A skeleton straddles a bicycle, a muscle-bound athlete winds up for a baseball pitch, and another figure stares blank-eyed into the distance. The whole body specimens displayed as part of "Bodies Revealed," an Atlanta-based exhibition of preserved, dissected human bodies that's been on tour for nine years, reveal the inner workings of the body through a variety of poses. They're accompanied by additional displays of polymer-preserved body parts, both healthy and diseased.
The exhibition opens Saturday at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News and runs until Sept. 2. It's part of the museum's expanded mission, developed in its 2012 strategic plan, to examine human health along with animal and wildlife behavior, according to education director Chris Lewis, who led the Daily Press on a preview tour.
For visitors, it's "really a life-changing experience. They'll never think about a body in exactly the same way," said Roy Glover, a retired University of Michigan anatomy professor, and medical director for the presenting company, Premier Exhibition Inc.. "They have more respect for their doctors," he added, in a phone interview, before heading to Newport News for the exhibition opening. Glover helped design and write the science for "Bodies Revealed."
The exhibition uses cadavers donated to medical schools in China that were preserved using a specialized polymer process that renders them odorless and long-lasting. Glover led a U.S. lab involved in the same process for several years before joining Premier in 2004. Despite some controversy over the ethics of displaying human bodies in such a manner, and questions surrounding whether some may have been prisoners, which led to a Congressional inquiry, the "Bodies Revealed" exhibit has been wildly popular in the U.S., South America and Europe, with close to 17 million visitors.
"At least 1.5 million schoolchildren are part of that number. This is a family kind of exhibition. The most important thing is that people learn as much as possible to be better caretakers of the body they live in. People are pretty impressed with how beautiful and complex their bodies are when the skin's removed," said Glover. "If we can encourage one person to quit smoking, it will have been worthwhile to be here."
"It's amazing that we can bring an exhibit like this to Newport News," said museum director Page Hayhurst. She pointed to "Bodies Revealed" past success in Richmond, and in Greensboro, N.C., where museum membership doubled as a result of the exhibit, she said. "We're thinking it will bring in others who wouldn't normally come to us," she added. The Living Museum is issuing timed tickets in anticipation of high interest.
"In a 'dinosaur summer' we do 700 to 1,000 people a day. We're hoping for a thousand," said Hayhurst, while acknowledging that an exhibit of its size and expense is a risk. Among the exhibit's sponsors locally are Riverside Health System, with two other medical groups, Orthopaedic & Spine Center and Tidewater Physical Therapy chipping in. "It's supported big-time by the medical community. They're encouraging patients to come so they can understand issues," said Lewis. "In the past the average person would never have seen the body's complexities. They would never have had the opportunity to see real human bodies."
It took a week to set up the exhibit in the 4,000 square-foot changing exhibition space with about 10 employees from the museum and Premier putting in 12-hour days. "It was very labor intensive," said Lewis. The exhibition company installed walls and completely reconfigured the space and the lighting to make it more dramatic, an advantage of working with a national company, said Hayhurst, who noted that the museum's space didn't allow for the full exhibit.
Lewis had not seen the exhibit before its arrival in Newport News. "This is beautifully done. It's very instructive. It's not sensational. It's educational. There are different types of cancer on exhibit here. There are comparisons between normal tissue and diseased tissue," she said, indicating a healthy spine and one with scoliosis in a display case near the beginning. "It's a walk through the body system," she added. Her favorites among the displays include one in which every blood vessel in the arm is visible in a dramatic tree-like cascade of red branches and offshoots; another shows hip and knee replacements in place. She also pointed out that many of the specimens are not enclosed in plastic but free-standing, which gives them greater impact.
"When you work from a model, it's perfect," she said. "Look at these hearts. They're all different," she said. The ravages of disease are also easily identifiable, including the effects of smoking and obesity on different organs. "On average, a pack of cigarettes takes 3 hours and 40 minutes off your life," reads the sign by a blackened lung, next to a plexiglass container ready to receive discarded cigarette packs.
Kathy Whitehead, MSN, a medical assistant instructor at New Horizons Regional Educational Center, has already booked a visit for her 12th-grade students. "It will give the students a chance to see anatomy and physiology we've talked about all year long. I can't think of a better way to see the body from the inside out," she said.
There's no recommended minimum age for visitors and there are audio guides available for both children and adults along with extensive writings explaining each item. To get the most out of a visit, which Lewis estimates will take a minimum of an hour, she recommends going to the museum's web site to read the guides, which are targeted to different age groups, from children to seniors. "Everyone needs a good understanding of the functioning of their own bodies," she said.
What: Exhibition of preserved, dissected human bodies — and their parts — in an educational setting.
Where: Virginia Living Museum, 524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News.
When: Opens May 25 and runs through Sept. 2; hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; also open from 6 to 8 p.m. June 8, July 13 and Aug. 10 at discounted prices.
Cost: $7 for members; $26 for adults (includes museum admission), $20 for children, ages 3 to 12; special rates for school groups through mid-June.
Information: Call the museum, 757-595-1900 or go to its web site, http://www.thevlm.org..Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun