'Here Be Dragons' Exhibit Studies Dragon Myth Across Cultures

Newswise — Countless cultures across the world share a common knowledge of a beast that never existed. From Apr. 22 through Nov. 4, The University of Texas at San Antonio Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC) will explore the origins, symbolism and cultural significance of the dragon through history in a family-friendly exhibit called "Here Be Dragons!"

"The dragon is a consistent image across countless cultures," said John Davis, executive director of the ITC. "Many of those cultures brought the belief in dragons with them when they came to Texas. As stories and legends travel, each culture embellishes upon them with their own beliefs. The result is a pantheon of stories that still inspire us today."

Featuring a 10-foot tall, smoke-breathing dragon, along with artifacts and depictions of dragons in various cultures, "Here Be Dragons!" provides an entertaining and educational experience that addresses the origins and symbolism of dragons. The exhibit includes stories of the Aztec feathered serpent-god Quetzalcoatl, the evolution of the Chinese imperial dragon and Texas-specific dragon stories like the Great Galveston Sea Serpent.

The institute's researchers compiled many of their stories and findings into a 15-minute film entitled "Why We Believe." The video delves into the possible collective consciousness of the human race dating back to primitive man, who had to contend with predatory creatures like serpents, raptors and large cats. Adding the skeletal remains of dinosaurs, like those featured on the exhibit floor, led the human imagination to think of the creature that could have left that fossil record behind.

The image of the dragon has evolved through the years, along with its function. The emblem has commonly been associated with kings and ruling parties. In the East, the dragon was the symbol of Imperial China and a person's position in society determined the number of talons on the dragon's claw. Some experts believe the dragon became a symbol of political power or religion commonly associated with an old regime. Artwork depicting the archetypal hero, the dragon slayer, represented a new political power or movement with the ability to vanquish the incumbent. A similar theory holds true in Christianity, which depicts the dragon as the embodiment of evil.

Dragon motifs can be found on numerous artifacts, from instruments, to weapons to clothing and banners. Modern depictions of the dragon include sports clubs and mascots, martial arts organizations, military units and dining establishments. Dragons have commonly been depicted in works of science-fiction and fantasy literature, along with movies, games and various forms of entertainment.

The family-friendly exhibit features "Draco's Den," a special children's area with building stations sponsored by the Texas Lego Users Group and a collection of dragon story books to read while sitting on "dragon's egg" beanbag chairs. And three wisecracking dragons will appear in a new puppet show, "Fantasy Idol." Finally, "Here Be Dragons" will send families on a modern-day dragon hunt, giving GPS coordinates to track down dragons around San Antonio.

UTSA's Institute of Texan Cultures is located at 801 S. Bowie St. in San Antonio 78205. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday. Admission is $7 for adults and $4 for children (ages 3-12), seniors (65+) and military with I.D. For more information, visit http://www.texancultures.com or call (210) 458-2330.

UTSA's Institute of Texan Cultures is San Antonio's cultural experience museum. Established as the Texas State Exhibits Building for HemisFair in 1968 and later designated as a campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio, the museum has spent nearly forty years telling the stories of Texas's diverse citizens and inviting guests to join in the celebration of Texas's multicultural heritage. Home to the Texas Folklife Festival, Asian Festival, and six other cultural events, UTSA's Institute of Texan Cultures seeks to entertain, inform and inspire those who aspire to a greater understanding of the influence of multiculturalism in the Lone Star State. Resources for multiple audiences are available at the museum's Web site, http://www.TexanCultures.com. The museum is closed on Mondays.