Popular culture by its very definition both influences and expresses the sentiments of the people. From generation to generation pop culture is redefined and embraced with treasured identity and wonderful nostalgia. The Springfield Museums exhibition Pop! Icons of American Culture from the Smithsonian invites visitors to experience items they never dreamed they would actually get to see in person. The Superman and Lois Lane costumes worn by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder take center stage alongside Marilyn Monroe’s white gloves, Patsy Cline’s pink pantsuit, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar, Tony Hawk’s first skateboard, Julius Irving’s sneakers, and an original drawing of the Peanuts completed by Charles Schulz for the cover of TIME magazine in 1965. The exhibit includes even more artifacts on loan from the extensive collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, National Portrait Gallery, National Air and Space Museum, and National Museum of African American History and Culture. Several of these items are imbued with the kind of star power that transforms them into national treasures.
SPECIAL PROGRAMMING: Smithsonian Week in Springfield
December 6-13: Smithsonian Week in Springfield brings visitors American sports and entertainment through iconic art and artifacts. Each object tells a unique story, showing how pop culture influences our lives, now and in the past. This week includes exciting programing and the Holiday Gala: Pop! An Iconic Evening.
- Pop Culture at the Smithsonian: December 6, 12:15 pm–1 pm: Eric Jentsch and Ryan Lintelman, curators, National Museum of American History, 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.
- Holiday Gala: Pop! An Iconic Evening: December 6, 6:30 pm–10 pm: Honorary co-chairs Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Michael Mathis, President & COO of MGM Springfield Casino Resort Hotel, invite guests to celebrate Pop! An Iconic Evening. Join honored guests from the Smithsonian Institution and view national treasures from the Smithsonian at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, then stroll across the Quadrangle to enjoy dinner at the Wood Museum of Springfield History.
- Make Your Own Comic Book Workshop: December 8, noon-3 pm, Evan Keeling, Senior Graphic Specialist at Smithsonian Exhibits, will provide templates and guidance for families to make their own comic books about living with pop culture today.
- Sports at the Smithsonian: December 13, 12:15 pm–1 pm: Damion Thomas, Curator of Sports, National Museum of African American History and Culture, will discuss how the collections and exhibitions at the Smithsonian’s newest museum reveal how sports matter far beyond the playing fields. Hear how artifacts and their stories celebrate impressive athletic achievement while also illuminating the historic fight for greater rights and freedoms in American culture.
- Culture & Cocktails: Holiday Pop!: December 13, 5 pm–8 pm: Celebrate the opening of the new exhibit Pop! Icons of American Culture from the Smithsonian in the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, play pop culture trivia, and enjoy a presentation by Damion Thomas, Curator of Sports, National Museum of African American History and Culture. This evening also features a gingerbread decorating demonstration by Chef Eric Hirsh in the Springfield Science Museum. Media Sponsor: The Republican
- Gingerbread: The Pop Culture Edition is on display through December 30 at the Springfield Science Museum. Experience the annual gingerbread competition and exhibit that meshes two of our favorite things—baking and creativity! This year’s awe-inspiring entries celebrate popular culture. Pop culture defines our youth, creates our memories, and continues to shape our outlook. From the air waves to the cinema, from the written word to the digital age, what defines you? Media Sponsor: Full Power Radio
MORE INFORMATION ON THE COLLECTION
Some of the items you will see in Pop! Icons of American Culture from the Smithsonian and their stories (c/o the Smithsonian):
Bill Russell’s Basketball: In his day, Bill Russell (born 1934) was considered the best defensive center in the history of the game, initiating strategies that remain key to championship basketball. A star college player, 1956 Olympic gold medalist, and famed player for the Boston Celtics, he became the first African American head coach in the NBA, coaching first the Celtics and later the Seattle Supersonics. This Wilson game ball marked Russell’s 10,000th rebound; he ultimately achieved 21,620.
Jim Thorpe’s Trophy: Oklahoma native Jim Thorpe (1888-1953) was awarded this trophy in 1914 for winning the 5 Mile Handicap Road Run held by the Bronxdale Athletic Club. Thorpe, of mixed European and Native American descent, is considered one of the most versatile athletes in United States history. He was a star for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, where he attained All-American honors in football. He went on to represent the United States at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, winning gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon. Thorpe went on to play professional football, baseball and basketball.
Babe Ruth Autograph Baseball: The New York Yankees’ legendary “Sultan of Swat” signed this baseball for a fan during a visit to Scranton, Pennsylvania. A neglected and delinquent child, George Herman Ruth, Jr. (1895-1948), best known as Babe Ruth, discovered his love for baseball while living at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore. He began his major-league career as a star pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, but was reassigned to the outfield after he was traded to the Yankees due to his powerful swing. With his record-setting home runs—60 in one season, 714 career total—and larger-than-life personality, Ruth thrilled fans and redefined the character of America’s national pastime.
Mia Hamm’s Soccer Jersey: Mia Hamm (born 1972) scored more goals in international competition (158) than any player in soccer history. In her career, Hamm won two FIFA World Cup Championships and three Olympic medals, as well as four NCAA titles for the University of North Carolina. Her success popularized women’s soccer in the United States, encouraging many young girls to take up the sport. This jersey was worn by Hamm during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics where she helped to win a gold medal victory for the U.S. Women’s Soccer.
Marilyn Monroe’s White Gloves: A seductive accessory fit for a sex symbol, these kidskin evening gloves were worn by actress Marilyn Monroe (1926-1963). Norma Jeane Baker, discovered working in a factory, became Marilyn Monroe when she signed her first movie contract in 1946. While her screen roles emphasized beauty over brains—most famously in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)—Monroe at times transcended the “dumb blonde” stereotype with gifted comedic and dramatic performances. As a superstar overshadowed by a tragic personal life, she remains one of Hollywood’s most alluring icons.
Patsy Cline’s Pink Pantsuit: Made for country music star Patsy Cline (1932-1963) by her mother, this Western-style performance outfit features record-shaped patches stitched with the titles of Cline’s records. Cline began singing with gospel and country bands as a teenager in Virginia. With her 1957 breakout hit Walkin’ after Midnight, she became the first female country vocalist to cross over to the pop charts. In 1960, Cline achieved her childhood dream of joining the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Three years later, she died in a plane crash.
Eddie Van Halen’s Guitar: This guitar was played by Dutch-American musician Edward “Eddie” Van Halen (born 1955) while on tour in 2007. It is a replica of the guitar invented by Van Halen in 1977 and named “Frankenstein” by fans. The self-taught performer’s colorful, virtuosic style has made him the premier guitarist of his generation and one of the most emulated musicians in rock history. In 1974, brothers Eddie and Alex formed the band Van Halen, whose innovative California influenced heavy metal continues to attract global audiences.
Tony Hawk’s Skateboard: The Bahne skateboard features red Stoker urethane wheels on metal trucks that have been raised by wooden blocks affixed between the bottom of the board and the truck. This deck belonged to Steve Hawk, older sibling to Tony Hawk. Steve gave this board to Tony in 1977 and it was the first board Tony (born 1968) learned to ride. Tony attached the wooden blocks to the bottom to give him greater clearance in order to make turns and tricks smoother. Tony Hawk began competing at age 12 and turned pro at 14. An innovative vert skater, Hawk competed in over 100 competitions before he was 25 and was the first to land a 900 in competition. Hawk retired in 1999 but continues to skate in exhibitions and demos. In that same year, Hawk created ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’ video game franchise which became one of the most popular video games in history. The Tony Hawk Foundation has funded over $5 million to over 550 skate park projects throughout the world.
An Original Charles Schulz Peanuts Illustration: America needed to pause and smile a little when this cartoon of Charles Schulz’s endearing Peanuts comic-strip characters appeared on the April 9, 1965, TIME cover. Charles Schulz (1922-2000) began drawing Peanuts in 1950 and by the time of his death he had single-handedly drawn over 18,000 comic strips. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential cartoonists of all time.
Tribbles from Star Trek: This television prop is a “tribble,” a fictional alien creature featured in the episode The Trouble With Tribbles in the Star Trek TV show, which aired on NBC from 1966-1969. A tribble was a living furry creature on Space Station K-7. They did nothing but eat and multiply. Eventually, tribbles are found aboard the Spaceship Enterprise and created an enormous problem by over-multiplying. The episode also led to a variety of tribble merchandise and their own cult following almost as big as the show itself. Paramount gave this prop to the Museum in 1973.
The Springfield Museums are grateful to our sponsors:
Culture & Cocktails Sponsored by
Gingerbread: The Pop Culture Edition Sponsored by
The Holiday Gala is Sponsored by
Full Power Radio
Bay Path University
Easthampton Savings Bank
Full Power Radio
Harry Grodsky & Co Inc
The MP Group
New England Public Radio
New Valley Bank & Trust
Springfield Technical Community College
Smithsonian Week in Springfield is made possible by the generous support of MassMutual Foundation.