The Smithsonian – It Plays in Peoria!

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. 

Photo by John E. Barrett, courtesy of The Jim Henson Company. Kermit the Frog © The Muppets Studio, LLC.

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.   

The Peoria Falcon on loan from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

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.  

Local puppeteer meets Jane Henson at Lakeview Museum.

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
Smithsonian Affiliations

Supermarine Spitfire from the "In Plane View" exhibition. Photo by Carolyn Russo.

2 replies
  1. J.R. Neumiller
    J.R. Neumiller says:

    You know, the Riverfront Museum has the potential to be one of the biggest cultural and historical entities in Peoria’s history. Peoria’s background and developmental history is some of the most fascinating in the country, (even if Peoria will always be the nestled little burg along the Illinois River.)

    What I like best about Peoria is its ability to discern quality over quantity. “Will it play in Peoria” simply means, “Is it worthwhile and interesting? Will we get our money’s worth?”

    Hopefully, the Riverfront Museum will be a linchpin in connecting Peoria’s rich past with its ongoing present. Caterpillar has a major stake in presenting its own American success story, (as it has never done so in all its history.) That company has always “played in Peoria” for good reason. To this day, Caterpillar machines have a world-wide reputation for quality, ingenuity, and longevity that are the industry benchmark. They are not playing catch-up like the auto industry is. Let’s give credit where it is deserved!

  2. Patricia Barton
    Patricia Barton says:

    As Lakeview Museum Trustee and also a member of the board of the Peoria Riverfront Museum – Peoria’s new effort to create a new museum in our city center, I would like to thank the Smithsonian for their ongoing support. Our ability to showcase loans from the Smithsonian increases the public awareness of a museum’s value to it’s community. We look forward to many more collaborations as we move forward to opening our new facility in 2012.
    It was a pleasure to meet you and Mrs. Henson

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