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Sherlock On Masterpiece

Why We Love Sherlock

An interview with Geoffrey Curley, Curator of The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes.

November 16, 2016
Sherlock Holmes — we just can’t get enough of him! From his first appearance in the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887 to adaptations for the stage, radio, television and movies in every decade since, Sherlock Holmes is an iconic character that seems to be rediscovered by each new generation. Here at KCTS 9, we’re gearing up for a Season 4 of Sherlock on Masterpiece, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, which will premiere on January 1, 2017 — just a few weeks away!
In the meantime, though, you can get your Sherlock fix at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, which recently opened The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, a brand-new interactive exhibit that encourages guests to explore the science, history and culture of the Holmes phenomenon. Recently, we had a chance to chat with Geoffrey Curley, the curator of the exhibit, to learn more.
Sherlock is a character that keeps being reinvented. Why do you think that is? What is it about Sherlock that withstands the test of time?
Geoffrey Curley:
The character of Sherlock has been a figure in our popular culture since his first appearance in 1887. The reimagining of him over time may be in part to the need for such a character when we find ourselves in trying situations. We saw Sherlock reimagined to support the Allies in WWII, and of course now we have a couple of contemporary Sherlocks. In the 1980s we were given a schoolboy Sherlock, while in a recent film, Mr. Holmes, we saw age beginning to lay a fog upon the brilliantly sharp mind of the great detective. Holmes’s ability to use deductive reasoning and the scientific method to separate facts from fiction is appealing to all of us, especially in difficult times — whether those times are personal, like the trials of our youth, or political, like a world at war or a landscape of uncertain realities. Sherlock Holmes finds the truth, and he is utterly unbiased while looking for only the truth. He is untouchable by persuasion and therefore trustworthy. This is so very unique and so very attractive.
William Gillette portrayed Sherlock Holmes on stage in the 1890s and early 1900s, as well as in a 1916 silent film adapted from one of his stage plays.
What are some of the highlights of the Sherlock exhibit at Pacific Science Center? 
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the exhibition is the environment. Designed by Broadway theater designers and composers, written by literary novelists, and steeped in the world created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the exhibition truly brings you into Victorian England in the late 1880s. In the exhibit, guests are encouraged to use the tools and the scientific innovations of that time to help reveal the truth about a mystery. The exhibition is incredibly interactive, engaging and surprising for all ages, working together or working alone in using the methods that have been provided for us by Sherlock Holmes. In the first and last galleries, there are hundreds of artifacts. Some are medical specimens, some evidence, others are notes written in Conan Doyle’s own hand, and some are from popular culture. The highlights include original illustrations from the first publications; manuscript pages from The Hound of the Baskervilles; the car used by Sherlock in the second Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes film A Game of Shadows; and props from the BBC’s Sherlock.
A visitor explores one of the interactive exhibits at the Pacific Science Center’s “International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes.” Photos courtesy of Robb McCormick Photography.
Prior to working on this exhibit, what was the extent of your Sherlock knowledge? How did working on this exhibit add to that?
My knowledge was limited. I had read all of the short stories when I was a child; my grandparents gave me the full collection, which I read over a summer vacation. The time spent working on the exhibition has opened my understanding of the incredible inspiration Sherlock has been for many generations. The character has spurred writing, science, art, games, clothing, language, and more; the stories have opened our eyes to the truth hiding in the world that surrounds us. Sherlock and these stories are always relevant and always great fun.
Jeremy Brett (as Sherlock) and David Burke (as Watson) in the popular British television series that aired on PBS between 1984 and 1994.
Why should guests visit the exhibit? What can both Sherlock fans and non-Sherlock fans take away from this?
Guests should come because it is such delightful fun that can be enjoyed by families, groups, friends and individuals. And you can take away a better understanding of the core knowledge that makes all science possible: the scientific method. Fans of Sherlock, forensics, Victorian history, literature, medicine and popular film will all enjoy the exhibition, as there is something for everyone here. If you are a Sherlock fan, this is quite the playground, since there is nowhere in the world where so much authentic Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes content is on display.
Martin Freeman (as Watson) and Benedict Cumberbatch (as Sherlock) star in the current Sherlock series on PBS. The much-anticipated Season 4 will premiere January 1 on KCTS 9.
What are some of your favorite adaptations of Sherlock
What a hard question! There are so many variations.  I am very fond of the Basil Rathbone films, and there is a new film just discovered, a silent film with the original Sherlock actor William Gillette — he is the classic Sherlock. However, being of my generation, I am a huge fan of the contemporary and gorgeously mind-bending Sherlock from the BBC, and I very much enjoyed Elementary with the new twist of a female Watson. And of course the recent Mr. Holmes was a beautiful portrait of the fallible Sherlock by Ian McKellen, one of Britain’s finest actors. In the end, I feel the truest to the characters and time period are two recent films, Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with Robert Downey and Jude Law. They provide a Holmes-and-Watson team that is such a joy to watch. Did I mention it was a hard question?

More info

The International Exhibit of Sherlock Holmes at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle runs from Oct. 15, 2016 through Jan. 8, 2017.  For more information or to purchase tickets, visit
On Jan. 1, 2017, be sure to tune in to KCTS 9 for the premiere of a brand-new season of Sherlock on Masterpiece. This season promises laughter, tears shocks, surprises and extraordinary adventures.
Watch a preview: 




KCTS 9 staff consists of experienced journalists and videographers, producing local stories on the issues that shape the greater Seattle area. More stories by KCTS 9