Blockbuster Harry Potter Exhibition Brings Its Charms to New York
An exhibition at the New-York Historical Society features unique objects from author J. K. Rowling's own archive
It’s been 20 years since J. K. Rowling’s novel about a young wizard, Harry Potter, and his friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry captured the imagination of readers worldwide. Now an exhibition organized by the British Library, “Harry Potter: A History of Magic,” brings the enchantment of the book and all its characters and settings to the New-York Historical Society.
Beginning October 5, a trove of rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the collections of both the British Library and the Historical Society will go on view to the public, in addition to original material from Rowling’s archives.
“We decided quite early on in the planning that we wanted to explore the huge amount of historical magic and folklore that J. K. Rowling drew upon for the Harry Potter series,” British Library curator Tanya Kirk tells Galerie.
The exhibition, which was a blockbuster when it was staged in London, is organized around the various subjects that Harry and his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley studied at Hogwarts—from Potions and Herbology to Divination, Charms, Astronomy, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Care of Magical Creatures. Each subject has been paired with related historical objects.
“The artifact I’m most excited about is the beautiful painting of two snowy owls, painted by John James Audubon for his book The Birds of America,” says Kirk. “I was thrilled to find out that the New-York Historical Society owns the original paintings that were used to create the engravings that are in the book. So it’s going to be even better than displaying the book itself.”
Some unique pieces included in the New York iteration of the exhibition are illustrator Mary GrandPré’s pastel illustrations for the covers of the original Scholastic editions of the series, set models and costumes from the Broadway play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and illustrator Brian Selznick’s newly created artwork for the 20th anniversary editions of the books, as well as Rowling’s drafts and drawings. For the first time in the U.S. visitors will also be able to see first drafts from The Philosopher’s Stone (known in the U.S. as The Sorcerer’s Stone) and The Deathly Hallows along with Rowling’s hand-drawn sketch of the Hogwarts grounds.
“We were really fortunate that J. K. Rowling herself selected items from her own archive for us to display alongside the historical materials,” Kirk says. “It’s great fun seeing how she imagined the characters right at the beginning of the writing process. Some of the pictures she drew dated from the early 1990s, a long time before the first book was published.”
The enduring legacy of the series two decades after its publication centers around how timeless the story and characters are.
“At heart, they’re great stories that combine themes most people can relate to—growing up, finding a sense of belonging, the stresses and comedies of school life—with the massive, important backdrop of the fight between good and evil,” Kirk says. “Plus, everyone loves magic, don’t they?”
“Harry Potter: A History of Magic” runs from October 5 to January 27, 2019, at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West. Tickets are available exclusively online.