, and then collapses. Grade has replicated a pingo in Alaska’s Noatak National Preserve, after mapping it with photographs. According to the Seaport, “Visitors will be able to enter the sculpture as its walls open and close, mimicking the pingo’s lifecycle at a time when this is accelerating due to unprecedented environmental change.”

In addition, visitors wearing a wireless HoloLens headset will see themselves within a holographic representation of the Arctic. It is thought to be the first use of Microsoft’s HoloLens Mixed Reality technology in a museum.

“By allowing visitors in Connecticut to traverse an Alaskan marsh, Murmur will revolutionize the public’s grasp of what a museum experience can be,” states the Seaport’s announcement of the exhibit, which is presented in cooperation with the Anchorage Museum.

May brings the international debut of “The Vikings Begin,” an exhibit of Norse artifacts from Sweden’s Gustavianum Museum at Uppsala University. It will be the first time many of the items have been shown outside of Sweden.

The artifacts include helmets, shields, weapons and glass, which date as far back as the 7th century and will illustrate topics such as Viking warfare, trade, the Baltic Sea, a ship burial, Norse gods and relations with other cultures. It will follow the great interest in the Draken Harald Harfagre, a recreation of a Viking longship that crossed the Atlantic and has been at the Seaport since 2016 and is slated to depart next year.

Also in May, the Vinland Map, which Yale University researchers originally said dated back to 1440 when they unveiled it in 1965, depicts the western edge of Vinland (now Newfoundland), the land discovered by explorer Leif Ericsson about 1000. It raised the idea that the existence of the New World was discovered by Europeans long before Columbus sailed here.

The Seaport stated that “the Map’s discovery also ignited a firestorm of debate as scholars, historians and scientists across the globe argued over its meaning and authenticity. Today most scholars concur the Map is a forgery, which does nothing to diminish the role it has played in our national conversation about who we are and where we come from.”

This exhibition is a collaboration with the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

In November, the Seaport will unveil “Death in the Ice: The Shocking Story of Franklin’s Final Expedition,” which recounts the 1845 voyage of two Royal Navy ships commanded by Sir John Franklin, who was trying to discover a Northwest Passage to Asia. Franklin and his crew of 128 were lost and 37 expeditions over the next decade were unable to find them. Graves, provisions, Inuit stories and a single handwritten note were found but the well-preserved ships, The HMS Erebus and Terror, were not discovered until 2014 and 2016, respectively. The Terror was one of the British ships that played a major role in the Battle of Stonington in 1814, attacking the borough.

The exhibit includes artifacts from one of the ships. The exhibit is being presented in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of History, Parks Canada, the Inuit Heritage Trust and Royal Museums Greenwich. It is the only U.S. presentation of the exhibit.

In April, “Peoples of the Whale: Captain George Comer and the Inuit of Hudson Bay” will open. It focuses on the East Haddam whaling captain and anthropologist’s close relationship with the Inuit people. The exhibition is in cooperation with the Embassy of Canada and the Canadian Museum of History.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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