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May 31

Museum’s new temporary exhibit will trace and explore the Oz phenomenon

Posted on May 31, 2019 at 9:58 AM by Becky Burnside

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

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.