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Posted on: October 30, 2019

New Dreaming of a Retro Xmas temporary exhibit begins Nov. 12 at Johnson County Museum

Retro Holiday Fun

Travel back to a Space Age Christmas and learn all about aluminum trees and other vintage decorations during a new temporary exhibits beginning in mid-November at the Johnson County Museum.

Dreaming of a Retro Xmas is the name of this exhibit, which celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Evergleam, the first commercially successful aluminum Christmas tree. This exhibit will remain on display through Jan. 11.

“This exhibit is one of those fun, nostalgic exhibits that highlights a piece of our past,” said Museum Curator of Interpretation Andrew Gustafson. “The aluminum Christmas tree is such an iconic piece of Americana, even if we did not own one, it represents a place and time for many people. This exhibit will help give visitors a sense of the types, colors, and variations in the trees, and will tell them a little bit about the history of this Space Age holiday decoration.”

This exhibit features the collection of Johnson County residents Steve and Mary Pruitt, which includes aluminum Christmas trees and other vintage holiday decorations from the 1950s and 60s,  as well as some of the museum’s own collection of Johnson County-based Christmas décor.

About 20 Christmas trees will be on display for this exhibit, along with several other pieces of Space Age decoration. The oldest aluminum tree dates to 1959, its “birth year,” and is still unopened in its original box. There will be informational panels that reveal the quick rise in popularity and the equally fast decline of the aluminum Christmas tree.

“Visitors will really get a sense for the different colors these trees came in, and the different types of “needles” that were available, from regular needles, to pompoms, to twisted needles,” Gustafson said. “There are several surprising colors and variants, and the most interesting tree is probably the one that is attached to the Bradford Snow Maker - tiny Styrofoam balls that are sucked through a tube and create ‘snowfall’ from the top of the tree, only to fall down to a catch basin and be recycled again.”

The exhibit will also include antique ornaments and other Christmas decorations, such as the “Twinkling Stars of Bethlehem,” made by USA Lite, and NOMA bubble lights. Several rotating tree bases and working color wheels will be part of the display as well. 

Dreaming of a Retro Xmas will be arranged inside the All-Electric House and out on its “front yard,” both of which are located inside the museum.

A related program called History on Tap - The Life and Times of the Aluminum Christmas Tree was recently scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 12, and will feature Steve and Mary Pruitt talking about and presenting a tour of  the aluminum tree exhibit. 

“This will really be special to hear from the collectors,“ Gustafson said. “They know their stuff, and they love talking about America’s Space Age.” 

The cost for this 90-minute program is $7 per person and includes drinks, snacks, and museum admission.

Another new temporary museum exhibit called Savages and Princesses - The Persistence of Native American Stereotypes is set to begin on Nov. 20. This exhibit is made possible by Mid-America Arts Alliance and Exhibits USA, as well as through funding from Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission (KCAIC) and the National Endowment for the Arts. This exhibit, which will remain in display at the museum through March 14, consists of over thirty contemporary artworks by 13 nationally-recognized Native American artists, and includes small art objects, framed pieces, and a giant installation.

Both temporary exhibits will take place at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park. Exhibit admission is included with regular museum admission rates of $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children, until Jan. 1, when admission increases to $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $4 for children. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and is closed on Sunday.