Community Connections

Focused, Intense, Elegant Richard Avedon photographs anchor exhibit celebrating the Kennedy White House Years

Organized by the Springfield Museums, the exhibition Jack & Jackie: The Kennedys in the White House (December 8, 2017–March 25, 2018) celebrates America’s 35th President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy by highlighting their White House years, 1961-1963. The exhibition also honors the centennial of John F. Kennedy’s birth, May 29, 1917; he was the first president born in the 20th century.

In collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and private collectors, the Springfield Museums will explore the legacy of the Kennedys as promoters of art, culture, and elegance. Twenty-seven iconic photographs of the first family by Richard Avedon, on loan from the National Museum of American History, will anchor the exhibition, providing a glimpse into the Kennedys’ personal life while also documenting their public image. Avedon was the only photographer who was allowed to take official photographs of Kennedy, Jackie, and their children, Caroline and John, between the time that he was elected in 1960 and Inauguration Day. He took this series of photos for Harper’s Bazaar on the same day the U.S. ended ties with Cuba. Newsweek reported later Avedon’s comment: “When I took Caroline’s picture with her father, he was dictating memos to his secretary. … When I’d ask him to look around, he’d stop dictating. But the moment I finished, he’d start in where he left off. I’ve never seen such a display of mental control in my life.”

The exhibit also features costumes and props from the acclaimed REELZ miniseries “The Kennedys.” The 2011 series starred Greg Kinnear as Jack Kennedy, Katie Holmes as Jackie Kennedy. The dresses and props from this series will be immediately recognizable to those who have seen photographs of the first family.

One gallery is devoted to a recreation of the Oval Office—with photo opportunities available sitting at the Resolute Desk.

During the “White House years,” President Kennedy advocated for human rights, strengthened connections with allies, and oversaw the growth of the U.S. economy. He also advocated for the arts in a way that surpassed any president before him. He invited Robert Frost to read a poem at his inauguration, making Frost the first poet to be included in this way. Kennedy created the groundwork that would one day become the National Endowment for the Arts. He said: “As a great democratic society, we have a special responsibility to the arts, for art is the great democrat calling forth creative genius from every sector of society, disregarding race or religion or wealth or color. Thus, in our fulfillment of these responsibilities toward the arts lies our unique achievement as a free society.”

First Lady Jackie Kennedy, also an avid supporter of the arts, took a historical role in the restoration of the White House. Her contribution to its collection of art and historical furnishings, her leadership in historic preservation, and her work as a traveling ambassador solidified her place in the hearts of Americans as an advocate for creativity and beauty alongside her husband.

A companion exhibit in the Wood Museum of Springfield History—“Collecting Camelot”—features campaign memorabilia from the collection of Frank Andruss Sr., photographs of the Kennedys from The Republican archives, and collectibles that highlight the long-lasting cultural impact of the Kennedys on America.

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