By Sara J. Pinkham
A bright lava lamp in the front display case of the Main Library Gallery serves as a beacon, inviting library patrons to examine the plenitude of nostalgic objects just on the other side of the glass window. Records lean against a speaker and fan out over a record player’s plastic dust cover: Tapestry by Carole King, Live & Well by B.B. King, The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel, Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles, Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Age of Aquarius by The 5th Dimension, and others. Vintage board games, a bright pink frisbee, a portable transistor radio, and a 7-Up wastepaper basket are arrayed over a classic shag carpet. While flattened from years of use, the vibrant greens, yellows, and oranges are a familiar signal of the 1970s.
A crate is crammed full of both popular books and required reading, such as Catch-22, Watership Down, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and The Metamorphosis. An empty soda bottle, pop can, and tea mug add comfortable clutter, and a cinder block serves as an economical pedestal for a potted plant. We have stepped back in time to 1975, a year during which We Are Hawkeyes exhibit co-curator and University Archivist Emeritus David McCartney found himself working toward his undergraduate degree.
“I would say that the dorm room replication that we have at this exhibit pretty closely resembles the dorm room I occupied once upon a time, back around 1975,” said McCartney, who spent many hours sourcing era-appropriate objects for the display.
Inspired by his own experience moving away from home for the first time, the dorm room set in We Are Hawkeyes: Celebrating 175 Years of Student Life at the University of Iowa naturally includes a desk with a Smith Corona portable typewriter. “We did not have laptops, let alone tabletop computers, in 1975,” he said.
The desk, located beyond the display case inside the Main Library Gallery, includes a chair, and invites visitors to sit and try their hand at using the typewriter. A vintage couch, on loan from the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, is a comfortable spot to flip through a Hawkeye Yearbook or duplicate 1970s issues of Light-Eater (“Serving the University of Iowa Residence Halls”), a student-published newsletter.
“As time-specific as this dorm room is, I think there’s a timelessness to it in terms of how we as students, and later alumni, could identify ourselves,” said McCartney. “And that’s what a dorm room is all about, isn’t it?”
Check out the latest Main Library Gallery video below, in which David McCartney provides a brief tour of the dorm room set from the We Are Hawkeyes exhibit.
We Are Hawkeyes: Celebrating 175 Years of Student Life at the University of Iowa was curated by David McCartney, Aiden Bettine, and Denise Anderson. It will be on view until July 3, 2022. A virtual tour is also available online.
Learn more about the Main Library Gallery here: lib.uiowa.edu/gallery.