Hello to all SSE followers
It is almost spring, thankfully, with fine warm days ahead. This month at the Samuel Slater Experience work will begin on installation of all the immersive, interactive video elements that will capture visitors’ attention. If you have not already previewed some of those amazing clips, go to the website at the link below.
Be sure to also click on the “characters” section of the museum. We have added some members to the cast that includes the mill workers, owners, and town residents. This month you will meet the Thacher family.
In the News
Webster Times Correspondent Gus Steeves toured the Experience last month and made us a front-page story in the February 19 issue. Read the story here at the end of this newsletter.
Who’s Who Behind the Scenes
Continuing our series of conversations with the people who have been de- signing and building the Experience for the last several years, meet Bob Noll, whose company Boston Productions Inc. is making the Samuel Slater story come alive.
What does BPI do?
We are in the imagination business. And when Chris Robert, the owner of the Slater Experience said he wanted to WOW Webster . . . we went to work.
For over 30 years, BPI has been providing audio visual design and production services to museums, zoos and aquariums, visitor centers, corporations, and tourist attractions throughout the United States and the world. Our focus is on telling great stories and sharing unique entertaining and educational experiences through immersive, interactive, and linear-based media. Visitors are at the heart of every- thing we do.
BPI has a 13,000 square-foot facility in Norwood, Mass., complete with a production studio, prototyping lab, multiple editing suites, sound studio, and an AV integration workshop.
The company has a full-time staff of 18 with designers, programmers, filmmakers, editors, graphic artists, and AV QA technicians. We also have full-time personnel at our satellite office near Cheyenne WY.
What are some of the projects you have worked on?
BPI media projects cover a vast array of subject matter, including sports, military history, natural sciences, cultural and social history, corporate communications, and children’s topics. In Massachusetts our team designed and produced the American Heritage Museum in Hudson, which has one of the largest private collections of military vehicles in the United States.
We have produced media exhibits for The Smithsonian, The National Park Service, and The Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
We also have done entertainment centered projects for Turkey Hill Ice Cream, The Georgia Aquarium, and Hershey’s Chocolate World.
When and how did you become involved with the Samuel Slater Experience?
We had the good fortune to be working on another project with the talented SSE designer Doug Mund in Savannah, Georgia. He asked us to come out to look at a new project he was just starting on . . . in all places, Webster. We remember pulling up to this unassuming Armory build- ing and thinking about the great potential and opportunity with such a large space in which to tell the Samuel Slater story. And well, the rest is what we say . . . history . . . in the telling.
How would you describe the immersive/interactive exhibits at SSE?
The designer Doug Mund challenged BPI to come up with world-class media concepts that would transport guests to another time and place. We took the approach to tell rich personal stories of the time using both intimate and grand settings that would constantly surprise and delight visitors. Owner Chris Robert wanted to have “Disney-like” attractions, so our goal was to design media that did not look like traditional videos but more like living tableaus and hands-on interactive experiences that put visitors dramatically into the times and to also provide some WOW moments.
All the exhibits involve people telling their story of life in the mills and in the mill towns. How did you research the parts and how did you find actors for them?
Some of the characters who told their stories were based on specifically identified people, but most were fictional characters based on research about life at the time period the stories were set in. BPI’s writer Ron Blau set off to answer – What was a day like for children working in the mills? How were immigrants treated? What did people do for fun?
Fortunately, we had many sources to supply us with facts and insights. Especially informative were historian Barbara Tucker, author of Samuel Slater and the Origins of the American Textile Industry, and local experts Paul Mrazik and John Fennessey, who have incredibly deep knowledge of the his- tory of this region. Olivia Spratt, SSE’s talented curator was also there guiding and reviewing script development. Finally, BPI researched hundreds of sources on the internet, finding many details that helped illuminate the time periods and the people in our stories.
What was the major challenge for Boston Productions at SSE?
The biggest challenge in developing stories for the Samuel Slater Experience was having to shrink what could be a long chapter in a history book into a dramatic vignette of just a few minutes. How do we create a “typical” family to portray when there were thousands of millworker families, some fortunate, some unlucky? How can we flesh out a complex story with enough facts, without turning it into a dull history lesson?
After immersing ourselves in the riches of history, we forced ourselves to make choices, defining our characters and selecting “winners” among all the facts we could have included. Ultimately, what had to be reduced to a few flat pages of script sprang back to life when our talented cast of actors performed before the camera’s lens. It was very interesting that in Samuel Slater’s time (1790-1820) there were some pretty controversial issues that are still quite relevant to today’s world and that we think will get visitors talking.
Does the SSE have any exhibits, features that are unique?
Perhaps the most important feature to SSE is the diversity of ways guests can experience the Slater and Webster story. We have big screen movies with 4D special effects. We have quiet stories that unfold right in the characters living quarters.
There are traditional narrative graphics alongside complex digital interactives that give guests the chance to try their hand at weaving cloth and producing a newspaper. There is also an assortment of hidden media and surprises through- out that should keep guests wanting to come back.
Another unique aspect to this project is the involvement of local craftspeople that are bringing this history to life. Nick Hopkins is a Webster resident and the general contractor for this project. Visitors will be amazed by how beautiful and detailed the scenery is that he and his team have produced under Doug Mund’s direction. Adding the media to these scenes makes this simply magical.
Finally, Chris Robert the owner of SSE, has been a huge inspiration in developing our creative approach and a tremendous leader is keeping our team focused on doing unique things that will delight and challenge visitors. BPI is thrilled and honored to be part of the Samuel Slater Experience team.
From the Desk of Tim Prouty, Education Consultant
Technological Innovation- Jacquard Loom
This month we will learn about the most innovative improvement in weaving textiles. Follow the links below to learn more about the beginning of coding, which laid the foundation for modern computer programming.
Let’s explore how this inventor revolutionized the technology used to control machines. The Jacquard system was developed in France in 1804-05 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard, improving on the original punched-card design of Jacques de Vaucanson’s loom of 1745. The punched cards controlled the actions of the loom, allow- ing automatic production of intricate woven pat- terns. Courtesy of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.
The use of Jacquard’s punch cards was the first use of code to control a machine. This small leap in technology spearheaded the digital programming world we live in today. The next link will give you a better insight of how the process evolved into power looms used in factories. https://youtu.be/NSjmFD6Q7hw
Collection Curiosities by Curator Olivia Spratt
This map, graciously donated by the LaPlante family, is the oldest map of the town we have in our collection. Published by F. W. Beers & Co., it dates back to 1870, 38 years after Webster was found- ed. The map is composed of paper mounted onto a linen backing. It is extremely fragile, but came to us in good condition. Objects like these are very useful because they provide a glimpse into life when Samuel Slater’s sons took over the family business. We can see which plots of land were owned by who, many of which belonged to the Slaters. Also by looking at this map, we can see the evolu- tion of the name of Webster Lake. There is a map of Massachusetts from 1795 currently held at the Boston Public Library that shows the lake being referred to as Chargoggagoggmanchoggagogg Pond. It stayed that way until the 1830s, when it was changed to Chaubunagungamaug Pond, as seen here on the map in our collection. Look out for this map on display in our orientation exhibit!