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A Chance in the Spotlight

Posted under Exhibitions by Petra Slinkard

CHM curator Petra Slinkard takes you through the process of a gallery rotation, which helps us preserve artifacts and refresh exhibitions.

The Chicago History Museum’s permanent exhibition Chicago: Crossroads of America is a 15,000-square-foot installation dedicated to our city’s rich and complex past. The installation opened in September 2006 and contains hundreds of artifacts and photographs that represent the range of Chicago’s history, from the early days of fur trappers to the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory. Recently, we updated the sections on the city’s two world’s fairs: the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the 193334 A Century of Progress International Exposition.

The A Century of Progress case before (above) and after (below) the rotation. Photographs by CHM staff

For the A Century of Progress section, we rotated a new slate of artifacts into the main case. We did this primarily so the objects previously on view could be inspected by our conservators, cleaned, and returned to storage to rest. Clothing is one of the most vulnerable materials to display—second only to paper—so we restrict the length of time garments are on view in order to protect and preserve them. Our secondary motivation was to rethink the overall design of the case. Daniel Oliver, the Museum’s senior exhibition designer, created a beautiful Art Deco–style case to display a variety of souvenirs from the fair. Souvenirs were popular with visitors, as they memorialized visits to Chicago and the fair and allowed their owners to share their experiences with family and friends.

Fair souvenirs on a custom-built shelving unit. Photograph by CHM staff

The costume rotated into the space is a traffic director’s uniform. Staged during the Great Depression, the fair offered much needed employment opportunities, and both men and women worked in a variety of roles. Men primarily served as traffic directors, guards, and launch captains for the lagoon. Each uniform, regardless of position, was designed to fit with the streamlined, modern look of the exposition. Even Chicago policemen serving at the fair received new uniforms, which were based on those of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

CHM costume collection manager Jessica Pushor lifts the mannequin into the display case.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the 1933 world’s fair. Three policemen stand guard, and a traffic director is stationed to the president’s right. CHM, ICHi-37690

The redesign of the case and the rotation of objects refreshed and enlivened the space, and we hope you’ll stop by the Museum to see the new additions. Stay tuned for a post in October about the World’s Columbian Exposition rotation.

Scottie dog ashtray, 1933–34. CHM, ICHi-170641
Foto Reel viewer with tin box, 1933. Allied Products Co., Chicago. CHM, ICHi-170689
PECoptic, view finder, 1933. Premier Products Distributors, Chicago. CHM, ICHi-170662.
Cocktail shaker, 1933–34. A. P. Company, La Grange, Illinois. CHM, ICHi-170673
Marshall Field's candy box depicting the Chinese pavilion, 1933–34. CHM, ICHi-170691
Bookmark, 1933–34. CHM, ICHi-170648

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