reopening: The Berkshire Museum opens it’s new doors.
the Big Idea?
Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation enriches the Berkshire Museum’s
mission to draw interactive connections between art, history
and the natural world
By Kathryn Lange
by Shannon DeCelle
Collegiate Dictionary defines innovation as “the introduction
of something new” or, “a new idea, method or device.” But
how are new ideas born? Apple Computer executive Ron Johnson
describes innovation, more poetically, as the intersection
between imagination and reality. It is this intersection—the
dynamic crossroads of actuality and dreams, what is and what
could be—that the Berkshire Museum celebrates with its new
permanent exhibit in the Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation, part
of an extensive multiphase renovation of the 105-year-old
institution in downtown Pittsfield, Mass.
The new gallery is named for its major underwriters, brothers
Armand and Donald Feigenbaum. Innovators in their own right,
today the Pittsfield natives are globally recognized as the
fathers of Total Quality Management, a system that has revolutionized
quality control in business and industry for more than 50
years. According to the Feigenbaum brothers, “innovation occurs
when we break free from and old way of thinking and embrace
a new, more effective way of solving a problem or meeting
a need.” Their namesake exhibit explores not only the remarkable
products of innovation, but, more important, the innovative
process, from spark to solution—and all the stumbling blocks
didn’t just want it to be a hall of fame,” says Sherrill Ingalls,
the museum’s bright-eyed director of marketing, at the start
of a comprehensive guided tour. “We really wanted it to be
an experience, about the process and the ideas.” The 3,000-square-foot
exhibit space, reclaimed from old offices, storage and coat
rooms, is divided into six interactive sections that draw
visitors through the course of innovation, from motivation
to success. All the innovators and innovations included in
the exhibit have close links to the Berkshire region.
Culling through the myriad concepts of innovation in fields
spanning from technology and business to history and art,
the exhibit’s designers define innovation as “the unprecedented
use or application of an idea, material or technology, the
result of which influences or enhances people’s lives.” Inventions,
the exhibit explains, are new gadgets and gizmos. Innovation
is the creative process of making new connections. It’s what
makes inventions valuable.
The exhibit’s concept is reinforced throughout. “We tried
to incorporate innovative building materials into the gallery
space,” says Ingalls, indicating a desk made from bamboo flooring.
Relevant in-depth reading material is attached to a matching
desk at each of the six exhibit stops; the bright pages are
printed on sturdy Tyvek. Wooden dividers, supported by industrial
cardboard pipe, segment the stations into intimate, manageable
spaces. The panels are made from a new type of environmentally
sound plywood. A recently developed printing process enabled
the huge panels to be run through the press; the exhibit’s
interpretive photos and text are printed directly onto the
history: Sherrill Ingalls in one of the Berkshire Museum’s
first stop illustrates “moti vation.” A steel sign asks, “What
motivates you to think creatively and solve problems?” The
plywood panels tell the varied stories of Clare Bousquet,
a Pittsfield entrepreneur who collaborated with engineers
at General Electric to create the outdoor lighting that made
night skiing possible for the first time; Tom Patti, a Berkshire-born
glass artist who fused art, architecture and science by using
aerospace materials in his creations; and W.E.B. Du Bois,
Great Barrington native, author, scholar and one of the founders
of the NAACP, who challenged America to make good on its promise
of justice and equality.
An interactive station at the center of the stop suggests
some irritating chores and encourages young (or young at heart)
visitors to explore creative solutions to these everyday problems,
and to build prototypes of their innovations using straws,
pipe cleaners, construction paper and crayons. Long shelves
are full of innovations left behind, incorporating such creations
as the “bracelet holder with propeller” and the “automatic
item sorter” into this hall of genius. Perhaps they are the
work of brilliant innovators-to-be.
Along the path to innovation, visitors encounter examples
that illustrate five more steps toward innovation: inspiration,
the innovative process, unexpected outcomes, overcoming obstacles,
and, finally, success. Interactive stations at each stop—from
tavern puzzles and mazes that encourage working through obstacles,
to a drawing station that uses artifacts from the museum collection
to spark inspiration—help to personalize each visitor’s understanding.
A body-driven installation, created by Flavia Sparacino of
Sensing Places in Santa Monica, Calif., invites visitors,
young and old alike, to explore the innovative process in
a dance room that visually interprets movement using cameras
and computer projections. Even on a quiet Monday afternoon,
the room was abuzz with little ones, giggling, jumping, spinning,
running and swaying to influence the swirling projections.
The six stops each hold treasures from the 18 innovators depicted
in the initial installation. An AC converter, built in 1803
by William Stanley, revolutionized the distribution of electricity.
Sculptures by Nancy Graves, a frequent childhood visitor of
the museum, fuse natural science and art in remarkable abstractions.
A section of the first transatlantic telegraph cable, created
by Cyrus Field, rests modestly in a glass case beside Herman
Melville’s quill pen and Elizabeth Freeman’s bracelet. A copper
mesh watermark from Crane and Co. Paper connects to the museum’s
own history. In 1801, Zenas Marshall Crane founded the first
paper mill in the Berkshires. In 1879, Crane and Co. began
producing all of the paper used to print U.S. currency; their
innovations in “safe paper” continue to this day. It was Zenas
Crane’s grandson and namesake who founded the Berkshire Museum.
Amid these treasures of attained inspiration, Ingalls recalls
the inspiration for the exhibit itself. “We had a lot of these
artifacts in our collection. And, you know, artifacts by themselves,
in a case, are not particularly interesting. But they do demonstrate
all these great things that have come out of the Berkshires.
A lot of people know the Berkshires for arts and culture,
which, of course, is very important, but they may not know
about the certain scientific, technology and business innovations.
So we thought a way to do that would be to use these people
to tell the stories, to communicate the idea of innovation.”
The exhibit celebrates the innovations, but also emphasizes
the effort involved. “It doesn’t just come out of the box
as an idea and you’re done and you make a million dollars,”
says Ingalls. “There are struggles, and there are inspirations,
and sometimes, it’s even just luck.” Local connections infuse
the innovations with a kind of hometown pride and, sometimes,
surprising tidbits: Did you know Great Barrington was the
first electrified town in the world? Most important, the regional
ties are a reminder that brilliance can happen anywhere. That
the next great innovator could be right next door, or—just
maybe—it could be you.
museum visitors explore the Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation.
addition of the Hall of In novations is only one of the projects
the newly-reopened Berkshire Museum has undertaken in its,
to date, $10 million renovation, funded almost entirely by
private donations to the institution’s capital campaign. The
260-seat theater has been refurbished, and wheelchair seating
has been added. The expansive upstairs art galleries, which
house the museum’s collections of American and European Art,
toys and mobiles by Alexander Calder, global antiquities—including
ancient Roman glass, Chinese grave goods, towering plaster
casts made in the early 1900s of iconic statuary from the
Louvre, and the Museum’s mummy, Pahat—have been given a facelift.
The original hardwood floors are refinished and gleaming.
A new climate-control system will preserve the art, and finally
allow delicate artifacts from the collection to be displayed.
“The Native American Collection is something that has not
been seen in decades,” says Ingalls of the upcoming exhibit
Native Peoples: Northeast-Northwest. “The climate control
will allow us to share it. Those things are particularly fragile,
feathers and leather.” The museum’s ethnographic collection
includes more than 2,600 objects drawn from 50 Native American
nations, as well as Oceanic and African clutures.
new acquisitions gallery highlights art and artifacts the
museum has acquired over the past year. “One of the things
that people have thought about the museum is that things never
change,” says Ingalls. “We’ve been trying, over the last several
years, to refresh things regularly. What better way to show
that off than to have an exhibition of things people have
never seen before?”
The museum’s lower floors focus on natural sciences, from
mineral collections and walls of taxidermy birds and mineral
collections to water testing stations and a dinosaur dig.
A basement aquarium and reptile room features animals from
the Berkshires and around the world. Crane founded the museum,
Ingalls explains, as a “mini-Smithsonian for the Berkshires.
And we’ve been building the collection for 100 years.”
talk about collision here, because we have art, science, and
history,” she adds. “We don’t consider this to be the art
wing and this to be the science wing; we try to bring these
things together.” Those collisions and connections enrich
the museum experience throughout. In the American Art Gallery
a massive pastel-on-paper dominates an entire wall, still
draped in plastic, awaiting the art galleries’ reopening on
April 12. Peeking through the sheeting is an epic scene from
Moby Dick, the book that Melville wrote, perhaps with
the quill downstairs, while living on his small farm in Pittsfield.
In the mineral room, a chunk of raw marble rests in a glass
case with a collection of other minerals. Beside it, a dynamic
bust of Brian Boru, a 10th-century Irish king who escalated
the tensions between the Irish and the Vikings, shows how
sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson carved new life from a hunk of
rock. Science becomes art, becomes history.
As a gateway to the museum, the Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation
inspires visitors to make connections, to look at things in
new and creative ways, to open their minds to innovative thinking,
and to endure life’s roadblocks and wrong turns. In the short
film at the entrance to the Hall, Douglass Trumball, Berkshire-based
special effects guru behind such films as 2001: A Space
Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, offers
his imperfect view of innovation: “You start with and outrageous
idea, how to do something that’s completely wrong. . . . You
learn to free yourself, to withstand your failures.”