Long before Star Wars®, Marvel Comics®, or Harry Potter®, there
was another wildly-popular imaginary universe that became a cultural touchstone
which captured the world’s imagination and continues to do so.
The Johnson County Museum’s newest
temporary exhibit, Expanding Oz, will explore the global appeal and popular
cultural influence of author L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz.” The exhibit opens June 1 at the museum, and
officials anticipate about 30,000 people will visit this family-friendly
exhibit on display through Nov. 2.
“What started with one juvenile book
has become a major book series, several major motion pictures, stage
productions and Broadway Musicals, cartoon, and television series,” said Museum
Director Mindi Love. “It is worldwide, it is multi-lingual, it is multi-media,
and it is not just of interest to children.”
“Every generation who comes to see
this exhibit will find something they recognize in it,” added the museum’s
Curator of Interpretation Andrew Gustafson. “It might be toys, or themed
household products, or pop culture references, but “The Wizard of Oz” seems to be just as popular today as it was 20,
or 50, or even 80 years ago!”
The temporary exhibit ties into the
80th anniversary of the beloved 1939 MGM movie, the 100th anniversary of Baum’s
death, and the Theatre in the Park’s production of the musical as part of its
50th summer season. More than 200 objects and images, most from the vaults of a
local private collector, will be featured. Other objects and images came
from Syracuse University’s Special Collections, the Los Angeles Public Library,
and the Kansas State Historical Society.
“The pop culture objects resulting
from all of these books and films are innumerable; everything from soap to toys
and dolls, from lunch boxes to shot glasses, from clothing and accessories to
picture books, from board games to books to help you learn English,” Love
said. “The idea that students in Russia, Greece, and France learn English by
reading about Dorothy and Toto from Kansas is surprising and delightful.”
“I think the degree to which American
popular culture has been influenced by “The
Wizard of Oz” - whether it is representations of the characters, themes,
imagery, or words and phrases - is pretty amazing,” Gustafson added. “Having
worked on this exhibit for several months, I now notice “The Wizard of Oz” references in the most obscure and interesting
places. I’ve observed it in advertising for local companies, in public art in
the area, and in references in popular television shows.”
The exhibit will also mention that
there was once an unrealized proposal which would have turned part of the
former Sunflower Army Ammunition near De Soto in western Johnson County into an
Oz-themed amusement park.
As for the creator of Oz, Gustafson
said his research shows that L. Frank Baum and his wife only actually spent a
couple nights in the Sunflower State in the 1880s when he was touring and
performing in a play he had written.
Several programs which tie into the
Expanding Oz temporary exhibit are being planned at the museum over its
five-month run. These will include: a Lunch and Learn for adults called
Collecting Oz featuring the private collector whose collection is featured in
the exhibition, on July 19; a Wizard of Oz Tea Party and Fashion Show
for all ages on July 19 and 20; a Writing Wizards Workshop
for youth on July 27; and a Homeschool History Adventures program for
youth on Sept. 6 called Exploring Oz (find details online after July 22).
Admission to the temporary exhibit is
free for members and is included with regular museum admission rates of $5 for
adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children. Located inside the Johnson County
Arts & Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, the museum is
open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and is closed on Sunday.
For more information about the museum or the Expanding
Oz exhibit, visit jcprd.com.
The museum was recently notified that a previous temporary
exhibit is receiving national recognition. The exhibit, called The Turbulent
Twenties, ran from Aug. 25, 2018, to May 11 of this year, and will receive the
2019 Award of Excellence from the American Association for State and Local
History (AASLH). The Award of Excellence recognizes excellence for
projects, including civic engagement, special projects, educational programs,
exhibits, publications, etc., and individual lifetime achievement, and will be
presented during the AASLH annual meeting in Philadelphia in late August.