Traveling Exhibition:
American Visionary: John F. Kennedy’s Life and Times

Senator John F. Kennedy checking over a speech during the Presidential campaign with some unexpected guests. (Photo: Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

By Marsha Sorotick, Contributor
May 25, 2018
Photos courtesy of the New York Historical Society

Traveling Exhibition: American Visionary: John F. Kennedy’s Life and Times, which commemorates the birth of J.F.K. on May 29, 1917, is currently touring the country and should it pass through a city near you, don’t miss out.

The primary display of the exhibition is a series of 77 images – “some iconic, some rarely seen,” according to the society’s description of the show – as well as is a video screen playing his inaugural address and magazines of the era opened to articles about the Kennedys.

Photo booth portrait, c. 1953.

Though most of the photographs were familiar to me, I found the ones that were unfamiliar the most moving. Two were from a magazine photo essay about a young Senator Kennedy and his recent bride shopping in Georgetown on a chore-filled Saturday afternoon. The Kennedys were dressed casually and Jackie had a mid-1950s Audrey Hepburn gamin hairstyle. The look is timeless. It is impossible to believe these pictures are 60 years old.

From the civil rights movement to the early excitement of the space age, the photos capture the complexity and diversity of the issues facing the president and our country. The exhibit has been carefully researched with input from President Kennedy’s nephew, Stephen Kennedy Smith, who authored a companion book, JFK: A Vision for America, with Douglas Brinkley.

Courtesy the Jacques Lowe EstateNovember 8, 1960. The vigil continued in front of the television at Bobby’s house the morning after the election. From left, surrounding the candidate, artist Bill Walton; Pierre Salinger; Ethel and Bobby Kennedy; Bobby’s secretary, Angie Novello; and campaign aide Bill Haddad. (Photo: Jacques Lowe / Courtesy the Jacques Lowe Estate)

For many visitors to American Visionary, the exhibition will be a valuable history lesson presented in a very accessible format. For some, it can be fascinating social commentary – what people wore and looked like and were preoccupied with during the early 1960s. But for those of a certain age, what happened to this vibrant young couple, and to us all, left me with a sense of sadness that bordered on the unbearable. ♦

John Fitzgerald KENNEDY. 1952.

above Baby Caroline peeks up at her father from her crib, Georgetown, March 25, 1958. Photo, Ed Clark

Unofficial campaign visit, 1959

Kennedy boards a plane, 1960

Shortly after his acceptance of the Democratic Party endorsement for President. Senator (and future US President) John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963) and his wife, future First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1929 – 1994), smiles and waves from the back of an open-top car, Massachusetts, July 1960. (Photo by Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Foldout July 13, 1960. “Floor demonstrations” are a big part of the theatrics common to American political conventions. Each candidate whose name is expected to be considered for nomination—whether insider or outsider, long shot or sure thing—typically has one or more moments during the convention where his or her supporters come forward en masse, cheering, whistling, stomping their feet, waving their banners and placards. Today they resemble a pep rally, but at the DNC in 1960 suspense filled the air for the first two days as to who would be the nominee for president, and floor demonstrations were lively and passionate. Photo, Ralph Crane

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, UNITED STATES – JANUARY 20: New President John F. Kennedy & wife Jacqueline Kennedy and others walking to his Inauguration. (Photo by Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The President at work in the Oval Office, January 1961. Photo, Jacques Lowe

below The “Space Race” declared a top priority for the administration, President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson tour NASA’s facilities in Huntsville, Alabama, September 11, 1961. Photo, Bob Gomel

January 1961. In honor of JFK’s upcoming inauguration, some clothing stores in New York City decided to capitalize on the future president and his wife’s fashion style, employing sidewalk mannequins in their likenesses. The Jackie mannequin shown here was used to point customers to the John Frederics shop, where pillbox hats were then selling for $35 to $70. Photo, Yale Joel

Televised address, 1962

TEXAS, UNITED STATES – NOVEMBER 22: President John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie arriving at Love Field during campaign tour on day of his assassination. (Photo by Art Rickerby/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 25: Former firdst lady Jacqueline Kennedy exits the White House to attend her husband’s funeral on November 25, 1963 in Washington, DC. (Photo by I.C. Rapoport/Getty Images)


American Visionary runs through January 7, 2018 at the New York Historical Society, located at 170 Central Park West in Manhattan. Produced in partnership with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., the exhibition will also tour the U.S. throughout the year. Visit nyhistory.org/exhibitions or americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/archive/2017/jfk for more information.

This article originally appeared in the August / September 2017 issue of Irish America.


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