Through the Past, Deftly

The section on Vietnam winds up in a somber room lined with panels that list each Colorado casualty of the conflict. Printed in white on black, these panels are obviously evocative of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. In keeping with one of the traditions of that memorial, Oliner has included items left by Coloradans at the Wall, artifacts that were loaned to the CHM by the National Park Service.

By this point most viewers will be in the mood for a little uplift, and Oliner provides it through much of the rest of the show. An area devoted to popular music includes a myriad of items, including awards, posters and a set of handwritten lyrics penned by Jimi Hendrix; chief among the donors to this display was concert promoter Barry Fey. Also on the lighter side are exhibits depicting the Muppets of Jim Henson, who came to Denver in 1970 so that Lee Harrison III of Computer Imaging Corporation could work up some of the world's first computer animation.

"Computer animation for television was unheard of at that time," says Oliner. Harrison's pioneering efforts for Sesame Street won him an Emmy in 1972. As a result of that early work, says Oliner, "all computer animation today can be traced right back here to Denver."

For followers of the visual arts, The Times They Are a-Changin' really gets going with a group of displays that explore the division between high culture and the counterculture. Behind transparent walls--a needed precaution against thievery--are several period rooms. On one side is the emblem of the counterculture: a hippie pad complete with black-light posters, hash pipes and Jerry Rubin and John Lennon books stacked on a shelf made from cinderblocks and wooden boards. If memory serves, this hypothetical room is a lot cleaner than was the case with the authentic article, but it will still take older viewers aback with a feeling of nostalgia. The spectacular array of funky boutique and head-shop items are on loan anonymously from a Denver couple. Adds Oliner, "They assured us that the pipes haven't been used in years."

Opposite the hippie pad is a dining room intended to represent the high culture of the period. It features an exquisite steel-and-walnut dining table by Warren Plattner and a pair of "Ion" chairs originally designed for Seattle's Space Needle. The table and chairs, as well as many other pieces in this portion of the show are on loan from Hugh Grant, director of Denver's Kirkland Foundation. And it's a good thing Grant got involved, because the dining room also includes a couple of pieces from the CHM's permanent collection: a tacky hi-fi console above which is hung an even tackier swag lamp. Both should have been left in the basement. "We have real gaps in our collection from the post-war era," Oliner admits.

This section also brings to life a teenage girl's bedroom of the 1960s, whose star attraction is the very cool Star Trek Barbie and Ken set--still in its original box, no less. Getting equal time in a separate display case nearby are a set of masculine equivalents: Broncos and Nuggets uniforms from the period. The strength of this showcase, which will be a real treat for fans of sports memorabilia, are the jerseys, helmets, game balls and playbooks loaned by former Broncos head coach Red Miller.

Beyond the sports area is a large display of furniture, ceramics and glass by designers such as Paul McCobb and Russel Wright, which is anchored by a selection of Vance Kirkland paintings and Edgar Britton bronzes. All are on loan from Grant and the Kirkland Foundation, and it's clear that these are the sort of things the CHM needs to be actively collecting now, before such significant period items are no longer available.

The art and design portion of the show leads the viewer to a small display devoted to the artist's commune "Drop City," which was located outside Trinidad, then a nationally famous center for alternative living. Among the standouts are photographs of the original dome structures, including one taken during construction that was loaned to the CHM by Clark Richert, one of the commune's founders.

As we wind our way to the end of the exhibit, we get a brief glimpse of period architecture and urban design. New buildings of two decades are set against the destruction of historic architecture and the subsequent rise of the historic-preservation movement. You don't need a program to separate the heroes from the villains: The preservationists of Historic Denver wear the white hats, the destroyers of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority the black.

Adjacent to the architectural section is a brief look at the rise of the environmental movement that was launched with the creation of Earth Day in 1970. Not far away, the increasing importance of high tech is symbolized, both by a fledgling personal computer built in Denver by the Digital Group in 1977 and by a collection of the personal belongings of astronaut Jack Swigert.

Oliner appropriately sees the era he explores in this show as ending with the swearing in of Reagan in 1981, an event that was broadcast with a split screen to show the release of the American hostages from Iran. So that's how he closes the exhibit--with a TV monitor featuring videotapes of the events as they were originally broadcast. Just like the Kennedy clip at the beginning.

"There's that boomerang again," notes Oliner. And it packs a wallop.

The Times They Are a-Changin': Colorado in the 60s and 70s, through August 9, 1998, at the Colorado History Museum, 1300 Broadway, 866-3682.

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