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: What does that mean? What do you mean Bob? Staples

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Thelen: What does that mean? What do you mean Bob?

Staples: Nothing.

Charles: It means that the selection committee…

Thelen: Was perhaps divided?

Charles: Yes and ultimately was divided I understand on the vote. I think we were selected by a split vote.

Staples: The way presidents get elected.

Charles: Because it was going to open at the Franklin Institute and initially it was going to go to mostly science museums, like the science museum in Boston, there was a real pressure to get a lot of interactivity in this exhibit. We have not done a lot of interactivity. Conover, who did not survive the project, but was great early on, organized a major meetings to brainstorm these ideas to get people coming in from the possible museums it is going to go to, to brainstorm these ideas. What do they expect with interactive exhibits? So the show ended up with having thirty of forty interactive, AV or interactive things in it. I mean a lot of things.

Staples: Some successful and others no so.

Charles: Not so successful. I think overall it set a high high bar for a history exhibit. What all could you do with history? This stuff just does not have to be in science museums, one. Two, it can be absolutely based on the real thing when you have somebody like Franklin. I think our office, Conover, not Conover, Paige Talbot, the really great curator to work with, Ross Reamer who ultimately took over for Conover. We are all brainstorming, bringing ideas to the table to make things happen. I think a good example is that Franklin loved magic squares. He writes a letter - and where is our booklet - to Colingsworth, I think the guy’s name, in England, one of his buddies. He sends him a sixteen by sixteen magic square.

Staples: You know what a magic square is?

Thelen: I am trying to picture it.

Staples: It adds up in all directions.

Thelen: You have to go across sixteen letters.

Charles: Numbers. You have to make everything in all directions, even the diagonals,

Staples: Have to add up to the same number.

Charles: The same number, like a hundred.

Thelen: Oh, I see. So you have like, one, eight, four and all of them have to, wow.

Charles: When you know how to do it, I guess it is not that hard, but it certainly looks hard.

Staples: It is not something that is easy to do and if you can do sixteen that is really something. When we did Mathamatica at the Eames office, we did three by three.

Charles: Franklin writes like, we have this quote, “Is not this the most magical magical square that a magician has ever made.” He is - Franklin is just too funny. So we said, “let us make somebody do this.” This was before Sudoku happens, about a year before Sudoku happens. So here is our little magic square, it was a three by three. You could turn all these dials, this is electromechanical, not computer. You could turn all the dials, but went you get them to add up to fifteen, out the speakers it says, “Hazzah!” then there was a little video about how a magic square works. This show had a lot of these kind of things in it. We read about Franklin’s amazement when he first looks through a magnifying glass, not a magnifying glass, a…

Thelen: Microscope?

Charles: Microscope. He writes a great piece in his newspaper about everything you see. You see the fins on a fish, you see this on the feathers, you can see this in wood, it is just a lovely piece. We made a device where it had here a video readout of the microscope and you could dial it under, we made a disc that had all the different things he says he is looking at. We found the real ones and we were able to do that. It has an audio track, it tells you kind of what he is listening to and you can turn it and it is his voice. We worked very hard to find, to make.

Staples: Not his voice, it is his words.

Charles: His words, a new actor. To - it was somebody like Franklin who is into everything, to find things that you could engage the public with, get them to get a sense of his genius and playfulness and you know different things.

Thelen: Like the thing you showed me on the computer screen, the bed with Adams.

Charles: Franklin and Adams in bed. We had about four animations like that, based on real things. One of them is swimming, Franklin talking about how to swim. Gout is another one. We had this interactive, the microscope. We had some other electromechanical ones where you, you know, guess and fish. If you turn and you get that, then over here you have to turn and get stink in three days. They have got aphorisms. I do not speak well. If you could get three all lined up to be right, you would get huzzah, you would get electric lights happening.

We had based on the idea that - we met with Lamay. What is his first name? He has died unfortunately, a great Franklin scholar. Louis Lamay at Delaware, Paige and I did. He just said, “you have got to get his writings in. His writings are really crucial. You have got to figure out some way to get those across.” Then we asked him, “well which ones,” and so on. Silence Dogood of course is a classic, where he is sixteen and he does this middle aged lady.

Staples: Curtis Lamay.

Charles: No, that is a general. That was a transformative day, talking to Dr. Lamay. It sort of made us say - some other things we had to try and get into the exhibit. So for Silence Dogood based on a little metamorphic that we own, here is a lady. We had artwork done, who is Silence. She is reading her story and she is talking about these boys at Harvard or wherever it was written. If you turned the handle on the device the window would open, this lady opens the window, and now you have got Franklin as a young boy behind there and the voice would change to a young boy’s voice, so it went back and forth. They were really fun. Two of them that we wanted to do we could not do for political reasons.

Staples: What kind of political?

Charles: One of them - there is a great metamorphic, you can turn a dial around and faces change. Based on that idea, the very last thing Franklin wrote was about slavery and he writes a great piece during the Constitutional Convention. Essentially paraphrasing the words of one of the Southern senators who has just given a great speech about why it is natural for blacks to be slaves and who else could work these hot lands, and on and on and on and on. Franklin writes a piece and he signs it so-and-so Mohammad, I think it is. It is clearly this guy is from Tunisia let us say. He goes on and on about, “you know, they do not believe in Islam, they are Christians. Of course they can be slaves and who else can work this desert land,” and he paraphrases the whole thing. We wanted to have this Islamic guy ranting, you know, you could read the document but you would have the voice, but if you turned it it becomes Franklin. Well in this day and age with all the concerns, 2004 it was not considered politically correct.

The other one, which I still do not understand why we could not do it. Franklin plays with electricity. There is a great story of a picnic along the river where they are sending electricity current across the Sucoal. They are using their electric battery to heat up drinks or make hot toddies or whatever. They are barbequing chicken, they are doing their whole bit. There is a Franklin piece that he writes at Christmas time that he was trying to - he felt that electricity would give you the best flavor for killing a turkey. It would be instance and it would have this great flavor and so on and so forth.

It turns out he gets this battery, gets a big turkey, in the end Franklin nearly kills himself. He writes he is on the floor, he has been shocked and knocked out by trying to kill this turkey and that the turkey survives. We were working with Salvi who did the Franklin and Adams in bed. Salvi worked out a story board. Here is Franklin and he is cranking up his generator or whatever it is, but in the end the turkey walks away and Franklin is out flat. Well, the PR people decided that they would have the PETA protesters. You know the P-E-T-A, the cruelty to animals, the people who protest the circus for cruelty to elephants. I think it is called PETA, P-E-T-A that they would protest the exhibit because Franklin is killing a turkey.

Thelen: But the turkey wins out and Franklin is not.

Charles: Exactly, plus we all eat turkey.

Thelen: Plus we all eat turkey and somehow they die before you eat them. Well that is interesting.

Staples: It is irrelevant.

Thelen: Well maybe it is not.

Charles: No it is interesting what - people think you can put in an exhibit and what you cannot put in an exhibit. What is actually in very interesting, I think, particularly about the Islamic story, is that you are talking about history three hundred years ago, but you inherently are dealing with current sensibilities, current political issues. The whole treatment of the black and white relationship and slavery, the treatment of protests, who is the funder? Will the funder object if we put XYZ in here? The concerns Eddie and I had about the quotes we were putting up in We the People because it had congressional funding. They are very current and you really often are talking about current issues when you make selections and choose your point of view even, what is the theme, et cetera. That is very interesting.

Thelen: And you experienced that a few times?

Charles: Oh, yes, sure.

Thelen: That must come up all the time.

Charles: It does and you do not quite know it is going to come up, but sure it comes up. It is annoying when you think you have a great idea like the turkey and you cannot - you have invested a fair amount of energy trying to develop it and then you get told no.

Thelen: Were there other kinds of challenges with that exhibit, the Franklin exhibit?

Charles: Well, I would say getting all the interactivity in was probably the major one. That was fun, it became very very good. It is a huge show to travel - probably we built some of it too heavy.

Thelen: Has it travelled? I do not know the story.

Charles: It did not open at the Franklin Institute, that is a separate issue, it opened at the National Constitution Center in the end. It went to St. Louis after that. Then to Houston or Denver. Anyway it went to St. Louis, Houston, Denver, Atlanta. We did preliminary drawings for each of these to just give the institution a guidance for how to develop it. Then they did drawings that were sent back to us. Then parts of it went to Paris. We got to go to Paris and that was great because I had never been to Paris. We got to go three times. I mean the continuity of it and seeing it in each venue is very rewarding. I prefer that kind of traveling show then just design it once and send it out, lose track of it. I think it was a very interesting show. Harold said to - Skramstad said to me he did not like it, but I have never understood quite why.

Staples: It was not scholarly enough or something.

Charles: I did not get that. It had certainly - Constitution Center - you know people judge how long school kids stay in these shows. Do they just run through? So it had good staying power that people wanted to stay. It had some wonderful interactives that Savli Regeni had done with Fred Brink. A printing one where you could kind of - it showed you how you lay out type and so on. It had another one about discovering the Atlantic, it is not the channel, the current. What is that current called? It is the current that all the boats use.

Thelen: I have heard of it too, but I cannot remember it.

Charles: We will look it up when we get to read this. Anyway, Franklin was one of the first people to identify that current. We had an interactive about how do you find the current, what are your clues? When you see certain fishes or whales, things like that, the temperature, there are various ways. The Atlantic current, is it not Bob?

Staples: Sounds good.

Thelen: Let us call it the Atlantic current until we can think of it.

Charles: That was the second one. The third interactive, and Ros had particularly worked on some of these issues of apprenticeship and so on, you are a young man, you are in Boston, you have finished your apprenticeship but there are no jobs in Boston so you have to find your way somewhere else. Where do you go? You have so much money, you had - how do you get around, what do you do and so on. Just some lovely things in the show. It had a lot of - you would regularly see a father with some kids or family, everybody getting to do the same thing.

Thelen: Well that is great.

Charles: I hope we with that one set some standards for other people, not just hit a button. It was a nice show.

Thelen: I think we better.

Charles: We better wind down.

Thelen: Is there anything more we should say at this moment. I would like to think of this as an ongoing process.

Charles: I hope so, this has been.

Thelen: I am trying to reach over to you. [pause] We have covered a lot.

Charles: Thank you for the opportunity to mouth off.

Thelen: Well, thank you for mouthing off, I think there has been a lot fantastic stuff that has come here and that you have created a gift for all the people at the intersections of these, making of history and art.

Charles: I will just make a pitch. We hope that, I hope that it is not just the first time we talk about it. I really do hope that the students at AU and other people who come will ask more questions. You find something weird in here.

Thelen: You know where to go.

Charles: Come ask us. I cannot quite imagine actually looking at the documents at this way and never having seen the exhibit. Even though I think this is for something with Franklin is as complete a picture as anyone will get because we will have the videos, we will have the scripts, we will have everything, photographs. It was very well photographed. But you are still not there. This is a physical thing you are walking through and you are picking and choosing and looking. You know, so, if you are using the collection, it will be very interesting for me I think to see what do people get out of it, what can they get out of it.

Thelen: Actually I hope people do come and talk with you about them as they are looking at these various documents, these incredibly rich documents. Trying to make sense of how - what kind of problems they are solving.

Charles: And why?

Thelen: And why and how.

Charles: Or do they influence anything. You know that is another whole question. We talked about exhibits being totally ephemeral. If they are ephemeral, one how do you what it influenced because anything it influenced is not there either.

Thelen: That is a very good point.

Charles: And does it matter.

Thelen: Well that is the big question. Maybe there is going to be some kind of an exhibit about you folks as exhibitors and that would be a nice way to link.

Charles: Try to put some ideas together.

Thelen: Try to put together the challenges that you are facing that would focus on the creative parts that you guys do. I am hoping that will happen too.

Charles: That would be fine, that would be interesting. Talking heads in our own exhibits.

Thelen: Talking heads in your own exhibits. Well I will turn this off, stop seems to be.
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