Pop! Culture From the Smithsonian Collection On Display
by Judy Gonyeau (Journal of Antiques Managing Editor)
The Springfield Museums in Springfield, Massachusetts is staying current to the interests of young and old alike by presenting the Smithsonian Museum’s Pop! Icons of American Culture from the Smithsonian as part of its status as a Smithsonian Affiliate Museum.
To gain more insight into this trending exhibit opening December 7 at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, we recently posed questions to the Director of Art Museums and Vice President of the Springfield Museums, Heather Haskell; National Outreach Manager at Smithsonian Affiliations, Jennifer Brundage; and the Director of the Office of Communications & Marketing at the National Museum of American History, Melida Machado. Their excitement about this exhibit was palpable. The Superman and Lois Lane costumes worn by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder take center stage in this exhibition. These pieces will be in good company alongside Marilyn Monroe’s fashionable white gloves, a soccer jersey worn by Mia Hamm at the 1996 Summer Olympics, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar, Julius Erving’s sneakers, the Star Trek tribbles, and an original drawing of the Peanuts cartoon by Charles Schulz.
What is the correct terminology for what this collection represents?
This exhibition includes a variety of objects on loan from the extensive collections of the National Museum of American History and supplemented by loans from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Air and Space Museum. The items gathered for Pop! are associated with renowned American performers, athletes, television shows and movies.
Can you give us a sense of the breadth of items contained within this collection at the Smithsonian?
The Smithsonian Institution is the largest museum, education and research complex in the world. The Entertainment Collections at the National Museum of American History preserve dazzling artifacts that present the history of American life through the perspectives of theater, film, radio, television, puppetry, circuses, carnivals, and popular music. Containing more than 7,000 objects, the Entertainment Collections range in content from costumes to marionettes, theatrical scripts to commercial recordings, sheet music to carousel figures.
What do you see as the future for this collection? Growing? Changing?
Pop Culture is by definition ever growing, ever changing. The National Museum of American History is working on a major exhibition scheduled to open in late 2020 called Entertaining America. This 7,000 square foot exhibition will anchor the Museum’s Ray and Dagmar Dolby Hall of American Culture. It will explore American history through the long-standing power of entertainment and examine the deep and enduring influence of the nation’s popular culture. The Museum will also have a changing gallery allowing for annual exhibitions centered on particular topics or collections, including photography, costumes and sports.
The Springfield Museums are fortunate to have Smithsonian Affiliation status, which gives us the opportunity to bring collections and exhibitions from the Smithsonian to our Springfield-area audience. We worked together with our Smithsonian colleagues to bring objects that would appeal to our visitors and which had resonance regionally as well as nationally. For instance, in addition to the costumes worn by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in the 1978 movie Superman, we will also be featuring a Red Sox Jersey worn by Ted Williams and the 5 Mile Handicap Road Run Trophy won by Jim Thorpe, an outstanding athlete who was the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States.
What are the parameters for having something included within this (mini) collection?
We sought objects that were instantly recognizable and woven into American culture. The exhibition will explore why the objects are considered exemplars of popular culture and encourage visitors to engage with the past as well as the present by considering memory, history, and national identity.
We talk with collectors and collecting enthusiasts who are enthralled with many areas of the collecting spectrum-from antique pottery to tools to vintage jewelry-and pop collectibles are on the rise. Do you have any advice for those looking for more information on these items?
We would point you toward the advice given to Peter Gordenstein, whose photography collection is currently on display at the Museums in an exhibit titled Framing the 1930s: A Decade of Architectural Photography (through January 13, 2019). His mentor Dr. Irving Meyer told him “if you have limited funds, and you like everything, focus on just one aspect of the many things you like. Then collect.”
Any pre-visit advice for people coming to the Springfield Museums to see this exhibit?
Come ready to have some fun and expect to see objects you never dreamed you might see in person!
Of note; the Museums will be presenting a lunchtime lecture titled Pop Culture at the Smithsonian on December 6 at 12:15 p.m. This program will explore American history through the objects and exhibitions of entertainment and the arts. Curators from the National Museum of American History Eric Jentsch and Ryan Lintelman will discuss the recent opening of a series of installations at the Smithsonian that include Thomas Edison’s phonograph; a costume from The Handmaid’s Tale; imagery from popular video games; and a display on The Wizard of Oz featuring the famous Ruby Slippers. Attendees are invited to bring a lunch to enjoy during the program.
Pop! Icons of American Culture from the Smithsonian opens December 7 at the D’Amour The exhibition is made possible through the Springfield Museums participation in the Museum of Fine Arts at the Springfield Museums in Springfield, MA. This program is sponsored by the MassMutual Foundation. The Springfield Museums offer access to five world-class museums, including the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Visit springfieldmuseums.org