Here’s something we never thought we’d see visiting the American Midwest: real Terracotta Warriors, straight out of the world-famous Shaanxi province collection. They seemed a fascinating thing, but we were surprised that their current caretakers would allow the collection to be split up.
Rare are the opportunities to see such unique creations up close, to examine the once-painted clay surfaces, the cracks from erosion and light restoration, the intricate textures of these sculptures carved over two millennia ago. Other artifacts exist from the same century, circa 200-odd B.C., as shown below. They’re interesting in their own way, but they’re hardly the stars of the show.
When the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis announced they would be hosting a Terracotta Warrior exhibition for a limited time this year, we had to check it out even though we’re older than the average Children’s Museum visitors. Just to be safe, we brought my son, now age 20, to maintain some parental pretense. Thankfully his intense interest in all things Asian made him amenable to playing along.
Between the three of us, we’ve visited the Museum dozens of times over the past four decades. It’s a longtime fixture and one of the highest ranking, well-known tourist attractions Indianapolis has to offer. When you live nearby and have convenient access, though, sooner or later you reach Museum burnout and need to take a break from it for a few years. You know you’ve been there too many times when you get to be on a first-name basis with that lone, stuffed, standing polar bear that’s probably been there since the dawn of museums.
The Terracotta Warriors exhibit is temporary and probably traveling. This was no batch of dinosaur fossils unearthed from the Museum’s backrooms, dusted off and rearranged into new shapes. This was no movie tie-in like the super-sized statue of the Transformer Bumblebee that stands guard in their main lobby. This was an exciting new thing to see.
According to the placards and tour guides, the Warriors were built at the command of a thirteen-year-old emperor. They believe at least 8,000 exist, possibly more. They possess individually carved faces, an assortment of armors and accessories, and decomposed traces of the vibrant paint that once adorned them.
If the only reason you’ve heard of them is because of their costarring role in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, I’m really sorry. Learning about their true story is a lot less disappointing than watching them come to life and fight Brendan Fraser.
That’s world history up close, well beyond the limits of what little I absorbed in history class. The Warriors will be in Indianapolis until November, then presumably moving on to another city in 2015. Maybe even your town, for all I know. If you locals out there decide to come visit, be aware there’s an extra ticket you’ll need to buy in addition to basic museum admission.
You should also be warned the Museum’s trusty old polar bear was missing from his perch on the second level, replaced by a faux terracotta horse. As if we wouldn’t notice. Nice try, Museum.