Many people know about Charles Lindbergh’s historic 33.5-hour flight in the Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris in 1927, but there’s another side of his life that often goes untold. Get a glimpse into the private lives of Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow, who helped him pioneer aviation exploration, at the Flores Mexicanas: A Lindbergh Love Story exhibit on display through Sept. 2.
“It’s a name you know and a story you don’t,” says Adam Kloppe, public historian for the Missouri Historical Society. “People generally know quite a bit about Lindbergh but not about his wife or the early years of his marriage, so this is an incredible opportunity to see some of the treasures of the Lindbergh collection, one of our largest and one people have a lot of interest in.”
The focal point of the exhibit, which is presented both in English and Spanish, is a gargantuan painting by Alfredo Ramos Martinez, the father of Mexico’s modernist movement. The painting had been in storage so long it was all but forgotten, and the museum’s curators were thrilled at its rediscovery.
“This is the first chance in decades to see this important artwork by this master painter, who took somewhere between seven and 15 years to complete it,” Kloppe says, adding the four women in the painting are believed to represent the four main cultural traditions in Mexico in the 1920s.
The Mexican government gave the painting to the Lindberghs in 1929 as a wedding gift to commemorate where the couple met.
“They wanted to send this blockbuster wedding present because Anne Morrow’s father was a popular U.S. ambassador to Mexico at the time, and because of Lindbergh’s global celebrity status, he had taken a goodwill tour there and met Anne. This exhibit really puts a spotlight on her contributions to aviation. People oftentimes don’t think of her as a great explorer, but she deserves as much of the spotlight as Charles.”
St. Louis is significant in Lindbergh’s story because he lived here when he made his historical flight, and all the financial backing came from St. Louisans, Kloppe explains.
“We ended up with a large collection of his things, including many medals, awards and gifts he and his wife received, because of the tireless work of curator Nettie Beauregard,” he said. “She convinced him to loan us these items shortly after his flight and, after a few years, they decided to make it permanent.”
Due to the sheer size of the artwork – it is 9 feet high and 12 feet long – and its age, it was in need of conservation before it could be put on display.
“The time spent planning how to conserve the painting was probably equal to the time it actually took to do it, and it was a donation from Bank of America that allowed the funds,” he says, adding the painting was sent to the Midwest Art Conservation Center in Minnesota for several months. “The ornate wooden frame also needed a lot of attention.”
The conservation process brought the iconic painting back to life.
“It really brought out details,” Kloppe says. “We X-rayed it to see how the frame was put together and discovered in the top right hand corner, beneath several layers of paint, there was a fifth woman. We’re not sure why she was painted over — if she moved elsewhere on the painting or if he had thought there should be five women and then changed his mind. The idea that there are secrets to discover makes the work we do here so exciting and rewarding.”
The exhibit features many other Lindbergh artifacts, from clothing and medals to a globe on which Lindbergh inked his many flights.
“I’m drawn to objects we know people have used and spent time with, and knowing that helps you connect with these figures in an immediate way,” Kloppe says.
In addition to traditional display elements, there are two screens with an interactive art conservation quiz, along with a video detailing the conservation process.
“It’s a great spotlight on the work that’s done behind the scenes to make sure these artifacts last for future generations,” he said. “I always see people whispering to each other during the video, and it makes me happy to see people are interested in the work we do to preserve the history of this region.”
Due to the light-sensitive nature of these artifacts, they can only be on display for a short window of time, so don’t miss your chance to see the exhibit now through Sept. 2.