Bats! Opens on September 9, 2023 Accompanied by a special Bat Box Pop-Up Shop & Bat Public Art Installation

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents Bats! — live and up close — in a multisensory exhibition that explores the wondrous world of bats and our connections with them. As the only mammals that can truly fly, bats have developed a host of superpowers that benefit both humans and habitats around the world. Yet bats remain shrouded in mystery and are often misunderstood. Bats! is on view from September 9, 2023 through July 28, 2024 in PEM’s Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center.

Through the run of the exhibition, visitors can meet and peer into the lives of a small colony of Egyptian fruit bats that will be in residence at the museum. Accompanied by PEM collection objects, contemporary artworks, pop culture items and interactive zones, these furry ambassadors will teach visitors about the unique biology of bats and the vital role they play in our lives, ecologically, culturally and as inspiration for technological advances.

“From images of Batman cartoons to symbols in ancient Chinese art, bats have long held cultural meaning across the world,” said Jane Winchell, PEM’s Sarah Fraser Robbins Director of the Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center. “Often misunderstood and maligned, bats have been associated with the underworld, magic, superstition and been symbols of both good and evil. As human activity continues to threaten bats and encroach on their natural habitats, it is increasingly urgent that we gain a more full understanding of these remarkable creatures. My hope is that visitors will come away with a deeper and more complex understanding of our friends in the night sky.”

Bats!, organized by and produced by ExplorationWorks! and Build 4 Impact Inc., features original content generated by PEM and works by contemporary artists Resa Blatman, Michael Brolly, Nick Demakes, Juan Nicolás Elizalde, Steve Hollinger, Tony Rubino, David Yann Robert, Rebecca Saylor Sack, Jeffrey Veregge, Michael LaFosse and Richard L. Alexander.

Bat Box Pop-Up Shop | 135 Essex Street
Be sure to visit the Bat Box, right next door in PEM’s Connect building! In our Bat Box exhibition store, you’ll discover various Bat-themed items ranging from Bat houses, that provide a secure roost site for bats in your backyard, to Batgirl T-shirts. We will also showcase Bat-inspired pieces crafted by local artists such as Georgia Wrenn, Jade Gedeon, Nick Demakes, and more.

Additionally, you can explore significant books and items associated with PEM’s Salem Witch Trials exhibition and personalized items linked to the museum’s renowned Ropes Mansion and other historic homes.

Bat Public Art Installation by Maia Mattson | 179 Essex Street
Swing by 179 Essex Street to see a special bat-themed installation by Salem’s 2022 Public Artist in Residence, Maia Mattson. Bats! (And Botany) is created using plant dyed silk, paper mache and dried florals to explore the symbiotic and essential relationship between bats and botany. Bats rely on native plant species, whether those plants serve as the bats’ food (for nectar-feeding and fruit eating species) or as nourishment for an insect meal. Both bats and native plant species are threatened due to continued habitat disturbance from urbanization and human impact. Both need support in order to survive these changes. 

Stylistically, this installation appears delicate and playful – plants and bats encircle each other gracefully. The botanical elements hang atmospherically within the display. However, there is also a precarious nature to these choices, an inherent fragility and uneasy balance within the beauty. Learn more and follow the artist on social media @_robbersdaughter_

Please read our Frequently Asked Questions about the bat colony before visiting the exhibition.

Opening Day | September 9, 2023
Celebrate these incredible creatures and explore this one-of-a-kind exhibition featuring a small colony of live Egyptian fruit bats, artworks from cultures around the world, and bat-inspired innovations! Listen to a reading and learn how to draw bats with Brian Lies, Caldecott Honor-winning author and illustrator of the NY Times best-selling bat series. Get inspired by featured exhibition artist demos and make your own bat eco print with local artist Maia Mattson!

Activities of the Day
Spend the Day with Award-Winning Author and Illustrator, Brian Lies
Bats Read Aloud and Drawing Demo
10:30 am, 11 am, 1:30 pm, & 2 pm | G
arden Atrium
Join Brian for a reading of his latest bat book, Little Bat Up All Day, followed by a drawing demo. Brian will also show original artworks from his bat book series!

Live Bat Sketching Demo
11:45 am–noon, 12:45–1 pm | Bats! Exhibition
Watch Brian make sketches of the Egyptian fruit bats on view in the exhibition.

Draw-along: Learn How to Draw a Bat
1:15 pm | Garden Atrium
Learn how Brian makes drawings of bats as he guides you to make your own!

Watch a Painting Demo by Bats! artist, Rebecca Saylor Sack 
11 am–2:30 pm | Main Atrium
Learn about the Shadow Fliers project, a collaborative creative and scientific endeavor that delves into the intricate connection between bats and their habitat. Experience the project firsthand as Sack demonstrates her artistic process in crafting her impressive large-scale, double-sided acrylic paintings on muslin.

Explore Origami Bats with Bats! artists Michael LaFosse and Richard Alexander
Fold a Bat Demo
Noon, 1 & 2 pm | Bats! Exhibition
Watch Michael LaFosse wet-fold an origami Happy Good Luck-Bat like the ones roosting in the Bats! exhibition.

Origami Bat Workshop
2:30–3:30 pm | Create Space Studios | Pre-Registration Required
Basic origami skills required
Join Michael and Richard to learn how to fold your own model of Michael’s Happy Good-Luck Bat design, using the wet-fold technique.

Drop-In Art Making: Eco Prints with Local Artist Maia Mattson
11 am–3 pm | Create Space Studios
Explore the colors growing in your ecosystem with botanical artist Maia Mattson, and make your own eco printed bat bandana. Using a variety of natural dye techniques, Maia will guide you on how to print and illustrate bats and botanical images onto your fabric.

Publicity Images
High-resolution images are available upon request. 

Social Media
Share your impressions with us on social media using #BatsatPEM

This exhibition is organized by and produced by ExplorationWorks! and Build 4 Impact Inc. All rights reserved. The installation at PEM includes additional artworks, objects, interactives, and text developed by the museum and is made possible by the Dorothy Brown Bequest for Art and Nature and the Albert M. Creighton Jr. Fund for Art and Nature. Additional support was provided by Susan and Appy Chandler and the Creighton Narada Foundation. We thank the generosity of Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation, and James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes, Chip and Susan Robie and Timothy T. Hilton as supporters of the Exhibition Innovation Fund. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum and the support and guidance of the Art & Nature Center Visiting Committee.

Image Credits

  • Tony Rubino, Love Hate Bat, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist. 
  • Resa Blatman, Small Bat Portrait 1 (detail), 2008. Oil on panel. Courtesy of the artist. 
  • Artists in Jingdezhen, China. Jar with “a hundred bats” decoration, Ming dynasty, Wanli period, 1573–1620. Porcelain. Gift of Mr. Harry T. Peters Jr., 1977. E80399. Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.