Welcome, everyone, to 2021, a year we hope will be filled with new adventures and accomplishments.
Here at the Samuel Slater Experience, we are looking forward to one accomplishment specifically: the opening of the museum.
Our staff, designers, and construction crew met every day during the first week of the month to identify what still needs to be done for “finishing up” all the physical components inside the building so that installation of the sight, sound, and movement technology can begin. The goal for that is March.
We are also now turning our attention to the necessary operational and marketing aspects for a grand opening and we will update you on those in future newsletters.
Who’s Who Behind the Scenes
This month we publish Part 2 of our conversation with Doug Mund, chief designer of the Samuel Slater Experience. Doug is founder of the design firm dmdg2, head- quartered in Savannah, Georgia. He has traveled to Massachusetts numerous times in the last several years to oversee the implementation of this state-of-the-art museum project.
What are the steps in designing a museum?
The first phase is preliminary planning which looks at a client’s background, interest in the museum’s theme, museum expected location, local and regional demographics, school system data, including curriculum, local and regional colleges and universities, visitation expectations, preliminary museum costs and expenses.
Once we evaluate all of these we decide if the museum will be a viable experience. Only after this stage we will begin facility planning, which looks at the overall exist- ing building, or in the case of a new building, what the programming and square footage is required for both the areas to support museum’s administrative, support and exhibit spaces.
In our process, we then go to exhibit planning. We believe, museums are not about a building, but the exhibits. Even in the case of a new building design, we begin with the exhibits that will help inform what a museum looks and feels like. In the case of an existing building, we need to “marry” the existing facility with the new exhibits.
After the exhibit planning is finished, we begin formal exhibit design or basic exhibit design services, which dig deep into every exhibit, completely research, graphic design, graphic development, branding, curatorial development, and integration.
This document is how we then develop the actual exhibit for fabrication and installation. The document indicates all materials, finishes, colors, font type, and mechanical element for every single component. After that we fabricate, deliver, and install those elements.
In the case of SSE, I am incredibly proud that so much of the museum exhibits are being made with local talent. This is quite a special fact that everyone who’s part of the museum team is quite proud of.
To what audiences is the SSE designed to appeal? Is it possible to create an experience that both kids and adults appreciate?
Museums are in a place for change. Chris Robert came to me with his opinion that most museums are boring. You can imagine how I felt about that after planning and designing museums throughout the country and parts of Europe for 40 years.
I took his point and listened further. Chris wanted an experience that would engage younger learners. I got it, but we also know that the museum must be interesting, exciting to older history goers as well, so finding the best balance is critical.
I think we have found the correct balance of immersive, interactive, artifact based, graphically rich, and fact-based interpretive elements that are themed and balanced as the visitor moves through the exhibit.
For instance, the entry or orientation exhibit is filled with artifacts from the time period we are interpreting. These artifacts include weaving and spinning, but also personal items that were part of people’s everyday life, used during work and play. In showing off these personal items at the beginning, we hope that visitors will realize that the experience to follow has a lot to do with people, just like themselves, and the proof is in the artifacts. Someday, perhaps some of their own items may be on a wall helping people understand what 2020 was like.
Then the next big theme exhibit is the re-creation of a ship that is like one that Samuel Slater may have come to America on. We do not know exactly what type of ship he came on but through research have built a replica that has many of the features of ships of the day.
The ship and all the items on board reflect the era of 1790-1810. While the ship is not a real museum artifact, it enables us to put young and older visi- tors together in an immersive exhibit to help them experience the message of this part of exhibit. On board the visitor will “meet” Samuel Slater and begin to understand the tremendous courage and strength he had.
Did you prepare the exhibits to a timeframe, i.e., a tour would take an hour, two hours?
As we develop an overarching theme, we begin to break the theme down into exhibits or messages that support the theme. Then as we develop the content for each of the sub-theme exhibits, evaluate how much content is needed to support the theme. These “mini” exhibit experiences each take time and how visitors move through the spaces is never the same. Some visitors like to read every word and others are more comfortable experiencing the “bigger” picture. So, we need to find the best balance we think for the mixed ages and learning levels. It is not always easy to do, but we think we’ve found it here. I expect the visitor experience to be 60-90 minutes. School groups could be longer based on the teacher/school curriculum connections.
What was the major design challenge for the SSE?
Fitting all of the exhibits into the building. Even though the building is quite large, and the majority of the space is wide open, given the amount of information we want to include, it has been challenging to fit everything in. Exhibit flow is a big component on how we are delivering the exhibit content and developing the exhibit pathway was a challenge we have successfully executed, having the visitor move up and down along a pathway of light and dark exhibit experiences. The experience is going to be quite something.
What exhibit was the most difficult to execute?
I think probably the ship. As we developed the overall exhibit plan, considering all its themes, we had to break down the floor space to accommodate each exhibit. We wanted the ship to be as accurate as possible in size and scale. The ship includes a film/digital component that dictated certain criteria and space allowances which dictated cabin size, etc. So, we knew we wanted to have the Aft portion of the ship, real size masts, booms, gaffs and rigging, all while having enough space on deck for visitors to experience it all. We also needed to have a comfortable, but exciting way for visitors to enter and exit the exhibit, which meant creating ramping for elevation changes. Lighting and projection have also been a challenge for a tight space with lots of rigging and ship props.
Does the SSE have any exhibits, features that are unique?
Yes, I think the integration of tons of immersive, film, sound and visual elements is quite different and unique to most museum experiences, the ship being only one of many truly immersive exhibit experiences the visitor will have.
This 200-year-old barn loom came into our collection in 2017. It is made of solid chestnut, with original handmade heddles and reed. Prior to its arrival at the Samuel Slater Experience, it had been used to weave on by the previous owner. It came completely disassembled, with tags attached to corresponding joints, marking which pieces went together. Thanks to Peggy Church and Donna McLaughlin, members of the Boston Weavers’ Guild and the Windham Textile History Museum, we were able to get this beautiful old loom pieced together and fully functional. It took well over 50 hours to reach this point.
They designed a pattern for us and used a cream and navy linen to demonstrate the weaving process. We intend to use this barn loom to show visitors how families used to weave fabric by hand in the home before any factories were erected. This is where it all started!
The barn loom is located in the Orientation Gallery at the museum’s entrance.
Do you remember when phones were party lines? Can you build one?
Chris Robert and museum curator Olivia Spratt want to include in the SSE educational process a working early 1900s telephone demonstration. Chris notes that “While we have collected some very old phones, they are not functional. We need to find someone to help us build a working model as described below.”
The model system would include two phones and a plug-in switchboard. Each phone would be on separate eight-party-line lines. Three students would be selected: student A makes a call, student B runs the switchboard, and student C receives the call.
There would be 30 to 40 students in a class watching the demonstration so it would have to have a modern amplifier so they could all hear, but the sound would be the realistic old crack- ling phone sound.
Can you help us or know someone who could? We need to hire someone to help us build it.
Education News – Did Children Work in the Mills?
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.
The goal is to make this the best experience for our students visiting and to get them excited about history, learning how innovation, ambition and the three generations of Slaters impacted the whole of New England.
This month, Tim presents another video resource to communicate the impact of industrialization and the expanding textile industry, an illustration of child labor in the mills. Re- member, prior to the mills’ opening, many farmers had large families to share the work at home. They worked long hours growing food, caring for farm animals, and collecting fuel for heat and cooking.
Samuel Slater provided housing, local grocery, and built schools to improve mill workers’ lives.
The Samuel Slater Experience will be an ideal place to bring this era of history to life. The museum exhibits will illustrate the transitions while providing students with an exciting and memorable experience. The visual and immersive elements of the exhibition will cover many aspects of American history leading up to and during the Industrial Revolution.
This is an excellent pictorial display of child labor. The narrative makes the viewer aware of the poverty, unsafe work conditions, long hours, and the limited educational opportunities for these young children. Written, created, edited, directed, and narrated by Noah Riffe, a finalist for National History Day in Washington State 2014.