Take a Trip Down Memory Lane in “The Lunchbox: Packed with Pop Culture”

In 1993, Mark Kelehan stumbled across a 1980 Pac Man lunchbox for sale at a flea market in Omaha, Nebraska. The imagery of this lunchbox triggered a sense of nostalgia about his childhood. That lunchbox would kick off a 30-year journey of exploring and researching the rich history of lunchboxes. The Durham Museum is pleased to partner with Kelehan to present a never-before-seen exhibit, The Lunchbox: Packed with Pop Culture, on display March 4-September 3.

Featuring over 500 hundred lunchboxes as well as one-of-a-kind original paintings, the display provides an overview of the history of lunchboxes, insight into the production process and an educational introduction into the dynamic world of collecting. The Lunchbox demonstrates how lunchboxes are time capsules of American pop culture from the 1950s through the 1980s. Across America and beyond, schoolchildren celebrated heroes of the big and small screen, radio, sports and more on metal lunchboxes. Before computers made digital art a reality, lunchbox art came to life with the assistance of professional illustrators, whose brilliant work was transferred onto tens of millions of lunchboxes year after year. From practical beginnings, a culture of collecting was born that allowed individuals to recapture some nostalgia, history and art. Exhibit highlights include:

  • Over 500 lunchboxes from all eras, ranging from the early 1900s through the golden era between the 1950s to the 1980s as well more recent examples. From Hopalong Cassidy and Mickey Mouse to Superman, Star Wars, Pelé, and The Beatles, the collection celebrates all forms of pop culture in America and across the world.
  • A unique timeline that uses the lunchbox and supporting artifacts as a vehicle to experience historic moments like the invention of the sandwich, the Industrial Revolution, the rise of the television, and the success of the Apollo 11 space mission and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.
  • Rare preserved production art paintings used for the final product, plus original proofs and metal production sheets, all of which provide a glimpse into how the lunchboxes were made and a healthy dose of nostalgia as well.

This is a celebration of the lunchbox and is designed to take you down memory lane as you see the lunchbox you had (or wanted!).

About Mark Kelehan: Mark Kelehan lives in Elkhorn, Nebraska with his wife (Lori) and their four daughters Amelia, Julia, Penelope and Violet. Mark picked up the passion for collecting from his mom and has been collecting lunchboxes for nearly 30 years. Mark graduated from Creighton University in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in Finance and International Business and he earned his M.B.A from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in 2008. Mark currently works in the Marketing & Sales Department at Union Pacific and serves as an adjunct professor at Creighton University teaching Investment Banking. In his free time, he enjoys creating lunchbox exhibits and (more importantly) spending time with his family, especially watching his girls play sports and coaching his twins’ 1st grade basketball team!