Arts Post
Posted at 05:06 PM ET, 04/11/2012

Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers are back, along with 100 ‘American Stories’

They’re back! Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, one of the most popular items in the entire Smithsonian Institution, are back on display.
Back on public view: Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from "The Wizard of Oz.” (Courtesy of National Museum of American History)

Off view for seven weeks, the slippers are front and center in a new exhibition at the National Museum of American History called “American Stories.” Throughout the show, more than 100 objects tell some part of the American Experience, going from Plymouth Rock to today’s electronics.

Highlights include Benjamin Franklin’s brown silk suit; an 1833 slave ship manifest from the schooner Lafayette; Alexander Graham Bell’s big box telephone; the satchel of Camilla Gottlieb, a Holocaust survivor; Roberto Clemente’s batting helmet and jersey; Bob Dylan’s leather jacket; and a prosthetic leg socket, worn by retired Sgt. Justin Kautz, a wounded Iraq war veteran.

The exhibit serves as an orientation to the museum, its subject matter of American people and achievements and its 3.3 million objects. A past review of the museum criticized its disorganization and lack of a clear recitation of historic facts. This exhibit is a well-designed response, which museum officials point out is a work in progress. “It is not intended as a complete narrative,” said the museum’s interim director Marc Pachter. The public can tell the curators what is missing, on visitor cards or through the museum’s Web site.
“American Stories” exhibit (Hugh Talman, National Museum of American History)

Five sections follow America’s path, incorporating inventions, wars and personalities. The objects show the richness of American history and culture, said Pachter.

“Forming a New Nation” covers 1776 to 1801, and includes discussions of the interactions between Europeans, Africans and Native Americans. One object is a sampler, embroidered in 1781 by Betsy Brucklin in Providence, R.I.

The country moved and changed in “Expansion and Reform,” a look at 1801 to 1870. The War of 1812 and the Civil War, as well as westward migration, are covered. Urbanization is represented by a volunteer firefighter’s outfit from the Fairmount Fire Company in Philadelphia.

After the Civil War, “Industrial Development” led the way to many modern innovations. Attitudes toward child rearing also changed. Objects include a “creeping baby doll” made in the 1870s as parents accepted that crawling was a natural phase of a child’s development.

The years from 1900 to 1945 are described as the “Emergence of Modern America.” One object is a Navajo blanket with an American flag made by Nez Baza, the mother of a World War I soldier. Another is a 1942 War Ration Book.

The time since the end of World War II is explored in “Postwar and Contemporary America” and follows the growth of popular culture, medical breakthroughs and technological innovation. One object is the typewriter used by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose publication and arrest for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” led to a landmark free-speech decision. There’s also a Generation 4 iPod.

The last section also includes the Quinceanera dress worn by Natalia Flores on her 15th birthday celebration. Wednesday morning, she joined several contemporary storytellers to describe the significance of their inclusions. Saying she embraced her American and Latina identities, Flores added, “many Latina stories are overlooked or not heard.”

By  |  05:06 PM ET, 04/11/2012

Tags:  Dorothy's Ruby Slippers, Smithsonian, National Museum of American History, Benjamin Franklin, Roberto Clemente, Bob Dylan

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company