The classic metal and wood structures that have populated playgrounds for most of the twentieth century—towering metal slides, giant jungle gyms, whirling merry-go-rounds, bouncing seesaws—have become beloved artifacts of childhood. They are part of the personal histories of most Americans over the age of 30, as well as a tangible piece of the country’s cultural and industrial design heritage. In celebration of this heritage, Once Upon a Playground opens January 30, 2018 at Edmond Historical Society & Museum.
Once Upon a Playground offers a visual tribute to these vanishing playgrounds of our past, celebrating their place in American culture and the collective memories of generations. Co-curated by Brenda Biondo, author of Once Upon a Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920–1975 (University Press of New England, 2014), and Carol Johnson, recently retired curator of photography at the Library of Congress, the exhibition combines contemporary photographs of classic equipment, vintage images of playground scenes from the Library of Congress’ collections, and images from period playground catalogs and other ephemera. By bringing together these diverse sources, the exhibition highlights a playground vernacular that developed over decades, while providing historical context and cultural insight.
Playground equipment often reflected the popular culture of the times, as geometric metal and wood apparatus of the 1920s and 1930s gradually gave way to pieces in the shape of cowboys and Indians, storybook characters, rocket ships and satellites, motorcycles, and geodesic domes.
Unfortunately, as communities have renovated their parks and schoolyards, classic playground equipment has virtually disappeared from many parts of the country. Yet these icons of childhood still trigger fond memories for countless Americans and remain a ubiquitous product of America’s industrial design heyday.
Once Upon a Playground is organized by ExhibitsUSA, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO.
This program is funded in part by Oklahoma Humanities (OH) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of OH or NEH.
This exhibition is toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national program of Mid-America Arts Alliance. ExhibitsUSA sends more than 25 exhibitions on tour to over 100 small- and mid-sized communities every year. These exhibitions create access to an array of arts and humanities experiences, nurture the understanding of diverse cultures and art forms, and encourage the expanding depth and breadth of cultural life in local communities. For more about ExhibitsUSA, email MoreArt@maaa.org or visit www.eusa.org.
About Mid-America Arts Alliance
Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) strengthens and supports artists, cultural organizations, and communities throughout our region and beyond. We achieve this primarily through our national traveling exhibition programs, innovative leadership development, and strategic grant making. We are especially committed to enriching the cultural life of historically underserved communities by providing high quality, meaningful, and accessible arts and culture programs and services. Each year M-AAA’s programs reach one million people. We believe in more art for more people. Additional information about M-AAA is available at www.maaa.org.