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Local News

Joliet history museum looks at sci-fi's past with new exhibit

JOLIET – When “Star Trek” appeared on television screens 50 years ago, it was clearly science fiction. The characters could talk to each other from anywhere using just a metal case containing a few circuits that fit in their hands.

Today’s science fiction may reflect tomorrow’s science and also inspire those who create it, said Brian Conroy, museum assistant at the Joliet Area Historical Museum.

“Science fiction has people working in space ... visiting other worlds. It’s the 15th anniversary of the International Space Station. They’re planning a mission to Mars,” Conroy said.

Through May, the historical museum is running a temporary exhibit called “Space ... The Final Frontier.”

Much of the exhibit consists of science fiction artwork and curios from the collection of Michael and Malcolm Phifer. One wall has imaginary landscapes from different artists hanging over boards with images of actual planets.

According to a card near his painting “Alchemy Planet,” artist Mitchell Davidson Bentley said the “piece represents the ongoing process of melding the differences between illustration and speculative astronomical art.”

Some of the pieces show spacecraft that could already be on the drawing board at NASA, while others depict men and women with ray guns encountering beasts and robots in other worlds.

On the other side of the exhibit room, TV screens show videos of a bionic exoskeleton being used to assist someone walking, and clips from “Back to The Future Part II,” a film made in 1989 that depicted life in 2015.

“Not all of it has come true, but this shows how some did,” Conroy said.

The exhibit also features cases dedicated to the cult television series “Doctor Who” and a collection of All-American Space Fleet trading cards, which were given away at Skelly gas stations in 1953.

The popular science fiction franchises are well-represented. Vintage “Star Wars” action figures from Museum Director Greg Peerbolte’s collection sit among the trading cards.

Toward the center of the room is a large “Star Wars” poster autographed by cast and crew, including Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, composer John Williams and concept artist Ralph McQuarrie. The actors who played Uncle Owen, Aunt Beru, a sandperson and a rebel pilot also indicated who their characters were next to their signatures.

It appears the poster is meant to represent the entire series, as it’s also signed by Ian McDiarmid, whose evil emperor does not appear in the original 1977 film.

“I think this is the coolest piece though,” Conroy said.

Various “Star Trek” memorabilia, including a tunic signed by William Shatner and a statue of Captain Kirk’s battle with the Gorn, fill a case just outside the gallery.

Hannah Oliver of Bolingbrook saw the exhibit Saturday and was most wowed by the displays of original artwork.

“You look at the effort they put into it, the details and colors,” she said. “It’s impressive.”

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