Smithsonian duo hit conventions for memorabilia

September 05, 2004|By THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS

NEW YORK - Yesterday's convention castoffs could be tomorrow's Smithsonian exhibit.

Larry Bird and Harry Rubenstein want the hats off delegates' heads, the buttons off their lapels and the posters that were discarded at the door.

Where others see goofy political gewgaws, these Smithsonian Institution curators see history.

Every four years, they prowl the conventions, politely inquiring whether delegates might consider parting with their political paraphernalia.

"Sometimes you're just met with this incredulous look," Bird said.

The duo can't pinpoint exactly what they look for - they will know when they see it.

As a rule, homemade trumps mass-produced. Bonus points are awarded for originality. And if something makes them laugh, it's got a shot.

Their charge is to capture the essence of each convention.

"These events are well-documented," Rubenstein said. "But there's something about the real objects."

When the Democrats convened last month in Boston and again when the GOP gathered last week in New York, the curators went to work. They roamed the convention floor each night, making their appeal to perfect strangers.

Although they carry a huge portfolio for any goodies they grab, some days they leave with little more than preprinted signs. Most delegates don't want to turn over their trinkets at mid-convention.

So Bird and Rubenstein pass out their business cards and ask whether activists might consider mailing their memorabilia to the Smithsonian. Once the conventions conclude, they watch the mail and hope for the best.

"We want to see expressions of people's engagement in the political process," Rubenstein said.

After the Democratic convention ended, a poster folded into a sailor hat and covered with buttons arrived at their office. So did a paper bag that was transformed into a head ornament and covered with pro-Dennis Kucinich statements.

The curators, though, still hold out hope that one of the lingerie-clad ladies from Boston will decide to send in her pink slip.

"Give Bush the pink slip," was the group's message.

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