Exhibiting 18th-century “Tupperware”

Developing themes around piggins, boxes, and buckets at the new Hingham Heritage Museum

In the old colonial days, just what did you do with your leftover porridge? Or kept your beans, barley, and groats? Or laundered your clothes or cured your meat? In 1700 almost 30 coopers worked in Hingham, 245 years before Tupperware was invented. They provided for the needs of domestic storage, washing, and transport by the art of white coopering. Buckets, tubs and round boxes of all shapes and sizes were accompanied by piggins and pails as functional components of the 17th and 18th century home or shop. Many of these buckets are now prized possessions in private collections or the catalogs of fine arts auctioneers. Imagine what the residents of colonial Hingham would say to see their old buckets and churns on sale today for what their house was worth in early 18th century dollars!

Hingham’s fame is a combination of geography, market demand and a concentration of skilled coopers. Anticipating war in 1774 native son General Benjamin Lincoln as a commissary to the Colonial militia’s Committee of Supplies, he called upon his townsmen to manufacture 15,000 canteens for the local militia. This firmly established Hingham as the small box and bucket center of the new nation. Packet boats filled with boxes, buckets, and tubs made their way to Boston to be sold and then transported further up and down the coast and even to Europe in larger vessels. In the late 18th century the manufacture light woodenware became so industrialized that craftsmen like Cotton Hersey, part of the Hersey bucket-making dynasty, focused exclusively on toys and “small-ware.” For decades the Hingham craftsmen excelled in this market, William S. Tower and Co. were awarded a prize for his toys at the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris, but by the late 1920s few builders of fine wooden toys remained.

An overview of  Boxes, Buckets, and Toys: The Craftsmen of Hingham

The Hingham Heritage Museum, scheduled to open in April, is placing their collection on display for their inaugural exhibit, Boxes Buckets and Toys: The Craftsmen of Hingham. Together with staff and volunteers at the Museum, we developed themes addressing the variety of buckets, mass production, and the transition from utilitarian woodenware to decorative buckets and miniatures. We set the stage for visitors to imagine colonial life—candlelit and surrounded by woodenware, by commissioning a mural giving visitors a birds-eye view of Hingham in the early 1800s, when the center of Hingham was a mill pond. The full breadth of the Society’s collection will be displayed, from the smallest pillbox to the innovative dumbetty, a locally invented precursor to the modern washing machine. Visitors will be able to grasp several Hingham Buckets of their own at the What type of Bucket is This interactive exhibit or assemble a layered puzzle of Hingham piecing together the links of contemporary place names with the craftsmen of Hingham’s past. The most flamboyant artifact on display is the 47,000-piece fancy bucket and tray built around 1865 by Samuel Tower. It is a centerpiece of the artifacts devoted to Hingham’s transition from wooden ware to wooden toys and miniatures.

Upper left: Edward Malouf of Content•Design presents to the staff and volunteers of the Hingham Historical Society, lower left, the sketch design for a mural showing Hingham in the early 1700s

The exhibit is located in the elegant, newly restored ballroom of the Old Derby Academy, built in 1818 for the expansion of one of the first co-educational schools in America. A new wing of the building includes a visible storage gallery and research area. Our other task was to design an exhibit furniture system that the Museum will use to create changing exhibits in the Ballroom Gallery from year to year. Plus, the exhibit needed to be demountable to accommodate private functions, especially during the wedding season. Our solution is a three-part system—exhibit walls, cases, and rolling platforms for artifacts and interactives with easily changeable vinyl graphic murals and panels. We have arranged for a representative from the company Mila-wall to set up three interlocking panels so the Museum staff can familiarize themselves with the system. When the exhibit opens this spring it will bear witness to the innovation, industry, and creativity of Hingham’s craftsmen.

Work and Culture, Interactive Museum Memories

Woonsocket Works a new exhibit under development at the Museum of Work & CultureExhibit sketch using the Blackstone River as a metaphor, visitors learn through interactive exhibits about how the mills changed the historical landscape

Anne Conway, the director of the Museum of Work and Culture,  is the driving force behind “Woonsocket Works” a new exhibit that will give visitors the opportunity to learn through interactive experiences about the hundreds of mills in the city during the region’s industrial heyday, shaping the city and the lives and culture of its people. During her 20 years with the museum, she has enhanced the original exhibit plan with additions that connect the institution with the community around it.

The Mill Memory Bank is an interactive database that tells the stories of the workers from the Blackstone Valley

“The Mill Memory Bank” is an interactive database that tells the stories of the workers from the Blackstone Valley. Continuously updated by Museum staff as individuals make their contributions, either on-line or in person, these records become an important part of the collection. On the large gallery screen a dynamic display of the visitor’s entry will also appear (see above).  Read here how families and friends gather to watch as their history becomes a part of the museum. Now we are developing a touch screen interface that will allow users to interact with history on their terms, searching the database and watching interviews with mill workers and owners.

Accessibility Testing Mill Memory BankEd Malouf of Content Design works with Jill Domenici and Bruce Spero of Trivium Interactive to test user accessibility

The next phase of “Woonsocket Works” will develop the exhibit space with graphics and a multi-touch table experience bringing the history of this corner of the  Blackstone Valley to life with interactive maps and the cultural stories that have shaped the vibrant community of Woonsocket. This variety of experiences will address the needs of all types of museum visitors, including the streaker, the stroller, and the studier. With the completed “Woonsocket Works” gallery there will be exhibits organized to respond to all three.

“We can’t talk about the mills without talking about the workers,” Conway said. “That’s what the Museum of Work and Culture is about. It’s about people.”

Why is there a lighthouse on top of a mountain?


The War Memorial on top of Mount Greylock

It is not a lighthouse, it is a beacon.

What is the difference? It is all a matter of context; a lighthouse is specifically designed to guide ocean-going vessels away from treacherous shores and help in pinpointing their location. A beacon is more general, “a fire or light that is set up in high position.” However, when the beacon atop Mount Greylock was built in 1931 it was the golden age of aviation, well before IFR and GPS. Pilots depended on landmarks they could see on the ground while flying their Ford Trimotor passenger planes. This is not to take away from the symbolic meaning of the beacon, the light is a memorial for all men and women who gave their lives in war.
Today the new LED based lighting system shines at 1.9 million lumens, four times the strength of the previous light system. The tower has been refinished for the third time in its history, now with a new silicone grout system that holds great promise for keeping out the water that has plagued the structure for most of its 86 years. The inner chamber was restored as well. It is an ethereal space with a gold-leafed conical ceiling and quotations inscribed along the perimeter wall. If you are game you can climb the internal spiral staircase 50 feet above to view points of interest in New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire as well as Massachusetts. This vantage point also orients you to your immediate surroundings, Bascom Lodge and the Overlook.

But most visitors choose not to, or are unable to, climb the stairs, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, in keeping with its mission of making all of its sites accessible, selected Content•Design to develop a way in which the tower experience could be made accessible. In our previous blog we discuss how we approached the a alternative experience development. Below is a description of the installed exhibits.

Tower interpretive panel

The Monument tower interpretation panel recently installed atop Mount Greylock.

The Bronze panel informs the visitor what is inside the inner chamber, dimensional elements reveal the interior of the tower, especially the inner chamber and spiral staircase. These are in extreme relief and provide a tactile experience. Other elements such as the eagle above the door and the US Army medallion in the chamber floor are depicted. The three-0foot wide panel is set on a Barrie, VT granite block that is a match for the other granite elements on site.

On the newly refurbished parapet that surrounds the Mounument, a wayside reproduces the views in each cardinal direction. The images not only show the distant landmarks but also places near the tower, a challenge to the designers since no single image from each direction taken by the photo drone would provide the view a visitor would see.


Greylock North View Wayside Panel
The new wayside interpretive panel looking north

The North view is a good example of how limited a visitors view can be from the parapet, the panel image allows visitors to look over the trees in front. We deliberately chose to keep the waysides simple. No other stories although Greylock is the source of so many good stories, true and fanciful. That is left to the visitor center eight miles below, here we keep the visitor focused on the view and identifying landmarks. Note the use of stainless steel posts for durability in the boreal conditions. The phenolic panel is supplied by Fossil Industries .

The granite was supplied by Barrie Granite in Vermont, and the bronze panel cast by Matthews International . Both were installed by Berkshire Monumental Works  of North Adams.


The Geometry of Giving

Modest as it may be, the donor panel symbolizes something critical; it represents the generosity of the person to whom the building or exhibit owes its existence. Once a neglected design genre, donor panel systems are now striking features in the public spaces of building lobbies. They have grown in sophistication along with the architecture around it. Digital systems respond to visitors interactions, beautiful sandblasted glass panels enhance the texture of a feature wall. Two examples shown below depict extremes of recognition, the Dell Children’s Medical Center in Texas by Fd2s Design Consultants is interactive; visitors create butterflies when they touch the glowing plaques. The New York University Medical Center by Poulin Morris is an elegant marriage of type and texture. Each is a form of permanent recognition; these will remain in place for the life of the building. Also, each depicts a single level of giving.  Located elsewhere are other giving levels.


Left: Dell Children’s Medical Center donor recognition program by F2Ds   Right: New York University Medical Center by Poulin Morris

Capital Campaigns are a different challenge, they are for a particular project and need to represent all levels of giving in one location. Relative scale is essential, with larger donors having the biggest plaque and tallest cap height. It’s a challenge to differentiate a $25 gift and a $ 25,000 all on the same wall.  A proportional typographic treatment could lead to extreme proportions. If the top donor has a 1.5” letter height how small is the smallest donor, 1/16th of an inch? The designer goes beyond scale and uses material and color to help solve the design problem. Smaller donors can also be clustered onto a single panel within the system, creating a more appropriate relationship to the larger forms of recognition.

The following installations show scale and architectural integration. At the Clark Center designed by Tadao Ando and Gensler, a connecting corridor portrays three levels of giving. It dynamically carries you through space with etched and filled lettering on acrylic is backed by a metallic film creating a subtle drop shadow. Shown in the corridor of the PETA headquarters designed by Lawrence + Beaven Design is a full range of scale with at least five levels of giving represented by typographic scale and weight. Finally, an unidentified Capitol Campaign shown on Pinterest, it appears to be at a Temple, is playful and wonderfully integrated with the textural color of the wall.


Top left: Clart Art Center by Tadao Ando and Gensler    Top right: PETA Headquarters by Lawrence + Beaven Design    Bottom:  Captial Campaign recognition program, designer and location unknown

This design we found most inspirational for our giving recognition challenge, the donor system for the Parker’s Revenge Archeological Project at the Minuteman National Park Site in Lincoln, Massachusetts. This landmark project has revealed much about how this well-known skirmish, for instance, the pattern of musket balls found in the metallic survey reveals much about the number and location of the combatants. Our fundraising recognition for the project and exhibit will share the same wood-paneled wall as the exhibit. It must represent a large range of giving within the four linear feet dedicated to the system.

Our project is in design development, and the park manager is excited by our design with a variety of wood stain color with routed and printed lettering.



Above are two studies we developed showing a looser and tighter design grid. By mounting the plaques to a backer board, we limit the impact on the paneled wall. Inspired by the stained wood finish made for another project, the Norman Bird Sanctuary signage fabricated by Wood and Wood Signs in Waitsfield, Vermont. By using the right kind of wood with a pronounced grain, in this instance ash, creating a visual link between the wood panel wall and donor system.

Making the Magic of Mount Greylock Accessible

Pottermore website with image of Llvermorny School https://www.pottermore.com/writing-by-jk-rowlingAccessible exterior exhibits provide access, meaning, and magic

To the residents of western Massachusetts, selecting Mount Greylock as the scene for a supernatural thriller is as natural as the clouds that envelope the peak giving it its name. After all, they are familiar with sightings of Bigfoot (of course), and ghostly “Old Coot”, a restless Civil War veteran. Nathaniel Hawthorne added to the mystery with his story of Ethan Brand who conjured up supernatural beings in his lime kiln. The Greylock experience has always had a touch of the supernatural.

Adding to this mythology famous wizard creator JK Rowling has set her Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry atop Mount Greylock in her new book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Naturally, if such a structure existed it would be invisible to “muggles” like ourselves. Access to the world of magic is limited in the world of Harry Potter to the magically gifted.

The Massachusetts War Memorial on the left, with a cross-section used in developing the exhibit.

In reality, visitors do not encounter a School of Witchcraft on top of Mount Greylock but rather the Massachusetts War Memorial. But access to the top is difficult for many people. Ascending the 92 tightly coiled steps up to the top of the monument is not for the faint-hearted.  But those that do are rewarded by fantastic views of Connecticut, New York, and Vermont as well as eastern Massachusetts. On a clear day point 90 miles away are visible. Our challenge is to make these views accessible to visitors reluctant to make the climb to the top. A technology solution was out of the question; our exhibit would be located outdoors in the vicinity of the monument structure with subzero wintertime temperatures and gale force winds (only a media wizard with magical touchscreen kiosks could pull this off). Instead, we translated the views into a wayside exhibit that mimic  the panoramic views available from the top of the tower.

Four images were composited together to create this westerly view

Photos by Jeffrey Bryne, magic by photoshop; this panoramic view encompassing more than 90 degrees is a compilation of three photos

Just send up a drone and spin it 360 degrees, right? Not so simple, the human eye is attached to a head that rotates up and down as well as left and right. We needed to capture not only the mountain ranges but the destinations near the tower such as Bascomb Lodge and the Overlook. This required Photoshop magic, which the staff at Content Design is adept at making. The photographer Jeffrey Bryne took photos at two azimuths, cut and blended for a seamless panoramic that was segmented into the four cardinal directions. Set on stainless steel posts fastened onto the Quincy granite parapet our phenolic panels will be unobtrusive and will last until a media wizard arrives with 22nd-century holographic technology placing visitors virtually at the top of the tower.



This mock-up shows the dimensional elements; eagle, medallion, and tower section. These are a boon to sight-impaired people and all visitors love to touch the exhibits!

If this was not enough interpretive enchantment, our team told the story of the War Memorial Tower. Less dramatic than the imagined Ilvermorny School with its turrets, stone walls, and monogrammed gate, it nevertheless could have served as an inspiration for its tapered column and glowing beacon. Erected in the early 20th century to honor World War One veterans who gave their lives, it now stands as a monument for all wars. Writing the text for the bronze plaque format was challenging. Within the space constraints we provided information for all aspects of the tower; the inner chamber, exterior sculpture, staircase and beacon.

Our solution was inspired by other bronze elements on the summit, creating a three-dimensional cross-section of the tower that included the inner chamber, stairs, and beacon, giving visitors a better look at the tower structure than the visitors who entered it.

After the construction fence comes down and the refurbished tower is open to the public in the fall, our exhibits will make accessible aspects of Mount Greylock and the War Memorial that until now have remained hidden to many of us—just like that school for wizards.

The final panels are elegant and inviting, and require a lot less work than climbing 92 stairs

 The final west view panel