Local Harry Potter Exhibition is Full of Magic, Exciting Illustrations

By Nancy Novick

Even if you don’t know your pensieve* from a penknife, you’re likely to find something of interest at Harry Potter: A History of Magic. The New-York Historical Society on 77th and Central Park West has transformed a ground floor gallery into a Hogwarts-like repository of art and artifacts going back several centuries, with areas dedicated to subjects like alchemy and herbology, and defense against the dark arts.

In a section on charm and spells for example, you can learn from an 18th century Ethiopian text how to turn yourself into a lion. Alert the neighbors! In the Defense Against the Dark Arts room, read a 17th century book offering up “A Brief Description of the Nature of the Basilisk, or Cockatrice.”

Young visitors, and their adult relatives and friends, will probably be drawn to the interactive stations where you can create your own virtual magic potion or lay your hands on a crystal ball and see what images emerge from the mists. Much of the exhibition is also devoted to the art surrounding the novels. I particularly enjoyed seeing J.K. Rowling’s early sketches of her characters and the book cover illustrations of editions of Harry Potter published around the world.

Also on display is a sample of original cover art by Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret), that will appear on a new edition of the books published by Scholastic. My guess is that, like the namesake books, movies, and plays, Harry Potter the exhibition is going to be a blockbuster.

* According to Pottermore.com: “A Pensieve is a wide and shallow dish made of metal or stone, often elaborately decorated or inlaid with precious stones, and carrying powerful and complex enchantments. Pensieves are rare, because only the most advanced wizards ever use them, and because the majority of wizardkind is afraid of doing so.”

ART, NEWS | 6 comments | permalink
    1. steve says:

      what the heck does this fictitious kids book have to do with new york history? Are they this desperate for cash at the historical society? Must be in big trouble over there.

      • Sean says:

        It’s for the kids.

      • Harry Fan says:

        It’s a movement – your wouldn’t know, Muggle

      • Beth SKOBEL says:

        N-YHS is very similar to the British Library, where this exhibit began (and sold out) in London. It is a history exhibit and uses Harry Potter as a basis. There is a Leonardo diary in it and many other historial documents. This year is the 20th anniversary of the first book being published in New York. That’s why it’s here, and why you should come and see it!

      • ScooterStan says:

        Re: “Are they this desperate for cash at the historical society? Must be in big trouble over there.”

        Most every museum, EVEN the Met, has to occasionally mount a “Blockbuster Show” to (1) make people aware of the museum’s existence, and (2) yes, bring-in more revenue. Case in point: see today’s (Oct. 10) NY Times story on the Met’s recent “Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, which brought in huge crowds (and revenue)

        As for the New-York Historical Society’s financial condition, one would guess it to be in excellent health, considering that it’s still around (it was founded in 1804, 70 years before the Met) and its holdings (including a trove of Audubon AND Hudson River School originals) are priceless.

    2. Marcia says:

      Not for young kids!! This fabulous exhibit is a lot of reading and reading and reading. Wonderful original manuscripts and first drafts are fascinating to see but impossible to read from afar. If it’s crowded, you’ll be disappointed or frustrated you can’t get close enough to read. But then there’s always the gift shop!! Wonderful new items and you can enter the gift shop for free with kids . As an adult, I loved it!