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The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes

Entering the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes at The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) you are welcomed with a message from Richard Doyle, one of four directors of the Conan Doyle estate as well as Conan Doyle’s great nephew. I had the honor of interviewing Mr. Doyle, he was humbled and honored to be in Portland at OMSI for the World Premier of the exhibit. We chatted about the urban legend of how Londoners reacted to the death of Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Doyle made a point to say that Conan Doyle never stopped loving the characters, but it was a great burden for him; however he couldn’t say no to bringing our favorite detective back from the dead.

Well, back to the exhibit… Much like Conan Doyle’s short stories, the exhibit is broken up into sections. Each section draws you in and making you think. How very fitting that an exhibit for Sherlock Holmes is not only entertaining but thought-provoking as well. The creators of the exhibit made it a point to make the experience educational and interactive. The first section is known as Dr. Conan Doyle’s Study; in which you are transported to Victorian London. You gather more information about who inspired not only Conan Doyle’s writing style, but also learn more about Jonathan Bell;  a professor from Edinburgh University where Conan Doyle studied. Conan Doyle credited this man as being a base for Holmes and his powers of observation. The study section includes original manuscripts, letters, illustrations, and period-specific medical innovations.

When entering the Science and History section you will be able to have your photograph taken with period piece technology. This is a fun bit that I think everyone, especially the young Sherlockians will enjoy. This is where the exhibit become interactive.  You can participate in experiments of your own by exploring the developments in science and technology in the 1890s – from telecommunications and printing to botany and chemistry. Don’t skip this part, because it is important for an interactive section of the exhibit. The ballistics was a personal favorite of mine. This section perfectly covers real forensic studies in order to demonstrate the link between the Sherlock Holmes stories, detective science and the world of today; with the help of forensics expert and crime historian E. J. Wagner, author of The Science of Sherlock Holmes.

Next up, probably one of the most amazing renditions of the setting room of 221B Baker Street. Complete with harpoon, jack-knife stuck through unanswered correspondence on the mantel, and well, even VR spelled out with bullets holes on the wall. This is something every Sherlockian should experience. This is also where the interactive mystery, which was written exclusively for the exhibition by Sherlockian acclaimed writer and award-winning Conan Doyle biographer Daniel Stashower. This is quite a treat! You use what you learned in the Science and History section and Conan Doyle’s Study to solve the mystery. This alone is reason to visit this exhibit. The mystery is fantastic.  You are given a detective notebook at the beginning of the exhibit and you can document the mystery by way of embossing, stamping, rubbing, punching and drawing. The experience guides you through a crime scene and five themed vignettes. Each vignette includes scientific interactives that allows you to feel like a consulting detective in your own right. Remember to pay attention in the Science section!

My favorite interactive would have to be the blood splatter; I won’t say anything else but there is a little preview in the photo gallery.

After you solve the mystery you enter the last section: The Culture of Sherlock Holmes – a contemporary gallery of everything Sherlockian. There are props and costumes from Elementary, Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes, and BBC Sherlock. The collection of comics, posters, scripts, game cards, and figurines is wonderful; to see 126 years of Sherlock history in one room was a bit overwhelming for this Sherlockian. (There is a Retail Shop at the end to get all your Sherlock memorabilia!)

I sat in on the press conference with Geoffrey M. Curley- Principal Designer, Amy Seitz-CEO of Exhibits Development Group, John Lellenberg- Representative of Conan Doyle Estate, Alex Werner-Head of History Collections Museum of London, and Richard Doyle-Great Nephew of Conan Doyle and one of the Directors of the Conan Doyle Estate; and the main thing I can tell you is that each of these people care deeply about Sherlock Holmes and the culture surrounding it. I felt like I was in a room with the ultimate Sherlockians who are just as dedicated to these characters as we are. It was a great experience.

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes premiers October 10, 2013 at The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and will run thru January 5, 2014. The exhibit’s website is www.sherlockholmesexhibition.com, and OMSI’s website- www.omsi.edu. I will be following up with information about different events OMSI will be doing with the Sherlock exhibit, so keep an eye out for that as well.

In closing, all I can say is if you are anywhere near Portland go to this exhibit. When it comes to a city near you, GO! Even if you are not a Sherlockian you will enjoy it; and more than likely you’ll be running out to buy The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes once you’ve finished solving a mystery of your own; that is the hope of everyone involved with the exhibition. Enjoy!

Written by Jessica Farley

Photographs by Jessica Farleys