20 Years Along the Blackstone River

The falls that made Woonsocket famous

Creating a the Anniversary Exhibit

With the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Museum of Work and Culture, part of the Rhode Island Historical Society, director Anne Conway knew what was needed to complement the existing exhibits. Well-represented in the Museum is the story of French-Canadian immigration, life on the mill floor, and the religious and cultural impact on Woonsocket created by  Christopher Chadbourne’s firm in the environmental exhibits style for which they were well-known. But the story of the mills themselves that brought the workers from Quebec province in Canada and all around the world did not have a place in the Museum. It was time to tell the complicated story of how the mills along the Blackstone Valley changed the landscape of Woonsocket using the new technologies now available.

In the beginning: Museum staff, Foundation members, and development team discuss goals and opportunities

The project start-up meeting included a tour around Woonsocket by NPS Blackstone Valley ranger Kevin Klyberg to view the mills some producing woolen goods for the US military others repurposed as living and maker spaces. As the project team absorbed the geography of the city and observed the 30-foot drop of the falls in front of the Museum, they pondered the task set out by the President of the Museum Foundation, Paul Bourget. Develop an exhibit that time travels over the topography of Woonsocket, and create a database of the people who worked there. Our 600sf exhibit now had two major components! 

Fortunately, the museum had professional video interviews made possible by a grant from the Blackstone Heritage Corridor for the team to draw on. Our team capped off this phase of work with an animated conceptual design, including a user interface for a gestural touchtable, along with a series of edited interviews by Northern Light Productions. This promotional animation created an effective fundraising and project awareness tool and was first featured by Anne Conway and Ed Malouf at the fall 2015 meeting of the Woonsocket Rotary Club.

Next up was a late night presentation at the Museum during the Murder in the Mill gala event which included actors from a local theater troupe. Is there a better time to present a new project than to a lively audience shortly after a murder mystery is solved? Spirits were indeed high, and after Anne and Ed finished their presentation a textile mill owner in the audience pledged $ 10,000 to the exhibit. This mixture of community, pleasure, and commitment proved to be a hallmark of Anne Conway and the Historical Society for raising awareness and funds for the project.

Mill Memory Alpha testing at Trivium Interactive in Boston

Utilizing the video interview collection, the Museum decided to implement a beta version of the database portion of the exhibit, called the Mill Memory Bank for the annual labor day event on September 26, 2016. Now known as the Mill Memory Bank exhibit, Trivium Interactive of Boston was engaged in developing more than a stand-alone kiosk exhibit, but a website for anyone to enter the information about a friend or relative who worked at a mill along the Blackstone Valley in return for a small donation to the Museum. We may find online forms tedious at times, but a great deal of work goes into them!

Final exhibit content plan overlaid on the former Woonsocket Works gallery

Exhibit development continued with the new location on the second floor. The gallery had five content areas, The Falls, The Mills of Woonsocket, Mill Memory Bank, and Woonsocket Works. Together they provided a variety of experiences; The Falls was a projection of the waterfall on a translucent screen with roaring water soundscape and an introduction banner that showed the original five Woonsocket Villages. The Mills Ideum touchtable had a docent mode which depicted Woonsocket one era at a time as well as the four-use mode where each visitor could time travel as they wished. The Mill Memory Bank was a list of the who’s who in the community and Woonsocket Works told the workers and products story and their artifacts.  An arch representing the famous Alice Mill keeps with the scenic approach to the exhibits at the museum. Would it be built of brick or scenically painted? During a community-wide presentation the Mayor of Woonsocket, Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, suggested we use actual bricks from the Alice Mill which burned down in 2011. The bricks were eventually located and wonderfully integrated into the final exhibit.


July Presentation to the Foundation and Society with installed Mill Memory exhibit

It is May 2017; the grand opening is only five months away. A google drive database created by the Museum’s Assistant Director Sarah Carr provided a place for researchers to add the information found about each mill. Each mill location had two characteristics, a name which might change if the owner changed, and a product, a mill that spun cotton in 1890 might be spinning nylon in 1930. When Sarah finished writing, there were 130 individual data points, with 98 of them requiring captions and images. This collection of data was an unprecedented documenting of the mills of Woonsocket. Content•Design visited the RIHS Library on Hope Street in search of reference maps and manufacturers advertisements so the streets and railroad lines would appear accurately on each era. Manufacturers advertisements provided images for the graphic murals. 

More support and content came from the community. A member of the Finkelstein family provided photographs of workers from his father’s mill that were taken by a fashion photographer. Stitching rubber garments never looked so good on film. These photos enhanced the exhibit quality significantly. The Woonsocket Historical Society provided artifacts of product promotional items and workforce motivation pins. A local Polish market allowed the use of a publicity photo so we could complete our “Communities of Woonsocket” section. 

Funding progressed enough, so a carpet that evoked mossy cobblestones and enhanced light adjustments that complemented the new deep blue walls completed the gallery makeover. On November  2, 2017, two days before the 20th-anniversary gala, the builders 42DesignFab made final adjustments to the gallery space and left it gala-ready. The opening party was a smashing success, the exhibit was packed, and these museum visitors stayed until 1:00 in the morning. 

The gallery is ready for the opening gala

Before and after photos of the gallery 

This project met the challenging goals set out by the Museum and Foundation, its development was  hardly linear, but followed the winding Blackstone River as summed up by Anne Conway:

“We embarked on the project wholeheartedly with the confidence that the community and funding partners would embrace the idea and support it. From phase to phase, new fundraising goals were set, and new challenges emerged. Research, exhibit development, and fundraising happened simultaneously. It took a little over two years to complete Mills along the Blackstone, a beautiful new interactive exhibit which brings to life the history of the local mills and its workers.”


Sarah Carr from the Museum asists gala attendees explore mill history

Each visitor has their own portal in which to travel through time for each mill location

Foundation President Paul Bourget and Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt with bricks from the Alice Mill

Museum of Work & Culture

Staying ahead of the current

Missouri State Parks, Big Spring

Planning interpretation along the Current River in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Home to the most significant number of first magnitude springs in the world and the Current River, the Riverways has been a National Park for 53 years. Before that, there were several Missouri State Parks, Big Spring and Round Spring for instance, that had been serving the public since the 1920s. So the karst geology and untouched riparian environment have been a destination for paddlers, hikers, birders, hunters, and spelunkers for almost a century. It was time to see how things stood in the interpretive world, time for a new Park Service Long Range Interpretive Plan!

Our first series of workshops and outreach sessions took place in late August, the season was winding down, but there were still thousands of visitors all along the Riverways on a weekday with a ten-fold increase on the weekend. The interpretive staff of four were challenged to remove themselves from their duties for two days to soul-search the Park Interpretive mission. Even during the scoping site visits the Rangers answered visitor’s questions and gave directions. A ranger’s work never stops.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways Visitor Orientation Center

Our tour took us to all the major locations on the upper and lower river and one location on Jacks Fork, site of the Alley Mill, an iconic red building now featured on a commemorative quarter. During our rides in the white NPS van together we learn about the challenges of whiz-bang tourism, how floaters have issues with jet skiers, and they both have problems with horse riders. The constituency is diverse, and one of the most important things these planning projects do it put everyone in the same room. When people are face to face, and not on facebook, they are much more amenable to understanding.

Running a workshop is part showmanship and part storytelling, Faye Goolrick is both of these. Her self-effacing Atlanta manner puts everyone at ease and commands respect. As a designer who is accustomed to creating a consensus for a specific design, workshops like this are opened ended, a catch-all for differing points of view. The strategies that Faye uses are familiar to professional workshop leaders but new to us designers. Everyone might count off and form small groups, discussing “Prioritizing storylines with visitors in mind” or “Issues and influences that impact interpretation” and then reporting back. Other exercises are “What would you do with $100,000?” or “If you had a magic gem with three wishes what would they be?”. By mixing up the seating patterns the college professor might be sitting next to the town of Eminence Museum director, and the representative of the Ozark Equestrian Association might be across from the State Park interpreter of Echo Bluff.


The most contentious issue was media in the parks. Cell signals get sketchy in the Ozark Riverways, and many think that is a good thing. But there is no doubt that millennials consider their smartphone as integral to public life as socks and shoes. It was clear that the room was weighted heavily to the older staff who enjoyed sharing stories of smart-phone gazing hikers walking into trees. The gold standard of interpretation is a knowledgeable ranger, you the visitor, and the scenic wonder at hand. But there are fewer rangers; they cannot be everywhere, cell or hotspot interpretation would be appreciated by many visitors. Wifi at park sites might not impact night-time programs as feared. The oldest participant in the workshop, an esteemed author, and the former ranger had an iPad. Its here, let us take advantage of the various manifestations of new technology, this was the eventual consensus.

User interface development workshop

My presentation was on the potential for fixed and portable exhibits at each of the four contact stations and visitor center. It included a chart showing the spectrum of exhibit complexity possible at each location. Followed by examples of all kinds of interpretive tools; kiosks, they need better graphics identity, scenic exhibits, physical and digital interactives, a touch-table. It was a quick taxonomy of the world of exhibits and environmental graphics that was appreciated by the staff. It was followed up by even more blue-sky imagery; the NPS Harpers Ferry representative shared with us the Corning World of Glass video. It features transparent iPad like devices that show dinosaurs on the landscape, advanced plant identification, think Plant-net on steroid, and a host of Minority Report-inspired environmental digital media. This put everyone in the mood for the “100,000 dollars” and “Magic Gem” exercises.

Ozark National Scenic Riverway NPS Interpretive team

What did the Rangers wish for? More staff, another full-time interpreter, an executive assistant, volunteer liaison/videographer. That is what they would do with their first $100K, its all about the people!

It is now time for Faye and myself to look back on our notes and bring the hundreds of post-it notes, scribed comments, and incidental conversations into a dynamic long-range plan that will point the park in the right interpretive direction for the next 25 years.

Audience feedback from workshops and outreach sessions

Illuminating the Luminaries

A space to recognize world-class innovation at Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Innovation was a key ingredient in our exhibit which harnessed the power of interactives to extend the WPI Hall of Luminaries brand identity to exhibit graphics, awards, and multi-media. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) alumni have made outsized contributions to the world of scientific innovation. If you see a Segway wiz by or talk to SIRI on your iPhone you are observing the work of WPI alumni. President Laurie Leshin believed WPI’s pioneering spirit deserved a special place at the Institute, a place where their work would serve as a visible reminder of what has been accomplished by men and women educated at the Institute. In her mind, this was not something that existed on a bookshelf, a web page or a plaque or monument on the campus. She wanted it as a place the students gathered and studied—the third floor of the Rubin Campus Center to showcase the WPI Hall of Luminaries.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute photographs of the WPI Hall of Luminaries exhibit and opening event

President Laurie Leshin WPI Hall of Luminaries cuts the ribbon

With only six months to develop and install an exhibit in a student center where a bustling lobby, a conference room, and a large auditorium share the space the team lead by Trivium Interactive with Content•Design as the design lead, also understood that their work needed to be compelling enough for some of the savviest techno geeks in the country. We harnessed innovation and teamwork to bring their stories of the WPI Luminaries to life.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute photographs of the WPI Hall of Luminaries exhibit and opening event

Recognition plaque honoring Dean Kamen a visionary inventor

The Institute provided excellent leadership, the facilities department were proactive in helping us shape a design that would allow existing functions to be unhindered, and yet create a place both dynamic and inspiring. Early ideas considered inclusion of visible examples such as “Ginger” the Segway prototype (Kamen), or even cooler, the rocket (Goddard)! But only a few inductees have work made visible so neatly.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute photographs of the WPI Hall of Luminaries exhibit and opening event

WPI alumni Dean Kamen explores the Wheel of Luminaries

A branding scheme provided by Pop Kitchen featured a sparkler motif with myriad variations, a graphic designers dream. We applied it to the walls, the recognition plaques and the Wheel of Luminaries, an interactive that will peak the interest of students as well as intrigue the Alumni. The feature area was accentuated by a 93-inch tall edge illuminated band that lead visitors from the title-wall to the interactive.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute photographs of the WPI Hall of Luminaries exhibit and opening event

The WPI Hall of Luminaries at the Rubin Campus Center

How do you plan for a recognition program that will last as long as the institution, with new inductees every two years? Content•Design developed an awards wall that featured a grid which will accommodate inductees through 2020. The build partner, 42DesignFab developed a circular edge-lit system to illuminate the recognition plaques, eliminating the need for an unwieldy lightbox.  Additional wall areas will allow the Institute to feature honorees until 2050 and beyond, enough to inspire decades of students.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute photographs of the WPI Hall of Luminaries exhibit and opening event

The award is powered by solar power

The finishing touch to this story of innovation honoring innovation is the Award itself. The concept of light is carried into the design, LEDs hidden in the base of the award, create a sparkle effect that would have made John Boynton, founder of WPI and Luminary, smile.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute photographs of the WPI Hall of Luminaries exhibit and opening event

John Boynton, one of the founders of WPI and one of the Luminaries

We really appreciate having the opportunity to work with a talented team under the direction of Judith Jaeger the Executive Director, Advancement Events & Communications, and University Advancement at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who provided these amazing photographs.

Bonding With Clients Over Historical Finishes

Dillaway Thomas House Doorway renovation 183 Roxbury Street, Roxbury Crossing, MA . Bonding with clients over historical finishes

Wallpaper therapy isn’t easy

It was a typical onsite job meeting, representatives from the builders, owners, and designers crowded around folding tables discussing agenda items at the Dillaway Thomas House while construction went on around them. Next on the agenda was a milestone in the design-build process, to review finishes and historical wallpaper submittals by the builder, Campbell Construction Group of Peabody. While the sheet rocker on a platform behind us cut out recessed ceiling spots with his spiral saw, Steve Athanas from Campbell Construction unfolded the reproduction wallpaper samples, varieties of Circle Ornament and Boston Floral Stripe from Adelphi Wallcoverings and Coleman Bower from J. R. Burrows and Co.

Our finishes and furnishings consultant Janice Hobson pointed us in the right direction for the project, but it was John Burrows who helped us focus on wallpapers and carpets indigenous to Boston. Many historic buildings have benefited from his expertise, including the President Taft National Historic Site, the Vermont State Capitol, the General Grant House and well over 120 historic locations in more than 30 states. Now all our efforts were put to the test as we unfolded the submittals and placed them up on the wall adjacent to the existing molding colors.

Our first decision was easy; everyone from Content Design Collaborative and the Department of Conservation and Recreation loved the arts and crafts inspired Coleman Bower located in the northwest parlor that would include stories from 20th century Roxbury. Richly textured, it demonstrates the enduring quality of arts and crafts style.  We debated the merits of the Rose color, shown above, compared to Butterscotch, but the Butterscotch colorway was similar to the existing woodwork color, so it was selected in the interests of unity.

The next pattern decision would prove to be more difficult; here early 19th century sensibilities ran counter to contemporary ideas of balance and proportion. Our initial design called for a blue foliate named Circle Ornament placed in the east parlor with its baby blue moulding color. It is known in the exhibit as the Dillaway Room because the interpretive focus is on the period of occupation for the last two-thirds of the 19th century by the Dillaway family. This style looked smart on the design elevation, but the actual sample did not elicit much enthusiasm. The pattern was stark and the color temperature off. We reviewed all the colorways, each of us took a turn displaying the sample, first designer Ed Malouf, then Jessica Rowcroft of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and finally construction supervisor Steven Athanas held up the winning pattern. A more subdued version of Circle Ornament was selected.

Historic stairwells and back corridors were often completed in an ashlar pattern for ease of repair. These busy passages were often damaged and soiled and by gluing a rectangle over the damaged area, this wallpaper is easily repaired. But this style struck us all as very jarring; instead, we selected the Boston Floral Stripe a modest pattern suited for a secondary space in print scale and style. We selected the blue colorway that looked great adjacent to the blue moulding. It only took the designer switching off with the assistant project manager to reach this consensus (where was the masking tape?).

Back to the irksome Circle Ornament. With our new wallpaper selection, the baby blue moulding appeared too harsh.  Back to the sample books to find a new blue or will another color altogether. Will the result be a contemporary tone on tone that Mrs. Dillaway would have found dull or the electric color combinations that pleased our Victorian ancestors in their dimly lit sitting rooms?

The two early reproduction wallpapers selected and the “difficult” blue moulding

Exhibit Makes Way For The Future

How Exhibit Spaces Can Change Roles

Watch this video to see how an exhibit designed to move can transform a gallery. The challenge was to create an interactive exhibit and a changeable gallery suitable for community events. Our solution was to make this substantial installation easily moveable so that a small staff can quickly relocate the cases and graphics.  The curved walls pivot on theater quality caster wheels that lock and level in place, securely hidden from the public.

Exhibits educate visitors about the history of Fall River which was one of the most prosperous mill towns of New England for the Department of Conservation and Recreation at Fall River Heritage State Park

Curved exhibit walls showcase the history of Fall River which was one of the most prosperous mill towns of New England

Our client, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, had the vision to educate visitors about the history of Fall River which was one of the most prosperous mill towns of New England and a to provide a community gallery and meeting space. Visitors can explore artifacts and a variety of interactives and minutes later a community event can be held where the public can create their own history.

Interactive exhibits educate visitors about the history of Fall River which was one of the most prosperous mill towns of New England for the Department of Conservation and Recreation at Fall River Heritage State ParkInteractive exhibits engage visitors with the content

Ed Malouf and Carol Lieb at Content Design Collaborative create flexible spaces. Moveable exhibits give you the ability to host events at your museum within minutes. Let’s talk about how we can help make the best use of your space.

Interpreting historic content to educate visitors about the history of Fall River which was one of the most prosperous mill towns of New England for the Department of Conservation and Recreation at Fall River Heritage State Park

Artifacts cases are secure and move quickly with the exhibit walls to transform the gallery

Special thanks to our actors:  Scott Kamp, Liz Chapin, and Bezzie

Exhibit Design: Ed Malouf and Carol Lieb, Content Design,

Video: www.georgemalouf.com