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National Museum of Commercial Aviation becomes home of Smithsonian collection

Grant Wainscott, executive director of the National Museum of Commercial Aviation, talks about one of the Smithsonian Institute’s replica airline travel posters Monday. The museum will be the permanent home of the Smithsonian’s “Fly Now” exhibit. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

Grant Wainscott, executive director of the National Museum of Commercial Aviation, talks about one of the Smithsonian Institute’s replica airline travel posters Monday. The museum will be the permanent home of the Smithsonian’s “Fly Now” exhibit. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

— The Smithsonian is moving to Clayton County.

Well, only part of its vast historical collection is actually heading south.

National Museum of Commercial Aviation is seeking “Smithsonian Affiliate” status from the Smithsonian Institute and its museums, said Grant Wainscott, the museum’s executive director. In an effort to boost its chances of gaining the prestigious status, the museum’s staff worked their connections to get a traveling exhibit of travel poster replicas the Smithsonian sent on a tour of the county.

Except the exhibit, titled “Fly Now,” will stay in Clayton County permanently.

“It toured for several years and now its new permanent home will be Clayton County,” said Wainscott. “People will be able to come from around the world and see almost 50 of some of the rarest travel posters that reside permanently in the Smithsonian’s collection.”

It is expected to become one of the hallmarks of the museum when it moves into its new, permanent location on Charles W. Grant Parkway, which may happen in late 2014, said Wainscott, who is also Clayton County’s economic development director.

The Smithsonian posters will add to the prestige of the aviation museum’s already large collection of rare, vintage items.

“Once we’re constructed and if we’re fortunate enough to get ‘Smithsonian Affiliate’ status, this is the kind of quality we can expect, both hard artifact and facsimile,” said Wainscott. “It’s our goal to bring this quality of an exhibit to Clayton County in hopes of continuing that partnership and eventually becoming a ‘Smithsonian Affiliate’ so we can have these types of exhibits.”

The museum holds more than 100,000 aviation-related items in its collection, including full-size airplanes, model planes, vintage uniforms, in-flight meal dishes made from fine china, cockpit training machines, a food truck and memorabilia from airlines ranging from Pan Am to Delta.

While the posters to be displayed are replicas, Wainscott said the Smithsonian keeps the originals in storage for preservation purposes. The replicas were made, he said, so they could be viewed by the public.

And that means anyone who wants to see the posters, ranging from air show to travel advertisements, will have to go to Forest Park to see them. That helps a museum whose leaders want to give visitors a unique, one-of-a-kind experience.

“That’s the point of the exhibit,” said Wainscott. “Unless you are a researcher, you would have to travel to Washington D.C., and get access to the archives collection, which can be difficult to do, and then know what you want to see. That’s why they have all of these affiliate programs. They really want to be able to push their collections out, and that’s why they have so much information online.”

The collection ranges from 19th century balloon exhibition posters to 20th century airline advertisements, according to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum website, airandspace.si.edu/. Artistic techniques on display in the collection include lithography, silkscreen, photolithography and computer-generated images.

There are posters advertising domestic destinations, as well as foreign locales such as Italy, England, France, Belgium, Norway, Ireland, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Spain.

“Collectively, these ‘pictures of persuasion,’ as we might call them, offer a wealth of art, history, design, and popular culture for us to understand,” said Wendy Wick Reaves, the Smithsonian’s portrait gallery curator of prints and drawings, on the institute’s website. “The poster is a familiar part of our world and we intuitively understand its role as propaganda, promotion, announcement or advertisement.”

Wainscott said the museum was able to gain the collection permanently because it had built up a relationship with the last facility to host the Fly Now tour, the College Park Aviation Museum in College Park, Md. Officials at the museum had the right, as the last stop on the tour, to either keep the exhibit permanently, or to pick another place to become its final home.

“We were chosen as the permanent home because we’re the only museum that deals, holistically, with commercial aviation, so it was just a natural kind of a final resting place,” said Wainscott.

The exhibit will remain packed in crates until the National Museum of Commercial Aviation’s permanent facility opens. Groundbreaking for the facility is expected to happen next spring or summer, said Wainscott.

Linda Summerlin said the addition of a permanent Smithsonian collection is exciting for the county because it will help the aviation museum further boost the county’s tourism product. Summerlin is chairman of the Clayton County Tourism Authority board, and executive director Arts Clayton.

“The commercial aviation museum is a great product to market when we go to tour bus exhibitions,” said Summerlin. “We have our booth there, and these tour bus operators see what we have at the museum and then they want to know more about it. The museum has been a fantastic asset for us and this will just make it better.”

Summerlin said Wainscott has already approached Arts Clayton about doing an exhibit of the posters at its gallery in Jonesboro once the collection arrives.

“I think it’s a great idea, but we’ll have to sit down when the collection arrives and figure out how to build an exhibit around it, and that will take some time to put together,” said Summerlin.

The museum is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., at its interim site, 5442 Frontage Road, Suite 110, in Forest Park. Appointments are required to visit the museum outside of those prescribed times. Anyone wishing to make an appointment should call 404-675-9266.