Once Upon a Playground

The classic metal and wood structures that have populated playgrounds for most of the twentieth century—towering metal slides, giant jungle gyms, whirling merry-go-rounds, bouncing seesaws—have become beloved artifacts of childhood. They are part of the personal histories of most Americans over the age of 30, as well as a tangible piece of the country’s cultural and industrial design heritage.

Once Upon a Playground offers a visual tribute to these vanishing playgrounds of our past, celebrating their place in American culture and the collective memories of generations. Co-curated by Brenda Biondo, author of Once Upon a Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920–1975 (University Press of New England, 2014), and Carol Johnson, recently retired curator of photography at the Library of Congress, the exhibition combines contemporary photographs of classic equipment, vintage images of playground scenes from the Library of Congress’ collections, and images from period playground catalogs and other ephemera. By bringing together these diverse sources, the exhibition highlights a playground vernacular that developed over decades, while providing historical context and cultural insight.

Playground equipment often reflected the popular culture of the times, as geometric metal and wood apparatus of the 1920s and 1930s gradually gave way to pieces in the shape of cowboys and Indians, storybook characters, rocket ships and satellites, motorcycles, and geodesic domes.

Unfortunately, as communities have renovated their parks and schoolyards, classic playground equipment has virtually disappeared from many parts of the country. Yet these icons of childhood still trigger fond memories for countless Americans and remain a ubiquitous product of America’s industrial design heyday.

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Once Upon a Playground is scheduled to begin touring September 2016 through August 2021. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

  • September 1–October 20, 2016
  • November 10, 2016–January 7, 2017
  • January 28–March 16, 2017 Panola College
    Carthage, TX
  • April 6–May 25, 2017 Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum
    Temple, TX
  • June 16–August 11, 2017 Temecula Valley Museum
    Temecula, CA
  • September 1–October 20, 2017
  • November 10, 2017–January 7, 2018
  • January 28–March 16, 2018 Edmond Historical Society and Museum
    Edmond, OK
  • April 6–June 25, 2018 Nebraska State Historical Society
    Lincoln, NE
  • June 16–August 11, 2018 Park City Museum
    Park City, UT
  • September 1–October 20, 2018
  • November 10, 2018–January 7, 2019
  • January 28–March 16, 2019 Refurbishment
    Kansas City, MO
  • April 6–May 25, 2019
  • June 16–October 20, 2019 Upcountry History Museum
    Greenville, SC
  • November 10, 2019–January 7, 2020
  • January 28–March 16, 2020
  • April 6–May 25, 2020 Elmhurst Historical Museum
    Elmhurst, IL
  • June 16–August 11, 2020
  • September 1–October 20, 2020
  • November 10, 2020–January 7, 2021
  • January 28–March 16, 2021
  • April 6–May 25, 2021
  • June 16–August 11, 2021

Exhibition Details

Contemporary photographs by artist Brenda Biondo, along with various ephemera and images of historical photographs from the Library of Congress

  • Content

    Fee Includes:
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    Brenda Biondo, artist, and Carol Johnson, retired Curator of Photography, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

  • Organized By

    ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee


  • In-Region Rental Fee

    $1700 for dates before July 1, 2017; $2,380 for dates after July 1, 2017

  • Duration

    7-week display

  • Shipping

    Common Carrier

  • Running Feet

    Approx. 250

  • Square Feet

    Approx. 50

  • Security


  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    6 crates/1,159 pounds

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.