We are introducing the very first Samuel Slater Experience Newsletter, designed to keep the many people following progress of the museum apprised of where we are.
Yes, it has been several years since the Samuel Slater museum project got under way, and the opening date has been elusive, with design detours, COVID, and new implementation ideas at times delaying progress.
One important question was decided just last month: the formal name of the museum. It will be the Samuel Slater Experience, to convey that this will not be a museum in the traditional sense, one with historical artifacts and static exhibits. Rather, it will be an immersive experience complete with sound, sight, and movement, designed to appeal to kids and adults alike.
Who’s Who Behind the Scenes
A cadre of experts in museum design, audio/videography, local and American history, artists, educators, construction and building craftsmen have been creating and bringing to life the story of Samuel Slater’s impact on the Industrial Revolution and Webster’s part in it.
In this section we will talk with some of the people who played a major role in making this massive project a reality.
It started with a plan, a foundational design, and that was the purview of Doug Mund of the design firm dmdg2, headquartered in Savannah, Georgia.
What does a museum designer do?
Museum planners work with existing or new start-up museums, such as the Samuel Slater Experience, to look at the entire project picture, looking at the audience, potential for school group participation, local demographics for more return visitation, as well as larger, more regional and national visitation opportunities. We also look at competing museums and other educational and entertainment venues.
Then, after initial research about the intended topics, we develop exhibit themes that relate to the main topic area, i.e., Samuel Slater and Why he chose to sail to America, leaving all he knew, to achieve better things for himself, eventually his family, and finally for all of those who worked for him.
Each theme has intended goals, or what we hope the visitor will consider and leave with: hopefully knowing more about each topic and ideally wanting to know even more.
We then write programming for each exhibit element the team has deemed as required, to ensure the themes are understood. After the exhibit concept writing is complete, we develop the exhibit concept plan that shows each exhibit, its relationship with other exhibits, and the desired flow for the museum experience.
We at dmdg2 are also museum exhibit designers. We design all of the topic areas within the museum, it’s final exhibit program. As exhibit designers we design everything that the visitor will see, touch and feel in a museum experience, from typeface, exhibit materials,
exhibit arrangements, vitrines, lighting, artifact bases and placement, colors, historic photo selections, essentially all the exhibit elements.
In the Samuel Slater Experience case, I knew early in the planning process that we wanted to have a different sort of exhibit experience and knew we needed to bring in a talented consultant to bring the themes to life. We brought in a local firm called Boston Productions Inc., based in Norwood.
When and how did you become the designer for the Samuel Slater Experience?
I was contacted by Chris Robert after a prior client of mine recommended that Chris be in touch to help with the museum development. I think that was in 2018. After a couple of meetings in Webster, listening to what every member of the team had to say, I knew I could help Chris and the team already onsite achieve all they wanted.
At least one important fact for me, in taking on the project, was/is that no other museum I have worked on will be built by so many locally talented people. In most museums we bring in fabricators from all over the country to complete the displays. Here, most of the work is being done by the incredibly talented people in and around Webster. When needed, we have had several components fabricated offsite, brought to the museum, and installed by specialty museum exhibit fabricators.
The settings are the late 18th century, Samuel Slater’s role in American Industrial Revolution, and boomtown Webster in 1900. How did you research those periods?
For museum planners and designers, a lot of the upfront planning time is based in research, reading, and speaking with experts of the topic or field. Obviously, the research can really inform the topics or themes for a museum.
Often, start-up museums do not have a curator or a curatorial department. Samuel Slater Experience is a bit different, in that Olivia Spratt is the museum’s curator. Olivia had done significant research before our team at dmdg2 came to the project. This gave us a great start to continue the research with her.
As designers, we want to put the information that researchers do into the design and actual exhibits. Curators love to tell you everything and all they can about a topic. Part of our job is to reduce the amount of information a curator can give. We know as designers and planners we have a certain amount of time that a visitor will remain engaged, so we work with the curator to find the best balance of the important topic information.
I have been planning and designing museums and their exhibits for 40 years now, and while every museum is different, I have completed projects that include the same time period as this one. Those that come to mind include the Cincinnati Museum Center in Ohio, Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Grand Rapids Public Museum, and the Museum of Science in Boston.
What makes the Samuel Slater Experience different from a conventional museum?
A tour through the Samuel Slater Experience will be a completely different museum visit. When Chris and I first met, he told me that almost every museum he had been to was boring. He wanted this to be a historically correct, exciting experience that would bring to life the Samuel Slater story: a real American success story to help young people see how a young man from England came to America with likely nothing more than the clothes on his back, knowledge he had gained from his work in spinning mills, and a determination to make a successful life for himself.
Chris went on to tell me that he wanted the experience to be “Disneyesque.” Understanding and appreciating this, we knew we needed to combine historical correctness with artifacts and scenes that would be “woven” into an experience that was more immersive than a typical museum. It would put visitors in exhibits that help make them feel like Samuel Slater is there too. An immersive experience can include all types of sensory components to help convey a topic or theme.
Early in the planning I could see that we needed to bring in a consultant to help with the filming and digital features for some of the immersive exhibits. That is why we brought in the nationally known company Boston Productions Inc. The experience a visitor will have is quite different than most other museums. For example: boarding a replica of a ship on which Slater may have crossed the Atlantic, exiting the ship onto the New York City wharf, entering a replica mill with actual artifacts from local mills, and riding a trolley from 1900.
All this is interwoven with historical stories of Samuel Slater, his incredible spinning history, including why he chose to come to the area now known as Webster. Then we will tell a bit of Webster’s story, all interwoven again in the industrial and manufacturing revolution.
Is this a contemporary trend? I think Chris is ahead of the curve on this, in the case for this museum in this place. Immersive exhibits have been used to tell themes in museums for years, but the way we are using film, interactive, artifacts and immersive elements and the balance of these elements is different than any other museum I have worked with.
News from Timothy Prouty, Education Consultant
As the Samuel Slater Experience nears completion, Tim has been collecting materials that will be available to educators when planning field trips. The resources available will include a video library, visitation guidelines, and lesson plans that are linked to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.
Tim will explore the transition from agricultural and cottage industries to the industrial mills. Topics include the use of waterpower, mill life for workers, child labor issues, mill ownership, immigrant labor, and the migration from rural to factory towns.
The Samuel Slater Experience will be an ideal atmosphere to bring this era of history to life. The exhibits will illustrate this evolution by providing students with an exciting and memorable experience. Their visual and immersive elements will be able to cover many aspects of American history leading up to and during the Industrial Revolution.
Upcoming issues of the Samuel Slater Experience Newsletter will highlight topics/lessons that will be available for schools. The goal is to make this the best experience for our students visiting and to get them excited about history, to further explore how innovation, ambition and the three generations of Slaters impacted the whole of New England.
With each issue of the newsletter Tim will provide a link to historical video highlight- ing the time period of the museum. This month’s video recommendation is: Mill Times By David Macaulay
This animated program centers on a small New England community similar to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where Samuel Slater established America’s first textile mill. Live action, hosted by David Macaulay, takes viewers from Manchester, England, to Lowell, Massachusetts, explaining technological changes that transformed the making of textiles, a key component of the Industrial Revolution sweeping across Europe and America in the late 18th century.
To highlight construction progress and the people who are doing it. Sally Patterson, production manager of The Yankee Xpress newspaper, has been taking pictures of the museum and its progress since day one. She has compiled a calendar of pictures and people, a tribute to all participants and volunteers. To obtain a copy, contact Olivia Spratt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Fundraising Corner
As we continue our exciting development of the Samuel Slater Experience, and finalize the many exhibits that will WOW our visitors young and old, we invite you to join us in bringing this much anticipated venue to its completion.
We have been busy with researching prospects and doing outreach to potential funding sources to help us tell the continuous story of Samuel Slater’s life from Belper, England, to Webster, Massachusetts.
You too can be a part of this exciting venture. If you grew up in the area and/or have ancestors who settled here, this is the opportunity to help us bring back a little bit of that nostalgia, or better yet, help educate current and future generations about the “Father of the American Industrial Revolution” and how he motivated the establishment of “Boom- town Webster.”
You can also help by contributing to our school fund to support field visits during which students will learn how migration, the use of waterpower, and industrialization set in motion the need for housing, schools, churches, local merchants, entertainment, and the transition from rural agrarian life to thriving mill towns.
Year end is a good time to think about making a tax-deductible contribution that will live on and celebrate our local history.
What’s a museum without curiosities? Curator Olivia Spratt has been collecting and archiving dozens of items contributed by the community. She has appealed for general and specific items and has found some of these donations especially intriguing.
In 2017, a large bronze bell was donated to us by Carol Smith. This bell originally hung in the clocktower of the S. Slater & Sons woolen mill
on South Main Street. Along the top of the bell, it reads: Cast by William Blake & Co. formerly H. M. Hooper & Co. Boston, MASS AD 1876. Upon doing further research, we discovered that William Blake was an apprentice of Paul Revere. Our goal of placing this item on exhibit is to show visitors how time spent working in a factory was divided up and what that sounded like. Thank you to the Smiths for your wonderful donation!