However, while working in the museum’s consulting department and conducting some research on travelling exhibits, I chanced upon information on a touring show organized by Chicago’s Field Museum called “Chocolate.” As it happened, one of the exhibit’s signature artifacts was the world’s oldest piece of chocolate. This item of Maya origin seemed to have captured the public’s imagination and it was drawing tremendously huge crowds to institutions like the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Bingo!
A pathway had opened up for my novel, but I knew from my experience at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, that although the oldest piece of chocolate could attract large numbers in cities like New York, natural science exhibits were not traditionally the most lucrative “money shows” in cities like Toronto. What were sure-fire hits, not only in Canadian urban centers, but in international ones, were special exhibits featuring ancient cultures such as those of the Egyptians, the Inca, the Chinese – and the Maya. And seeing as the Maya invented chocolate, the various pieces of my plot finally began intersecting in a most satisfying way.
During my time at the Royal Ontario Museum, we hosted a significantly large exhibit on the Maya, and the revenue generated probably carried the institution for at least a year or two. Intermittently, the ROM brings out its own impressive New World collections and very recently hosted and co-created another massive blockbuster, “Maya: Secrets of Their Ancient World,” in collaboration with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization, where the exhibit is on display until the end of October, 2012. The Penn Museum in Philadelphia is home to another Maya exhibit, “Maya.2012 Lords of Time,” until January, 2013. And if you want to catch the exhibit that started it all for me and inspired Theft By Chocolate, it’s not too late. It just finished a stay in Hamilton, Ontario (the city where I was raised), and is currently at the Turtle Bay Exploratorium in Redding, California.
But to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what it’s like to mount a special exhibit of the magnitude of “Maya: Secrets of Their Ancient World,” Theft By Chocolate will give you a taste of this extremely challenging process. And it may spark some giggles and trigger some chocolate cravings all in one read.