Where brightly colored glass art once glowed, a functional replica of a Gutenberg press stands surrounded by cases of rare, ancient books, a saint stoops over his work in a cave guarded by a lion, and a talking portrait of King James I urges scholars to continue their work on the translation of the Bible that will bear his name.
The third floor of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, which until recently held the institution's collection of Dale Chihuly art glass, has undergone a metamorphosis to house "Passages," a vast interactive exhibit that will allow visitors to experience 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.
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.
What's on display?
Exhibition items that help to tell the story include a Dead Sea Scroll text, ancient biblical papyri, intricately illuminated manuscripts, a portion of a Gutenberg Bible, and multiple first editions of the English Bible through the King James Version.
"There are things in almost every case that 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 items on display, Amick said.
More than 200 creative minds 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 ... is important, so that people see things in a replication of what it would have been like in the world that produced them," he said.
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 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 fourth-century scholar best known for the Vulgate, his Latin translation of the Bible.
"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."