Chemical Romance in Philadelphia City Paper

October 6, 2005 - Philadelphia, PA

By Ashlea Halpern

In an unprecedented move by an organization not exactly known for unbridled creativity, the Chemical Heritage Foundation has lit a match under its oxygen tank. Its newly opened “The Sky’s the Limit” exhibit examines the role of atomic technology and the impact of polymers in 1950s pop culture. The display captures the innocence of the day and the widespread belief that through chemistry, anything was possible.

Here’s the short of it: WWII ended with a bang, we patted ourselves on the collective back for a decimation job well done but—oh, hell—we left a surplus of research labs and research scientists without a lick of work. The government decided it wasn’t in the manufacturing business and sold its patents to industry moguls, who then told the research scientists to turn things like petroleum into carpet and other marketable products. Ad gurus got busy convincing the public it needed new fangled things like petroleum carpeting, and words like nylon, polyester, spandex, fiberglass and Styrofoam joined the daily lexicon. The big guns hopped the bandwagon—Monsanto’s chemistry exhibit in Disneyland. DuPont’s Wonderful World of Chemistry musical at the 1964 New York World’s Fair—and made the new plastics affordable and accessible. Hence Levittown, the Joneses and the race to be the first on the block with a color TV.

CHF archivists set out to capture the long of it, so they hired artist Keith Ragone to execute their vision in splashy colors and kitschy displays. Some objects were loaned from private collections and acquired through auction, while others were bought on eBay or borrowed from staffers' garages and jewelry boxes. The objects d’art include plastic bracelets, rhinestone Lucite stilettos, silly putty, toy action figures and old Perry Como 45s. Ads were harvested from Life, Good Housekeeping and McCall’s, then scanned and collaged into striking visual wallpaper.

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