“But, will it play in Peoria?” This time-honored question from vaudeville days still stands as the benchmark of quality and success. Whether politics or culture, the discriminating folks of this central Illinois riverfront city continue to have great sway over things that matter.
Thanks to our Smithsonian Affiliate colleagues at Peoria’s Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian not only “plays in Peoria” but bags a big “boffo!” Two great Smithsonian exhibitions now embellish the walls of the Lakeview Museum, drawing visitors and appreciative audiences from near and far. In Plane View: Abstractions of Flight is a series of masterpiece photographs shot and curated by National Air and Space Museum (NASM) photographer Carolyn Russo. Russo finds the hidden design details in NASM’s collection of planes and spacecraft, making us look at these marvelous machines from a strikingly original aesthetic, each image provoking a new “Aha!” moment. Jim Henson’s Fantastic World, put together by the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service, recaps 50 years of “Aha!” moments, as it celebrates the creative genius of the person who changed the world with a philosophical frog, a sassy pig, and a voracious cookie-eating beast.
Both exhibits flank the long-term loan of the Peoria Falcon, a stunning artifact from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Acquired by John Wesley Powell prior to his illustrious career at the Smithsonian, this Native American copper adornment links Peoria to its past, while providing multiple paths to learn about the region, its land, and its people.
If all this were not enough, I had the pleasure of joining Jane Henson, co-creator of The Muppets and Jim’s lifelong collaborator, for a series of presentations at the Lakeview Museum on February 24 and 25. Jane’s audiences had the opportunity to see rare film clips and gain special insights into Henson’s creative process. During the Q&A, many spoke of the enduring influence of these works on their own lives.
We are grateful to Lakeview Museum director Jim Richerson and his accomplished staff for fulfilling the goal of the Smithsonian Affiliations program by bringing the Smithsonian into the local community in so many impressive ways. And thank you to all our friends in Peoria by voting with your feet in favor of these collaborations. Saying that the Smithsonian “played in Peoria” is a compliment we wear with pride. So keep up the good work Affiliates everywhere and “on with the show!”
Harold A. Closter