Old stories lead museum into new age

The Prague Post

National Museum opens a hands-on exhibition of Czech Legends

In a final exhibition before a four-year closing for renovations next summer, the National Museum has chosen a fitting topic: “Ancient Czech Legends.”

“This exhibition should start a new direction, focusing our exhibits on young people,” said Jaromír Pavlík, a National Museum spokesman. “It’s our most interactive exhibit ever.”

Indeed, the interaction begins right through the door when visitors press a button and receive a ticket with a name on it (mine said Krasatina). By the end of the exhibition, attendees are meant to learn the history of their “identity.”

In the first hall, there is a model of Ríp Hill, the legendary mountain that the country’s great forefather Cech climbed and – as the Czech legend goes – named the beautiful surrounding lands Cechy. The walls are adorned with whimsical paintings of kings, priests and villagers.

The threads running through the exhibition are the works of Alois Jirásek and Jirí Trnka. The former is the author of the 1897 book Old Czech Legends (Staré povesti Ceské) and the latter of a 1952 stop-motion animated film of the same name. The stories dotting the walls are Jirásek’s (most displays have an English translation) and TV screens throughout the exhibition are showing Trnka films. Each exhibit is centered on a certain legend, with related historical artifacts on display alongside the stories.

“Who knows the answer, are the legends true or not?” asked Pavlík. “We are taught these things at school; kids can see what they are learning and compare fact and fiction and put them together.”

Two computer screens add a technical edge to the otherwise ancient proceedings, the first illustrates tribe movements throughout Europe and the second is a game. What if forefather Cech didn’t go to Ríp, but someplace warmer like Spain, or a higher mountain like in Switzerland? Click on a country, and the map shifts into what Europe might look like today.

“We are trying to present the exhibition in a touch and feel way,” said Pavlík.

Another room is primarily concerned with the legend of Libuše and Premysl. There is replica 9th and 10th century jewelry and a chance for kids to learn about Libuše’s father, Krok.

“One legend tells of the town of Budec founded by Krok in 679,” Pavlík said. “At the end of the 16th century, a manuscript was found talking about the school of magic in the town. It’s 300 years older than Hogwarts [the mythical school for wizards in the Harry Potter series].”

Yet another legend on display tells the story of Bivoj, who tried to woo the lady Kazi by catching a live wild boar and bringing it to her as a gift. Children can get into the act dressing up like Kazi. For the muscularly challenged aspiring Bivojs, there is a stuffed-animal boar.

But there are lessons to be drawn for adults as well, in particular the interesting way these legends have permeated other parts of Czech culture. On display are original pieces from the premiere of famed composer Bedrich Smetana’s opera Libuše, which debuted at the National Theatre in 1902. And there’s a corner for listening to a wide range of operas inspired by other Czech legends.

Nearly everything on display is from the National Museum’s permanent collection and some items have never before been exhibited. There are also reproductions of illustrations and paintings from throughout the centuries that have been gathered onto mini-storyboards in each exhibit. They show the interpretation of the legends in art from the 1500s, 1600s and even the 20th century.

By the end of a tour, attendees learn much about the name they picked up at the beginning.

Who was Krasatina? An idol of the Duke of Nezamysl, of course.