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New exhibition reveals complex role of plastics in our lives

Plastics Unwrapped

Plastics Unwrapped, on display February 4 through April 23, examines a material that’s changed everything

The Orange County Regional History Center’s latest limited-run exhibition, Plastics Unwrapped, explores one of the 20th century’s most-debated inventions: the synthetic polymers we call plastics.

“This year at the museum, we’re focusing on the theme of innovation, and this relevant exhibition looks at a relatively new material that’s dramatically changed the way we live, in a remarkably short time,” says Michael Perkins, the History Center’s manager.

Before the 1950s, people rarely used plastics. How did plastics go from being rare to being everywhere – from food containers to raincoats to surgical tubing? Plastics Unwrapped explores what life was like before plastics, the science behind them, what happens when we throw them away, and what’s in store for what was once hailed as “material of the future.”

The exhibition originated at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The History Center has added new features, including a 200-square-foot plastic “tiny house” that offers big inspiration about improving energy efficiency in homes of any size.

As a complement to the exhibit, works by artist Bobbi Mastrangelo show how she uses plastics in creating her trademark “Grate Works” – sculptural reliefs inspired by real manhole covers and sewer grates, some decades old. Mastrangelo’s art brings attention to the history and beauty of the humble cast iron that lies beneath our feet on city streets.

Plastics Unwrapped opens February 4 and will be on display through April 23 at the History Center. Plastics Under Cover: Bobbi Mastrangelo’s “Grate Works of Art” continues in the museum’s Alcove Gallery through April 23.