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Birthday Bash, and You're Invited : At 150, Smithsonian takes the show on the road

February 11, 1996

The Smithsonian Institution is tossing itself, and us, a 150th birthday party, and it's going to last till March 7. Be there.

More than 350 of the institution's most popular and prized objects are on exhibit at the Los Angeles Convention Center in a show called "America's Smithsonian," which opened Friday. Prominent among them: Abraham Lincoln's top hat, reputed to be the one he wore the night he was assassinated at Ford's Theatre in Washington; the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in the film "The Wizard of Oz"; the Apollo 14 command module; Kermit the Frog, and works by American artists Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe and others.

Even for those familiar with Washington's famous Smithsonian Castle, as that impressive, 19th century red-stone building is known, the show is well worth a visit--or even two. A 22-foot-high model of the castle and three main exhibit galleries present a collection that revels in the discoveries, imagination and memory of humankind.

The "Discovering Gallery" celebrates the natural world and the technologies that have helped us expand our capacity to learn about it. There are meteorites, dinosaur bones, butterflies, beetles and mollusk shells alongside Amelia Earhart's flight suit and the compass used in the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The "Imagining Gallery" helps us understand the creative processes of artists from the United States and other parts of the world and from other times. Chinese jades and bronzes, pre-Columbian American pieces, Iranian and Egyptian manuscripts and artworks from Africa and India lead visitors to 20th century paintings like American painter Childe Hassam's "The South Ledges, Appledore."

The "Remembering Gallery" makes us look at history from different perspectives. George Washington's sword, Cesar Chavez's jacket and the fur coat worn by African American contralto Marian Anderson when she sang at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her the use of Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin.

The officials, curators, conservationists, managers, designers and volunteers who put together the exhibit and the two-year, 12-city tour should be commended. It was a formidable task to draw this collection together, combining the resources of the 16 museums that form the complex now called the Smithsonian Institution. Southern Californians should not miss the opportunity to view these well-chosen artifacts of the history of human endeavor.

"America's Smithsonian" will be at the Los Angeles Convention Center until March 7. Admission to the exhibit is free, but tickets are required; they are available at the Convention Center. On display at Los Angeles Convention Center: The fabled Tucker and the compass used in the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

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