From Monday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.
Transformation of biblical proportions
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s third floor has been transformed by a “museum inside a museum” for Passages,” which seeks to put a vast array of rare biblical manuscripts and artifacts into historical context.
The third floor of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, which until recently harbored the institution’s large collection of Dale Chihuly art glass, has undergone a striking metamorphosis to house to “Passages,” a vast interactive exhibit that will allow visitors of all ages to experience firsthand the history and influence of the most-translated, best-selling book of all time.
“It’s been an amazing transformation,” said Alison Amick, the museum’s curator of collections, last week as the installation was nearing completion. “It’s a completely different look for the third floor. It’s been really interesting to watch it develop.”
Opening today, “Passages” is the nonsectarian, worldwide traveling exhibition of The Green Collection, among the world’s newest and largest private collections of rare biblical manuscripts and artifacts. The collection is named for the Green family, founder-owners of Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby.
“Passages” is making its world premiere at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art through Oct. 16 and then will
travel to Vatican City and New York City.
The 14,000-square-foot multimedia exhibit is debuting during the year of the 400th of anniversary of the King James Bible. “Passages” spans 2,000 years to tell the story of the translation and publication of the Bible in English.
Exhibition items that help to tell the story include a Dead Sea Scroll text, ancient biblical papyri, intricately illuminated manuscripts, a portion of the Gutenberg Bible, and multiple first editions of the English Bible through the King James Version.
“There are things in almost every case that they can’t be seen anywhere else in the world,” said Scott Carroll, director of The Green Collection. The exhibit “has really been built around the items.”
For “Passages,” a veritable “museum inside a museum” has been installed on the third floor. Each gallery has been designed to immerse visitors in the historical setting for the specific items on display in it, Amick said.
“We started placing manuscripts in the galleries, and just to see them come to life, that’s really what I find so intriguing,” she said.
More than 200 creative minds — architects, artists, writers, audio/visual experts, musicians and more — have been working speedily since September to design and build the exhibit, said Cary Summers, chief executive officer of The Nehemiah Group consulting firm. The Springfield, Mo.-based company has been involved in similar interactive biblical exhibits like the Nazareth Village in Israel and the planned Ark Encounter in Kentucky.
Visitors enter the exhibit amid richly colored reproductions of the famed wall paintings of the ancient Dura-Europos synagogue in Syria.
“It’s just stunning. There are a couple of replications of that ancient synagogue around the world, and I think that’s the largest and the nicest anywhere we’ve seen. And that’s just this room,” Carroll said.
“Just the idea of contextualizing things and putting them in historical context is important, so that people see things in a replication of what it would have been like in the world that produced them.”
Ornately illustrated psalters, or volumes of the Book of Psalms, are displayed in a simulation of a stone medieval cloister, while in other rooms, various printed Bibles are exhibited near full-scale, fully functional replicas of Gutenberg and King James presses.
Interactive features more readily associated with science museums also help provide context. Visitors can enter St. Jerome’s cave to learn about the 4th-century scholar best known for the Vulgate, his Latin translation of the Bible. Along with an animatronic of the saint, the cave houses a talking robotic lion based on the feline often depicted with Jerome in art.
Elsewhere in the exhibit, animatronics of Queen Anne Boleyn — a supporter of William Tyndale, who is
credited with first translating the New Testament into English — sits on her throne as well as behind bars in the Tower of London. In another gallery, a video screen designed to look like a portrait of King James I overlooks a massive wooden table holding manuscripts of the biblical translation that now bears his name.
“Books can be very boring … if they’re not interpreted for people, especially for kids. And that means pushing the line with the things that you do to try to bring it alive, and that’s what we tried to do as well,” Carroll said.
“That’s why often Dead Sea Scroll exhibits go to science museums and not to art museums. But these books are works of art.”
When: Today-Oct. 16.
Where: Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 415 Couch Drive.
Special museum hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Sunday, with extended hours from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays.
Special prices: $15 for museum members; $25 for adults; $20 for seniors 62 and older; $20 for college students with ID; $10 for military members with ID; $15 for children ages 6-18; and free for children 5 and younger.
Discount: Coupons for $3 off admission are available at local Hobby Lobby stores.
Information: 236-3100, www.okcmoa.com or www.explorepassages.com.