Once Upon a Playground

Review: “Death-Defying Merry-Go-Rounds and Knee-Scraping Climbing Bars Are Playground Memories of Many Americans,” Humanities, spring 2018

About the exhibition:
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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Tour Schedule

Once Upon a Playground is touring January 2017 through January 2022. 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.

  • 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–January 7, 2018 Marietta History Museum
    Marietta, GA
  • January 28–May 25, 2018 Edmond Historical Society and Museum
    Edmond, OK
  • June 16–October 20, 2018 Park City Museum
    Park City, UT
  • November 10, 2018–January 7, 2019 Refurbishment
    Kansas City, MO
  • January 28–May 25, 2019 Fort Collins Museum of Discovery
    Fort Collins, CO
  • June 16–August 11, 2019 Lake Jackson Historical Museum
    Lake Jackson, TX
  • January 28-March 16, 2020 Sheboygan County Historical Society & Museum
    Sheyboygan, WI
  • April 6–May 25, 2020 Elmhurst Historical Museum
    Elmhurst, IL
  • November 10, 2020–January 7, 2021 Lake Wales History Museum
    Lake Wales, FL
  • January 28–March 16, 2021 Naper Settlement
    Naperville, IL
  • April 6–May 25, 2021 Chandler Museum
    Chandler, AZ
  • November 10, 2021–January 7, 2022 Laurel County Library
    London, KY
  • April 6–May 25, 2022 Save 50% on rental fees
  • June 16–August 11, 2022 Save 50% on rental fees
  • September 1–October 20, 2022 Save 25% on rental feels
  • November 10, 2022–January 7, 2023

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


  • 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.