Visual splendor


Although a sign on the door says “Please come in,” visitors approaching the Back Gallery exhibit space at the Virginia Discovery Museum may wonder if they’ve wandered into the wrong place. The room is darkened, and at the entrance the remnants of someone’s picnic are scattered about with no one in sight. 

It turns out that the Sparkle family was sitting there munching their PB&J when a storm blew up suddenly. When a rainbow appeared beside them, the family vanished into an enchanted world of light and color. There’s no yellow brick road, but folks adventurous enough to join the search for the Sparkles can pass under the rainbow, too, where they will be dazzled by evidence of the many ways we visually perceive the world around us. 

This magical exhibit is full of so many fun hands-on activities that you won’t believe your eyes. A color shadow wall, for example, lets kids manipulate red, blue, and yellow lights to create larger-than-life images and shadow puppet plays. There’s a giant fluorescent floor puzzle to put together with lines you’d swear are as crooked as a $3 bill. Dizzying spinning disks make colors appear out of black and white lines as they twirl. Three-dimensional photographs, when viewed through special polarizing glasses, look so real you think you can reach out and grab the object. 

A classic optometrist’s eye chart hangs on one wall with a piece of tape on the floor 20 feet away. Kids can check their visual acuity, then use different lenses to see what it might be like to be nearsighted or farsighted. In another corner hangs a poster covered with squiggly blue lines. But don’t be fooled. If you stare at it just right, an amazing 3-D image magically emerges out of all the mess. 

Young magicians won’t want to miss the chance to cut off someone’s head (pretend, of course). And, those who join the search for the Sparkle family should take a peek through the periscope as they look for clues (hint, hint). 

Lots more displays and games give Somewhere Under the Rainbow enough to keep kids happy for hours, and enough how-does-that-happen interest so that parents won’t mind hanging out for as long as it takes. It isn’t Kansas, Toto, but this is one exhibit that is definitely more than meets the eye.


“Somewhere Inside the Rainbow” is on display through May 12. Entrance is included in the price of admission. The Virginia Discovery Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am-5pm, Sunday 1-5pm. East end of the Downtown Mall. 977-1025.