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Teeth, Tentacles and Tales

Geo Centre exhibit blends information and imagination

Campus and Community

By Kate Murphy

Dragons. Yeti. Unicorns. Krakens. Wild bologna.

These are just some of the mythical creatures featured in Teeth, Tentacles and Tales, the newest exhibit at the Johnson Geo Centre.

Chosen to intrigue audiences and to pique the interest of young and old alike, the exhibit provides scientific explanations for curious fantasy creatures and was made completely by the staff of Memorial University’s Geo Centre.

“This is the first time in the 12 years I’ve been here at Geo that we’ve had the opportunity to create an exhibit completely in house,” said Dennis Keough, operations and exhibitions lead for Memorial’s Signal Hill Campus. “It’s very exciting because we’re the ones in the driver’s seat, making all the decisions.”

Staff at the Geo Centre started dreaming up the exhibit in fall 2023, selecting what creatures and topics would be covered, what the exhibit look and feel would be, and what props and interactive exhibits would be designed and created.

From dream to reality, the research, writing, design and building happened over five short months this year while the centre was mostly closed to the public.

Blue walls with storyboards, a rock wall on the far side and large tentacles hanging from the ceiling
Some of the many displays at the Johnson Geo Centre for Teeth, Tentacles and Tales.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

What to expect from the unexpected

Teeth, Tentacles and Tales, which opened on June 7, explores the science behind the world of the mythical such as how dragons might have been imagined from dinosaur bones and how kraken are not all that different than real giant squid.

“People can expect to be informed about people’s imaginations,” said Andrew Badcock, technical facilities assistant for Memorial’s Signal Hill Campus. “The creatures in the exhibit were imagined by people in the past, using the information they had to explain strange things they saw. So, information and imagination really blend together.”

Explaining the origins of mythical creatures from different cultures was an exciting and fun aspect of the exhibit for the interpretation staff.

“I went down so many fascinating rabbit holes while researching this exhibit,” said Rod Taylor, science interpreter. “It was so interesting to read about mythical creatures from around the world, and the similarities and differences between them. Paring down the exhibit to only 40 panels was one of the most challenging tasks I’ve been given in this job! I’m so excited to see what the public’s reaction is.”

Name that kraken

Leading up to the opening, staff of the Johnson Geo Centre released teasers to the public.

One such teaser involved a mascot for Teeth, Tentacles and Tales.

To make the exhibit’s content more accessible to younger audiences, the interpretation team included some short panels with a special mascot — a baby kraken, a legendary sea monster of enormous size and akin to a squid or octopus — to guide younger viewers through the exhibits, explaining the main points of the larger panels.

In April, staff turned to the public and social media for baby kraken name suggestions.

Among the 106 suggestions was a post from a teacher at Indian River Academy in Springdale.

Teacher Emily Stevenson and her kindergarten class submitted 15 coloured octopus pages with name suggestions from each student, including the winning submission: Kip.

To honour that connection, interpreters made a display showcasing the colouring pages with some information about the naming of the kraken mascot for a Museum and Astronomy Family Day on May 18, when more than 1,100 people came through the centre.

Several colouring samples from children on a white display
Kindergarten students from Indian River Academy in Springdale each submitted a name suggestion for the baby kraken mascot.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Ms. Stevenson says she and her class were thrilled about the display and were happy to create a relationship with the Geo Centre.

“Just making that connection was a simple but very effective way to engage young minds in learning about our world,” Ms. Stevenson said. “Their curiosity has been ignited and that’s what’s important.”

The Johnson Geo Centre is open daily from 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Keep an eye on the Johnson Geo Centre’s webpage and social media pages for news about exciting upcoming events, like Astronomy on Tap, monthly family days and the grand opening celebration for Teeth, Tentacles and Tales on Tuesday, July 9 at 6 p.m.

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