Barbara Newton is currently in the process of filling out her Guinness World Record paperwork.
For what title? The biggest dragon collection.
Newton is the owner and curator of Dragon Dreams Museum and Gift Shop in East Brainerd.
The 10-plus galleries, exhibited in an unassuming, one-story house, are home to antiques, porcelain, figurines, furniture, artwork, glass, toys, plates, beer steins, textiles, music boxes, board games and tea sets from all over the globe.
The beauty of scales
Newton began collecting dragon anything in 1976 after encountering a friend’s figurine while visiting California over a Thanksgiving break.
“The visual—it’s all visual for me,” she said, explaining why she remains drawn to dragons after more than three decades. “They’re present in all the different cultures, and they have different appearances, but they are all dragons. I just think it’s amazing that they show up in all over the world. I’ve learned a lot about different cultures [through collecting].”
Newton, a veterinarian at the time, continued to run her practice at the Brainerd Hills Veterinary Hospital and cultivated her ever-growing lot as a hobby. There were many side trips to arts and crafts shows, antique malls, and Renaissance fairs during her professional travels.
eBay was a blessing and a bit of a blight, she said. Suddenly, she could source dragon collectibles from all over with the click of a button.
In 1987, Newton built what is now the animal hospital and moved her practice out of what is now the Dragon Dreams Museum. The museum itself did not open until 1991, when, as she explained, her house had become a bit strange with the stockpile of dragons.
Newton retired from veterinary work in 2011 and sold her practice.
She has been running the museum ever since the early 1990s, offering a glimpse into the centuries-old tradition of incorporating the scaly creatures into countless cultures.
Pocket Dragons to African sculptures
When visitors enter the Dragon Dreams Museum, they are given a guide to the room-upon-room-upon-room labyrinth.
The pamphlet reads, “Dragon Dreams is not a natural history museum. It is an artistically inspired collection from the realms of imagination and mythology.”
The maze of galleries unfolds as visitors remember the funny figurines from their childhood—Pocket Dragons—and marvel at the delicately carved ivory statues and take in the displays of pewter pieces.
There are wooden sculptures from Africa that Newton has been told are meant to be antelope—though she’s not fully convinced—and carvings that survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1975 and pieces of Disney memorabilia.
The museum has the expected fantasy room with the stereotypical depictions of dragons, but there are also rooms dedicated to Chinese and Japanese representations. There is even a small section for Saint George, who slew a dragon.
In total, walking past the thousands of dragons in the museum, visitors begin to realize that the myths of the fabled creature exist in every corner of the globe and have for hundreds of years.
Dragon Dreams Museum has been featured on “Tennessee Crossroads” and is listed by TripAdvisor as a place to see in Chattanooga.
Newton is interested in passing the collection on to another fellow enthusiast. She must be moved out of her current building within the next year and is investigating the possibility of dividing up the stock into two or three separate lots.
A nonprofit taking on the museum could be a possibility, she thinks, or perhaps an interested party could relocate the collection to Gatlinburg.
For now, Newton remains an avid collector.
The Dragon Dreams Museum is located at 6722 East Brainerd Road and is open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, 1 to 6 p.m. Admission is $10.