Small but mighty is an apt description for the current incarnation of the National Hellenic Museum tucked away on the fourth floor of 801 W. Adams, the same building that houses the Greek Islands restaurant in Greektown.
Like the gods whose stories are at the heart of the museum’s family friendly exhibit, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: A Look Inside the Lightning Thief,” NHM is poised to take wing and expand its domain next year when it moves to a three-story contemporary building at the corner of Halsted and Van Buren streets. Exhibit space will grow from the current 5,000 square feet to more than 14,000 square feet.
Based on the 2010 movie “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” which is based on the first book in the popular youth series of books by Rick Riordan, “Percy Jackson” — the exhibit — is the perfect introduction to the museum. The two-room exhibit showcases props from the film and offers a couple of fun interactive activities.
The film’s protagonist is Percy, a dyslexic boy who also struggles with attention-deficit disorder. When it seems that a teacher at his high school has turned into a monster and is attacking him, Percy learns the truth: He is a demigod — the son of Poseidon and a mortal woman. To protect him, Percy’s mother (who becomes a hostage of Hades) sends him to Camp Half-Blood where he learns the ways of gods. To complicate matters, Zeus accuses Percy of stealing his lightning bolt and gives him 10 days to return it or he’ll wage war against Poseidon.
A first-time collaboration between Twentieth Century Fox and NHM, “Percy Jackson” runs through Sept. 4. In the first room of the exhibit visitors encounter several props from the movie, including Percy’s winged gym shoes (minus the wings), the powerful pen given to him by a teacher, Percy’s sword and shield, a Minotaur horn, an Uma Thurman-like bust of Medusa complete with snakes, Poseidon’s trident, and the treasure map Percy and his friends use to find the magic pearls and ultimately the lightning bolt. A wall chart details the gods of Olympus to help visitors keep it all straight.
“We did this exhibit and tied it into mythology to have the educational component,” said Antonia Callas, NHM marketing and public relations manager.
The second room of the exhibit tests visitors’ knowledge of the gods with the interactive Lotus Casino wheel. Spin the wheel to pick a quiz category and then pick a corresponding card for a question about the gods. Symbols on the wheel and cards represent Greek gods and goddesses; if the wheel stops at the trident symbol, for example, expect a question about Poseidon. A chart of the Greek alphabet is posted next to a magnetic board loaded with magnetic letters so that visitors can write their names in Greek on the board. Bean bags and book caddies in one corner invite visitors to sit and read tales from Greek mythology.
“It’s a small exhibit, but this is the first time that Fox has done anything like this,” Callas said. “These stories [about Greek gods] are still exciting to people, they still care about them, they’re still intriguing and fun and dynamic. The movie is about Greek mythology and [the museum] is about Greek history; it’s a great fit for us because it’s so contemporary.”
“Percy Jackson” breathes life into the Greek mythology of history textbooks. If your kids are fans of the books, the movie or mythology, a trip to visit NHM is in order this summer.
Two free weekly programs target families as well, Callas said. “Mythical Mornings” runs 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Fridays through Aug. 27. Each week kids 3 to 7 years old learn about a different Greek myth and then get to walk through the “Percy Jackson” exhibit. “Mosaic Making,” 10 to 11 a.m. Wednesdays through Aug. 25, targets kids 6 to 13 years old. Participants learn the basics of this ancient art form and make a take-home mosaic based on Greek designs.