Very Like a Whale children's exhibition

This article collects the children's exhibition material featured in Very Like a Whale, one of the Exhibitions at the Folger.

The exhibition Very Like a Whale invites you to use your imagination! You'll see photographs, pictures, books, and other objects. Some of these things may look like something else, and some of them play tricks on your eyes called optical illusions. The title comes from a scene in the play Hamlet, in which Hamlet and a character named Polonius are talking about what shapes they see in the clouds. They agree that one of the clouds looks "very like a whale."

Prospero and Magic

Prospero is a powerful magician in Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, who has been shipwrecked on an island. In the play, he uses books to cast spells on creatures who are living on the island.

Although Prospero is a made-up character, books of spells exist, and a few of them are at the Folger Shakespeare Library! You can see one of them, called a grimoire, in the exhibition Very Like a Whale. The grimoire has drawings and instructions for casting spells.

You can learn more about the book, as well as spells and magic, by clicking here.

Photos and Reflections

Rosamond Purcell is a photographer whose pictures can be seen in the exhibition, Very Like a Whale. In order to take the pictures, she used glass bottles. The bottles are shiny, like a mirror, and created interesting reflections.

You can see more of Rosamond's pictures, and other items from the exhibition, by clicking on this link.

  • Do they look like other photographs that you have seen? Why or why not?

Did you know? George Eastman invented rolled film in 1885. This invention made cameras easier to use, and millions of people bought his Kodak cameras. Before Eastman's invention, photographs were taken on thin sheets of metal called plates. Today, most photographs are taken with digital cameras that do not use film.

Art that Nature Makes

Have you ever found a rock that looks like a sculpture? A stick that looks like a snake?

Sometimes, we find things in nature that look like someone must have made them. In the period 400 or 500 years ago, many people believe that nature acted like an artist, creating objects that looked like paintings, sculptures, or pictures. Today, we know that these things are made through natural processes. But it is still fun to look at rocks, stones, and shells and imagine what else they could be.

  • What art do you see nature make?

Optical Illusion

Artist Simon Fokke made this image of a fire that appears 3D. He even made small holes to allow light to shine through, making it look like the picture is really burning. The fire in the picture really happened. In the city of Amsterdam in 1772, a theater caught on fire during a performance, and 18 people died.

Many scientists have been interested in how to create tricks, or illusions. One scientist who worked hard in this area was named Athanasius Kircher. Kircher built a machine that used shadows and mirrors to reflect shapes and make it look as if they were part of a human body. One trick he had was to give a person the head of a donkey! Kircher believed in explaining that his machines worked by science, not magic. In fact, Kircher is known for helping to make optical illusions easier to understand and less mysterious.