Mysteries of the Lost Colony and A New World: England's First View of America from the British Museum

North Carolina Museum of History press release, June 14, 2007

    Explore one of history’s most astonishing unsolved mysteries in a major exhibition opening Saturday, Oct. 20, 2007, at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh. This once-in-a-lifetime exhibition, Mysteries of the Lost Colony and A New World: England’s First View of America from the British Museum, is presented through the collaboration of the N.C. Museum of History and the British Museum in London, England. The exhibition will run through Jan. 13, 2008.

A festive dance, by John White. © The Trustees of the British Museum

    Mysteries of the Lost Colony will examine England’s first attempts at a permanent settlement in America and what may have happened to the colonists at Roanoke Island. At its heart is A New World: England’s First View of America, a traveling exhibition from the British Museum. This exhibition focuses on more than 70 watercolors made by John White on the voyages to Virginia (now North Carolina) in the 1580s. This is the first time in over 40 years that the complete collection of White’s original watercolors will be shown outside of England.

    “We are excited to be the first venue in North America to present the John White watercolor drawings from the British Museum,” says Director Ken Howard, N.C. Museum of History. “These exceptional watercolors and other aspects of this fascinating exhibition will give visitors a deeper understanding of the captivating, yet strange, New World the first English colonists encountered in the 1580s.”

    In 1585 Sir Walter Raleigh authorized two colonies at Roanoke Island, but the first settlers met hardships and returned to England. John White, the grandfather of Virginia Dare, was appointed governor of the second colony in 1587. After he traveled that year to England for supplies, White returned to Roanoke Island in 1590 to discover the entire colony had vanished.

A wife of an Indian werowance or chief of Pomeiooc, and her daughter, by John White. © The Trustees of the British Museum

    In Mysteries of the Lost Colony, the N.C. Museum of History will present visitors with the opportunity to unravel this enduring puzzle and view never-before-seen Indian artifacts from the time of the early European contact. Other exhibit highlights include 16th-century items related to the White watercolors and a look at 70 years of history, including costumes, from North Carolina’s historic outdoor drama “The Lost Colony.”

    “Mysteries of the Lost Colony will offer various perspectives surrounding the disappearance of the English colonists and invite visitors to piece together clues from various sources of evidence,” emphasizes Dr. Jeanne Marie Warzeski, curator of colonial and antebellum history at the N.C. Museum of History. Exhibit items, such as a 1583 English sixpence that was likely brought to North Carolina on a Roanoke voyage, objects from America’s first “science laboratory” set up by the colonists, and recently discovered Algonquian Indian artifacts provide clues to the enigma.

    White’s watercolors featured in A New World gave Elizabethan England its first glimpse of America and shaped the European view of the New World for more than 200 years. Today, his detailed renderings of Algonquian Indians, plants and wildlife, and maps of coastal areas provide the only surviving visual record of America before European contact.

    White’s 415-year legacy persists because of the reproduction and adaptation of his works by later artists, such as Theodor de Bry, a Flemish publisher who engraved prints based on White’s watercolors. De Bry’s engravings were used to illustrate Thomas Harriot’s written account of the 1585 Roanoke voyage, A brief and true report of the new found land of Virginia. White’s images gained wide exposure through the de Bry engravings, which are still reproduced in publications today.

    “Mysteries of the Lost Colony will feature several de Bry engravings from the 1500s, including a rare 1590 German colorized version of Harriot’s manuscript,” adds Warzeski. “Copies of White’s watercolors and de Bry’s engravings are utilized in many museums throughout the East Coast, and the exhibit presents a unique opportunity for visitors to view the originals.”

An Indian werowance, or chief, by John White. © The Trustees of the British Museum

    Plan now to see Mysteries of the Lost Colony and A New World: England’s First View of America from the British Museum. The outstanding exhibition is presented as part of “History Happens Here,” a yearlong celebration of North Carolina history, initiated by the Department of Cultural Resources.

    Initial exhibition sponsors are GlaxoSmithKline and the Josephus Daniels Foundation. To bring this exciting adventure to Raleigh, the N.C. Museum of History is collaborating with not only the British Museum, but with the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences at East Carolina University, National Park Service, Roanoke Island Historical Association, UNC-Chapel Hill and private collectors.

    Admission is $10 for adults; $8 for students, senior citizens, active military personnel and groups of 10 or more; $5 for children ages 5 to 12 and youth groups ages 5 to 18; free for Museum of History Associates and children ages 4 and under. Tickets will go on sale Aug. 1. For ticket information, call 919-807-7900.

    To schedule tours for groups of 10 or more, call the Capital Area Visitor Center at 919-807-7950 or toll-free at 866-724-8687. Reservations are required for groups of 10 or more.

    From Oct. 20, 2007, to Jan. 13, 2008, the N.C. Museum of History’s hours will be Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. For more information about the museum, call 919-807-7900 or visit Parking is available in the Wilmington/Jones street lot. Weekend parking is free.

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