MFA’s “Pictures from a Changing Nation” gallery: American stories told through postcards



The gallery displays an arrangement of diverse postcards from different times in US history.

Sharing cultivated snapshots of your life might appear to be a recent invention of the digital age, but the Museum of Fine Arts’ new exhibit tells a different story: the story of photo postcards.

On March 17, 2022, the Museum of Fine Arts opened an exhibition of over 300 postcards from 1903 to the beginning of World War II. This immersive and entertaining experience gives deeper insight into American culture on a personal level.

As you enter, each miniature photograph invites you to take a glance at the lives of 20th century Americans: farmers, politicians, suffragettes, circus dancers, baseball players and much more. Each card tells a different story, from the whimsical and amusing side of American History to the darker narrative of class struggle and even depictions of child labor. As a collection, there is a feeling of American patriotism steeped in individuality and nostalgia.

The exhibition also includes a photoshoot opportunity for visitors. This includes a place for you to take a timed photo, sitting on a large painted crescent moon seat with a starry backdrop. This is a fun way to transport you to the world of postcards, which I personally really enjoyed.

I found that these miniature time capsules gave me a new perspective on the past. The cards made me feel a vivid connection to ordinary strangers ranging back to 100 years ago. Each card captures a moment, frozen in time, of people living in many different ways, just like us.

Walking around the room, I felt like I was looking at 300 memories; there were memories of mail carriages, hot air balloons, elephants in a parade, the first models of the solar system and many more vibrant displays of human livelihood.

The thing that sets this exhibit apart from others at the Museum, is its humility. Right down the hall from these postcards, there are works of famously talented artists, Van Gogh and Monet, among others. However, these photos were taken by everyday people doing mostly everyday activities. Its simplicity is what makes it one of the most human portrayals of American history.

“Pictures from a changing nation” is certainly the right title for this display. Postcards of some of the first female baseball teams are a personal favorite of mine. Images of temperance movements, radical movements and elections convey the feeling of progress and change.

Considering most people are visual learners, skip the history book and take a trip to the MFA to see American history taught through 4” by 6” photographs. This exhibition closes July 25, 2022, so hurry before it’s too late.

This exhibit is part of the MFA museum in Boston, MA, open Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.