John F. Kennedy exhibit makes a stop at Marshall Fredericks Museum

John F. Kennedy exhibit at Marshall Fredericks Museum (April 2019)

The “American Visionary: John F. Kennedy’s Life and Times” exhibit currently at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum. The exhibit includes photos and paraphernalia about Kennedy’s life, from his childhood up to his funeral. March 29, 2019, Saginaw. (Rebecca Roberts/Photo Editor)

By Zach Parfeniuk, reporter.

When studying American presidents, there are typical names that crop up as the best of the best of our public servants. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, are all commonly used, but out of our more recent presidents, John F. Kennedy is often thought of as an inspiration for Americans in our day to day lives.

More than fifty years after his tragic assassination, Kennedy remains as one of the most admired figures in American history. As part of a nationwide celebration of the centennial of his birth year in 2017, the local Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum at Saginaw State Valley University is hosting the travelling “American Visionary: John F. Kennedy’s Life and Times” exhibit until Jun. 29.

The exhibition is presented with the eager cooperation of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation and has already traveled across the country, including to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the New York Historical Society, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The Marshall Fredericks museum is the exhibit’s current and only stop in the entire state of Michigan, and so far visitors have soaked up the photography.

“It celebrates, what is becoming known to be, the golden age of photojournalism,” museum director Megan McAdow said, “They really document not just Kennedy himself, but also the context and environment of the U.S. at that time.”

Photos taken from Kennedy’s childhood up to his death show the human behind the history. Beyond just being a cakewalk through Kennedy’s time in the white house, visitors get to see the former president as anyone close to him would. When Kennedy’s smiling as he spends time with his family on the beach, he goes beyond being “just the president.”

“I really love the image of JFK with his Ray-Ban sunglasses on, it’s timeless, but also contemporary.” McAdow said, “I think it speaks to how relatable he is, both when he was running for president, but also how relatable he still feels today.”

McAdow found that Kennedy’s relatability was the most important part of the exhibit, and felt that his approach towards the press at the time allowed this to shine.

“I think one of the reasons why [JFK is so captivating] is how he allowed himself to be photographed,” McAdow said, “Back then, and today, a lot of politicians want to dictate how they’re photographed…. JFK allowed photographers to just capture him in real life without any direction. There’s an image where he’s coming out of back surgery, and he’s ok to be seen with a cane. Or being airlifted onto Air Force One instead of walking up the steps. He didn’t hide those things from the public.”

That detail may seem insignificant, but it’s what makes the exhibit truly unique. From him laughing with friends, to Kennedy simply playing with his newborn daughter in a crib, the variety of photographs tell a story better than most documentaries ever can.

Kennedy didn’t just spend all his time being relatable to the common people. His time in office is often looked back on as inspiring by older Americans. It was a time in American history where the country and individuals pushed boundaries, and Kennedy is often seen as an architect of that.

One of Kennedy’s most famous quotes comes from his inaugural address, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

McAdow highlighted that all across America, young people especially are getting involved to make political change, and that Kennedy’s message resonates now more than ever. Whether it be environmental activists fighting for clean energy, students getting involved in the politics of gun control, or any number of examples concerning political activism.

“I think his optimism was rooted in everybody making a difference,” McAdow said, “That it wasn’t up to the politicians to make change, it’s up to each and every one of us to make the change we want to see in the world. That still resonates today.”

For those interested in seeing the exhibit, the Marshall Fredericks museum requires no admission fees and free visitor parking once cars are registered at the front desk. “American Visionary: John F. Kennedy’s Life and Times” Brings Kennedy’s life front and center through the camera lens and offers a special look back into the past for all that wish to see.

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