Thelen: [Feedback] Now why does it doing that, is it because the mics are too close to each other? That seemed to be… Franz


Thelen: It is very important, yes, I am kind of shocked actually. Charles



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Thelen: It is very important, yes, I am kind of shocked actually.

Charles: I will confess that we did not put it in a strong enough position in the case. We put the real one up. Today I would probably be tempted to make it huge, that is the point.

Thelen: When you are looking at the ephemera, you are looking at a moment.

Charles: And often one line, like this guy has no legs. When you walk through as a viewer because visitors to exhibits are, I mean they are being presented with enough to read for eight or ten hours and they are going to try and do it in a half an hour or an hour. One of our jobs is to help clue them in as to where to spend their time or to make it easier for them.

Thelen: How does that relate to ephemera?

Charles: For instance, this Haymarket broadside, if I was to exhibit it today I would make it big and maybe even put a little red arrow towards that one line. Try and clue people in to, look at me! Because that is the important thing to read.

Staples: What we do generally, or often do, we put large type up above everything else that says, Haymarket Riot, when you are approaching this thing, you get a sense of what it is because you are going to see several titles and you are going to be more interested in one than the other ones. Maybe you will go to all of them, but that is the thing that sort of guides you.

Charles: But then within that how do you get people to look specifically at things. It is an issue when you want to display a lot of stuff and sometimes you should not display a lot of stuff despite what you have seen us do. When we make a mass of it, I almost said mess of it, mass of it.

Staples: It is never a mess, it is always very orderly.

Charles: That is because Bob does it. It is really because the mass is important. It is all this red, white and blue. You are getting an idea that it was not just once, people did it again and again and again. For instance, I maybe have used this before, Navajo pottery has all these wonderful patterns to it. I would be tempted to put up a whole lot of it, rather than just one piece so you are seeing kind of the diversity of design. If one piece is so important that you ought to focus on it, like the Haymarket Riot one, then we have an obligation as designers that sometimes we succeed at it and sometimes we do not, to make you the visitor understand hey I really have to look at this piece. That is background, that is giving me context, but I have to look at this piece. That is a design challenge.

There is, not one of our exhibits, thank God, one of Eric Foner’s actually, there was case of letters, Civil War letters, Lincoln letters probably, one of them, I think was giving the order to proceed with Sherman’s march to the sea, but it is sort of like one line saying so be it. I think it is a letter to him saying we are going to do this and Lincoln writes so be it or do it. That is a major piece. Nothing was done to make you understand, if I have got time to read only one letter, read that one. This could have been huge behind this case. Maybe the other letters should have been thrown away.



Thelen: Put away.

Charles: Part of our job as designers is to try to, when everything is neat and interesting, have some sympathy for the visitor and say what is really neat and interesting and how do you get it across.

Staples: To some degree ephemera has been underrated for many years. In Chicago for instance we did this band of little odd stuff that was everything from envelopes to first issue of Playboy magazine and it gives you a quick view as to how diverse Chicago was that you do not get in a single object. [paper russling] Not every institution has a Mona Lisa.

Charles: This is what I would call ephemera for face value, you see it, you recognize it. It is telling you beer, Playboy, you do not have to find that single line like the Haymarket Riot one. It is a different kind of use of ephemera. We did several of these kinds, Bob did just beautiful layouts. There is one back in the book, the We the People book in there. This was the first one. I will find it in the back. That we got known for doing these things. We will probably tend to air on the side of putting more in rather than less in. I think that it is, we need to - I think that we are increasingly working harder to really focus on what is really critical. We are working with Missouri right now and we have about four hundred objects. I have got to really start working on thinning it down.

Thelen: That is the Missouri Historical Society?

Charles: But this is the first one and this was like forty-five feet of this stuff.

Thelen: This was in the Chicago exhibit.

Charles: No…

Thelen: This is at the first one, We the People.

Staples: Here is Washington. It went to George Washington to Nixon I guess it was.

Charles: Ford, maybe Nixon.

Thelen: Basically if we are calling this exhibit sort of your transition to history, you have been doing it from the start, using ephemera.

Charles: This is a half size about reproduction. It starts back here with Washington.

Thelen: What a great collection of sources!

Charles; It is incredible stuff. You cannot do this if a museum does not have the stuff.

Thelen: There is an implicit difference, maybe I am picking up what we have been talking here. If you do say, look at this, if you put the arrow or you blow it up or something, you are making sure they will see what you think is the important thing. Whereas if you leave it like that the visitors will go to whatever they go to.

Staples: Some will pay attention and look at the whole thing. Others will look down and say ah what is this?

Thelen: Well there is a view of visitor experience in that, namely that they are diverse.

Charles; In here we are also saying - well we made choices in what was picked to be here. Bob had the pleasure of looking at a lot of stuff and saying, “this is cool and I am going to put in Jefferson’s, Roosevelt’s teeth and so on.” I think we are also saying no one piece is more important than any other piece here. Whereas the Haymarket example, one piece is very significantly more important.

I would argue that even in all the drafts of the Declaration of Independence is in the end the more important one. We need to try to say that to the public too. When there is something that is important, when all things are equal, when we are more just trying to give you the mood of politics. But if we are saying this particular thing, Nixon’s abdication or whatever we ought to do you a favor and hint to you one way or another that this is one you really ought to in the amount of time you are going to spend with us today, try to at least read this one. That is an obligation we have is I think to help you. Just the way you put a table of contents in a book, rather than just throwing all these pages at somebody.



Thelen: Let us stay with the Haymarket for just a minute. We have that choice or Albert Parson’s diary in which he describes how he feels as he has been in his view railroaded. Now how do we decide which one to feature.

Staples: We did not have.

Charles: I think that today I would try to, what you are talking about is the prosecution versus the defendant basically.

Thelen: I mean he is sitting there and he is writing the most anarchist view of the criminal justice system, being railroaded, we might say he is innocent. I think there is pretty good evidence if I remember about him. One way to think about it is the prosecution said they not only used, they used the anarchist newspapers that said use dynamite, dynamite is the best stuff to blow the cops up and the cops got blown up. And he is saying it is the class system, blah, blah, blah.

Charles: I think if you were, I think today if we were working on it you would try and figure out how to get those voices in. Could you have some audio track that you pick up and listen to key passages? Could you have some way that you could listen and have a computer thing and you could turn the pages or maybe there is a reproduction of his diary that you could be turning the pages and be listening to it.

I think certainly increasingly we are trying to get voices and authentic voices rather than hypothetical voices into exhibits. There was a very interesting discussion. Bob mentioned we worked for a while with the National Constitution Center. We are actually now separating on that project. I have been in discussions between the Constitution Center and Minnesota and Missouri about theater.



Increasingly people are doing theater in exhibits, to bring these people alive in stories that do not come across so easily. I think that Minnesota and Missouri both feel very strongly that they ought to be real people and based on real documents and you ought to be able to find those people and create them. The head of the theater program at the National Constitution Center said, no, she prefers to determine the point you want to get across and then create people. That is a very interesting philosophy. I prefer real people. Maybe I am not so creative so I find it inherently interesting to use the real stuff.

Thelen: What do you mean by real people? In the context of theater, right?

Charles: Is it based on Mr. Jones’ real diary that he has written or is it based on maybe what he has written what historians have written about a working class person what somebody else has written. You take the assemblage of that and write a character like you would in a play. It is are you doing a biography, is it a biography of a person who lived like you slave down at that corner of the plantation or is it any slave? Is it everyman? Generic slave.

Thelen: Both of the institutions you mentioned, I assume it is the Minnesota History Center you are talking about.

Charles: Minnesota History, Dan Spock said he really likes things based on real stories. Missouri also, history museum wants real stories. Whereas the woman in charge of the theater program at National Constitution Center. It was an interesting discussion, particularly I was less in it, but between her and Matt Pincer, the historian we were working with. He wanted it based - he said, “look I can come up with so many different people, I want you to use one of these.” Historian versus theater. I do not know, where would you come?

Thelen: I know where I would come, definitely with the real people.

Charles: They are so rich.

Thelen: They are so rich. It is also on the matter of empathy, I can more readily imagine empathizing with, the more I understand somebody, the more authentic it is, the more it is in their handwriting, the more I see their face, I just find it much easier.

Staples: I think an interesting thing came to my head, the Gerald Ford Museum and the number of letters you put in the case to represent the fors and the against.

Charles: That is a good story.

Thelen: What did you do?

Charles: The Ford Museum, I think we mentioned yesterday, I think was actually a very important project for us in many ways. One of them was that we were able to work directly with President Ford and we were kind of doing firsthand research in some ways as well as interviewing and proposing things. It is very, it is a different situation when you are doing something for somebody who is still alive versus writing or doing an exhibit about somebody who is long dead. They obviously have a say in what is happening in this.

Staples: Should have a say.

Thelen: And probably want to have a say.

Charles: These presidential library museums are typically developed by supporters of the former president, who have been fundraisers, who have been cheerleaders, who sort of right or wrong, he is my guy. Our very first meeting, when we first were presenting ideas, after we had the job, we talked about of course, there will have to be a section about the, what is it called for Nixon?

Staples: The resignation?

Charles: Not the resignation, when he was…

Thelen: The pardon?

Charles: The pardon for Nixon. I do not know if we had a sketch or just described it we said that based on the letters coming into the archives there will be ten against or nine against and one for. Well his older brother, or younger brother, because he is the oldest, who was very active on this committee was kind of, that puts him in a bad light.

Thelen: Ford’s younger brother?

Charles: Ford’s younger brother, but I think he is of, he is younger but the oldest of the other brothers. Oh that is you know going to put the president in a bad light, you cannot do that, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we tried to talk about, well that is the facts man. What are we supposed to do? We got to talk about the pardon. So finally almost in exasperation we said, “well if the president says it is okay, is it okay with you?” Because we knew we were going to be meeting with him. Well, of course, what does he say, he has to say yes.

Thelen: He does?

Charles: You know, the president trumps.

Thelen: Oh, I see. The president trumps, I see that part.

Charles: I said to the brother, if the president says it is okay, is it okay with you? So he has to back off at this point and let us…

Thelen: Or you do?

Charles: Or we do, but we do not. We say we are going to take it to the president in effect. Then we can get off that topic and keep going with the other parts of the exhibit. So this one area has been left without approval, but everybody knows that we are going to talk to President Ford about it. We have our meeting with President Ford and this is so classic Jerry Ford, he says, “well yes I understand that you have got to have that, that is a very important thing, but you know, if you would take your reading instead of the first week or the first few days, if you take it at the end of the month the odds are a little better, they are only seven to three against me, do you mind taking a longer view?” So we said, “of course.”

Thelen: So that is how you resolved it?

Charles: Yes.

Thelen: That is cool.

Charles: He was fabulous. When we very first met him and I do not remember when all he said that, I know it was the first meeting, he said look there is a least two sides to everything in politics, so as long as you tell the story fairly, we are going to do fine.

Thelen: Wow, wow.

Charles: He was fabulous, really fabulous to work with.

Thelen: Now I am really kind of curious, were the two sides where you just gave a wonderful example maybe.

Charles: We got into a whole discussion and I am not going to be able to do the details well about how are we going to write about the Vietnam War, the pullout. You know, why did we pull out? And he said I think you better go talk to Brent Schocroft and Kissinger because they have got two different views. And I was sent off to go. Schocroft was great, I met with Schocroft, we talked a lot. Kissinger never did meet with me, but one of his key people did.

Thelen: And they did have different views? So how did you resolve it?

Charles: I would have to find the scripts now to find the final.

Thelen: Would you have tried to have both views?

Charles: I think we talked about both the military perspectives and the peace discussions going on in Paris at the time and so on. He was a real prince.

Staples: Another project, which I think is more worth mentioning is dealing with the Kennedy assassination.

Thelen: I actually really want to get into that one. I am kind of wondering if we should take a break.

Charles: And go to lunch or order some sandwiches?

Thelen: Order some sandwiches or something and then get into exhibits as exhibits. This has been a great conversation and Bob if you think it flows we should just keep going at this point.

Charles: Let us at least get an order in for sandwiches.

Thelen: Okay, let us get an order in for sandwiches. Let us take a quick break and at some point here I have to get another one of these things.

Charles: Why do not we go do that? Bob, let us, I will place the order while you take and Dave go get another…
End of track 2.

End of Card 2.
Thelen: I think it is working now. We are sitting around here eating these delicious lunches. [paper crumpling] It is Thursday afternoon around one-thirty. I am just going to ask you if there had been any exhibits you had particularly admired, done by other people, that might have been influential?

Staples: That is really a tough question to answer. I mean we have seen some shows, we do not know who did them always. The In Fact show was…

Thelen: Where was that?

Staples: Up in New York.

Charles: No I think we saw it in St. Louis or Colorado. It was a touring show, the one with the fabric?

Staples: We saw that in New York.

Charles: Really?

Thelen: What did you like about it?

Charles: It was - first of all, it was a traveling show always has its own problems. [feedback] It did not have any real things, at each site, maybe people were adding in examples of her books or publications, printed versions of her diary. It was all fabric [background noise] I mean we must have seen this thirty years ago, a long time ago.

Thelen: What do you mean all fabric?

Charles: It was all printed on fabric, somewhat translucent and it traveled so you could set it up in various configurations being this piece of fabric. Where we saw it was sort of like a big oval. They had lights inside of it to light it up that traveled with the short. Pretty low budget and could go any place, you did not have to worry about ceiling lights. It was very powerful, just the quotes and the photographs and the story as you walked around it.

Thelen: What made it powerful, you think? [background noise]

Charles: The quotes and the photographs. [laughter]

Thelen: Alright I asked for that.

Charles: Sorry.

Staples: You want to start over again?

Thelen: Yes, let is try.

Charles: I would say - we have talked at times about a Jewish museum. It was not so much the exhibits, Bob in Amsterdam? Three synagogues from three different periods were put together to become a Jewish museum.

Thelen: I know that museum.

Charles: What we really liked were the glass breaks between the buildings. You connected them in a very modern way that often is not allowed or encouraged here with historic preservation. It seemed like a very creative way to put that together.

Staples: The Europeans seem to have a much easier time translating a building from one period to another.

Thelen: In what sense?

Staples: They just interrupt something with glass or mirrors or stainless steel, you know statements. The restrooms in the museums are always more interesting than the ones here.

Charles: They did some glass restrooms. There was an exhibit I saw, Bob did not see it, I want to say about, I am trying to think about trips, but I think it may have been as early as eighty-two, it leads into where we are going to talk about next. It was at the Stot Museum in Munich, Munster-Stot Museum and it was about death.

Thelen: Death, um-hum.

Charles: It used a lot of artifacts, but it also was very theatrical and I just had not even seen or thought about this kind of theatrical stuff in an exhibit before this. When you first came in there were three gray, four gray figures sitting in chairs, prop chairs or chairs they had made. These figures were sort of abstract, one is maybe like this, one is like this, the next one is like this, clearly something is happening to this body. Then there were little views you could get. You could look through a slot and just kind of see the end of a bed in an emergency room or an intensive care room. You have a sense there is a body in that bed and something is going to happen.

Staples: You could see toes, was not it?

Charles: You could see the toes and so on.

Thelen: That is clever.

[background noise]



Charles: I do not know that you saw the real ones, but you certainly saw the shape of them up under the sheet. Then near that would be real paintings of - death paintings. You know the kind of things that traditionally would be done of a dead person in their bed. They also then, you then kind of - it was like the whole show was a transition. You went on to funerals and planning the funeral and it included early documents about how much you would pay for the mourners to come to your funeral. They compared that with contemporary costs, and historic coffins and contemporary coffins. That was all kind of real artifacts.

Then they had an area about untimely deaths. It was like an accident scene, again a little more theatrics. They had an area where you had to walk through a cemetery and they did have some real crosses and so on from things. They had the whole sense of memorializations. They had some of these skulls that they borrowed from a local cathedral that are all decorated with people’s names and so on in a very Catholic way. It mixed this theater with objects and then at the end it now had four empty chairs. Four white empty chairs. And it had a section about memorialization and then four white empty chairs.



Thelen: Wow. Wow.

Charles: Well then it had a book to write in. It was the first time I had ever seen a book in an exhibit. I spent as much time with the book as I did in the exhibit. In part because my German is not great, in part because I am so fascinated by it. There were things like long writings to somebody’s dead father. There was a rant about how could you do this whole exhibit and leave out Jesus. They had had a little bit about Dachau but maybe not as much as somebody else wants.

This book was not just people signing their names. This exhibit have obviously very emotionally gotten to people. And they were writing incredible things at the end of it. It was a very very powerful exhibit. Very interesting kind of theatrical approach.



Thelen: I know you think in terms of design and theater. How do you mean it in that sense? What made it theatrical?

Charles: Well the settings, they were not artifact-based, like peering into the death room. Instead of doing a big room that you could walk in, only having this slit that you could peer into and imagine. It made you imagine what is happening places. It was really well done. Even just these figures, these kind of sculptural figures. They were not perfect mannequins, they were more abstract. It just made you think. It was a wonderful wonderful exhibit. It was one of those one - it was called De Lester Lyza and it was really one of those ones that makes you, “God I wish I had done this one.” Those books we put books in the Sixth Floor and I do not know if other people were putting books in exhibits before that, that was the first time that we put books in and we took that idea directly from De Lester Lyza.


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