Peace, love and shag carpet: Museum reveals '60s-themed exhibit in celebration of its 50th

It was 1968 when the U.S. launched its Apollo 8 mission, continued its fight in the Vietnam War and took part in an environmental movement. The year also marks the inception of the Museum of the Grand Prairie, formerly the Early American Museum.

In honor of its golden anniversary, the museum will open a new exhibit called "1968: A Time for Every Purpose," celebrating its founding year from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

"The central section of the exhibit is about the museum, and then everything on the circumference of the exhibit is about the rest of the year," said Barbara Oehlschlaeger-Garvey, museum and education department director.

Prior to the grand reveal, the museum invited guest speaker Meagan Glaser to explore the history of 1968 through food with her presentation last Sunday entitled "Food From the Past: 1968." Education program specialist Katie Snyder was wowed by Glaser's previous PechaKucha at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois.

"A PechaKucha is a Japanese concept where people can come and share what they're passionate about in a 20-slide presentation," said Snyder in a December publication when she first revealed the speaker. "She (Glaser) explores history through food and started doing so by having dinner parties with friends."

Glaser said it all began with her appreciation of Jane Austen's famous novel "Pride and Prejudice."

"There's a mention (in the book) about white soup," Glaser said. "You go to the internet and say, 'What's white soup?' You end up on a Jane Austen fan page where they're talking about what it is, and one of them is a link to 'The Supersizers,' where they do regency food and then you go, 'Oh, this show is fun.' You end up having dinner parties where you're playing Oregon Trail and serving vinegar lemonade and then you end up here (at the museum)."

Glaser provided a slide show presentation of food from the '60s as the crowd both laughed and gagged at the insightful, cringe-worthy foods.

The '60s brought the beginning of a diet craze known as Weight Watchers, as well as a new requirement for ingredients to be listed on food packages with the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (1967). In East Central Illinois, residents also began trying so-called counter-culture foods like tofu or quinoa for the first time.

Glaser sees food history as a new direction for museums in an effort to entice its visitors' senses and learning capabilities.

"You're looking at it, you're feeling it, you're tasting it. It makes it that much more lively," she said.

Glaser brought four separate tasting elements for the near dozen guests. Her samplings included a vegetable Jell-O mold, Julia Child's 'Beef Bourguignon,' liver and onions and a bunt cake. More than an interesting taste, Glaser understood her food to be a conversation starter.

"This Jell-O, you cannot look at that and not start thinking, 'Were people different then? Did everyone think this was as bad then as they do now?'" she said. "You start thinking about the people. What was different? What's the same? Is this going to come back? It sneaks up on you and accidentally starts educating you almost against your will."

Glaser poured through cookbooks for over a year to create her '60s-themed creations and presentation. She immersed herself in the topic through '60s cookbooks.

Throughout her careful review, she found herself engaging in bits of history she would normally consider dull.

"I would never sit down and read about French naval history," she said. "I don't care. But I do have a little more insight into it now because I was hearing about the history of mayonnaise, which was invented to celebrate the French naval battle over the British at the battle of Maya."

The food presenter hopes the museum's newest exhibit and programming encourages its visitors to explore in the same way.

"I really like that idea that this is within memory so there's much more chance to really relate to it and much more community engagement," Glaser said. "Your aunts remember this, your grandparents remember this. This is not that foreign. It's more of a generation bridge. This is like, 'Back when I was your age, I saw Jell-O like this and didn't eat it either.' It is much more of an approachable thing."

Inviting, friendly elements provided in the exhibit include shag carpet and a sling chair, along with other items for a walk down memory lane. Interactive items for youngsters include trolls and Rock Em' Sock Em' Robots.

"There's an ah-ha in every little case," Oehlschlaeger-Garvey said, "and then there's Barbies and Hot Wheels, too."

Along with Sunday's exhibit opening, staff invite community members to enjoy live music from David Howie's Live Juxebox Show, along with a mini car show featuring vehicles from 1968 in the museum's parking lot and a button making craft.

For more information about the free event or the '60s-themed exhibit, visit museumofthegrandprairie.org.

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