Finding Neverland: The evolution of Peter and Pan

The carefully curated exhibition displays numerous artifacts of the ancient Greek god Pan found in Israel.

The Peter and Pan exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (photo credit: ELIE POSNER/THE ISRAEL MUSEUM)
The Peter and Pan exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem
Imagine a journey from the Mediterranean forests of Arcadia, Greece, to the misty woodlands of Neverland via the industrial world of Victorian London.
The Israel Museum has curated just that in the “Peter and Pan” exhibition, which encourages viewers of all ages to let their imagination run wild.
The exhibit was curated by Rachel Caine Kreinin, who has spent much of her time working and researching on Pan – the Ancient Greek god of the wild, shepherds, fertility and music – and his link to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, as well as its evolution over time and space.
David “Dudi” Mevorah, Curator-in-charge of the exhibition, took The Jerusalem Post on a magical journey explaining this connection.
“The story of this exhibition began after a mask of Pan was discovered [in Israel], and that is when Rachel began researching the topic and collected all the findings from Israel and from abroad about this very different god,” Mevorah explained. “Through her research, she opened a window to the surprising point of connection between Peter Pan, the ancient god of Pan, and the modern evolution of Pan into Peter Pan.”
The exhibition is geared toward children with small explanations in green – in both English and Hebrew with vowels – of the different installations on the walls, and a game of clues for children to enjoy while they are viewing the exhibition to encourage them to connect to history and archaeology in a fun way.
Several installations are on loan from the Louvre in Paris, the National Archaeology Museum in Athens, and the Walt Disney Family Museum, while a large number of the artifacts displayed were discovered in Beit She’an, Acre, Ashkelon and Banyas near Mount Hermon.
The first set of installations are set up in a way that shows an artistic creativity, and gives visitors the feeling that they are in the ancient world of Greece and Olympus.
“Born in Arcadia at the end of the sixth century BCE, a mountainous forest area, he was born half goat and half man – the only god in the Greek pantheon that is half animal and half human,” Mevorah said.
He explained that Pan, who is known for his unpredictability, is in charge of calmness and peacefulness of nature, “but on the other hand, in a few seconds he can change into something totally different and dangerous,” being “in charge of storms and the wildness in the wilderness.”
The archaeological finds and statues, dating between the fifth century BCE and the third century CE, also depict the different facets of Pan – some showing his gentle and calm side, while others illustrate his angry and dangerous side.
A bust of a furious looking Pan, found in Ashkelon from the first to second century CE, is also on display.
In ancient times, a 48-hour feast honoring Pan usually took place outside the cities in forests and caves. Pan dwells in caves and the worshipers bring gifts, emphasized Mevorah, who said that several cliffs and caves where this feast took place have been found in Israel.
A beautiful display of items including broken oil lamps and wine jugs found in these caves makes up part of the installations, together with several carvings of Pan and part of an alter found in Beit She’an.
Pan’s famous pan flute, which is made from reeds, features on many of the statues and paintings from that period. The pan flute is also featured in the early illustrated and contemporary versions of Peter Pan, as well as the instrumental music of the plays and films, showing a direct thread connecting the two figures.
The second part of the exhibition changes dramatically, in moving from the ancient into the industrial world of Victorian England, the time period when Peter Pan was born. From stone floors, visitors move into an imitation of industrial London with black walls that look like buildings and rooms that hold books, information and illustrations of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan through the ages.
Images of the women who played Peter Pan on stage and the illustrated editions of the books are also on display.
The Walt Disney Family Museum also lent several drawings from the original 1952 animated edition of the film.
Mevorah said that during this time there was a move back toward nature and the ideals of Pan, “not just in a romantic way, but also looking at nature in a serious way – the research of nature.”
“The proper Englishman [at that time] had a microscope to study nature in a scientific way… there was a book at the time that came with slides called Half an Hour with a Microscope,” and one of the slides, a fly, “was called Tinkerbell,” which is the name of the beloved fairy in the story.
“The world of nature fascinated J.M. Barrie… and this is the world of Peter Pan – fairies, nature, woods – that were all part of creating Neverland,” Mevorah emphasized.
The evolution of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan from 1904 to 1911 is looked at in detail throughout the second part of the exhibition. There is also a reading area in a forest-like room for children and parents showcasing numerous versions of the story, and a magical compilation of some of the best Peter Pan films edited together on a big screen.
“If you believe in fairies and love the story of a child who never grows up, which began with a much ‘older’ child – half-goat, half-human,” Mevorah said, this exhibition will help you to find Neverland like you’ve never seen it before.