A second full-length display case for years held a mid-century hair curling gizmo along with a seated mannequin in a striking sharkskin dress. My task was to create a new technology display which would meet the Next Generation Science Standards. While the new standards are meant to stimulate creative problem solving and scientific investigation, the exhibits I started building during my internship and continued this past summer demonstrated what inventors and engineers had already accomplished using these techniques. I was free to explore the collection and use whatever I found to achieve that end.
On one hand, the opportunity to access such a collection and create displays that would be seen by thousands was enormously gratifying. It isn’t a chance I took lightly, and I don’t think that many in my position as a public history student can say they’ve had a similar experience. On the other hand, I had very little guidance in the process. Once written, my text required the approval of the Science Center’s Director of Education & Experience. She was also always willing to offer ideas on exhibits if I got stuck. My immediate supervisor would also answer specific questions if it came to that, but in general, I was isolated in the collections department during the hours I spent at work. This meant that I, too was challenged to come up with creative solutions and use whatever materials I could find in the abandoned department.
Eventually I decided to compare traditional phonograph technology with its most advanced and relatively unknown variation, the Capacitance Electronic Disc, which is a playback-only video system developed by RCA in the late 1970s. CEDs are basically phonograph technology pushed to the extreme. A single 12-inch disc holds an average-length movie, though it does need to be turned over halfway through. This technology failed to catch on because although it was priced similarly to VCRs, CED systems did not allow home users to record from television like VCRs did. Because of this, they have become a technological oddity. Although the Science Center has a permanent moratorium on collections acquisitions, a CED system along with several discs were accepted last winter.
I chose a child’s turntable from the 1950s with a 45 rpm single (which would be displayed with an appropriately-attired child-sized mannequin) to compare to the CED player, which was released in 1981.
The best part of the process was choosing clothing. I especially enjoyed the search for the perfect 1980s T-shirt for my proud CED owner. Suffice it to say, it was a much different experience than dressing the c1905 mannequin from my previous post. Here are some photos from the process…
As much as I liked the rainbow shirt, I ultimately decided to swap it for something distinctly local–a WLRS T-shirt, which I discovered was a local rock station located nearby in the 800 building. I was also able to locate some late-70s ankle socks. The children’s clothing from the ’50s in the collection was sparse, and though I don’t think it screams mid-century, this red dress was the best I could find. I admit that it took me a few tries before I understood how it was supposed to go on.
The exhibit explains how phonograph technology works, and compares the length of the groove on a 45 with that of the CED. Here are some shots of the finished exhibit, front and back…
Admittedly, certain things about the exhibit are not ideal. The felt draped over the CED’s stand and the way the text is mounted onto it is rather clumsy and unprofessional. If I’d had my druthers I would have had another plinth for the CED player.
This exhibit was a “learning-on-the-job” type experience. Overall I am happy with it and proud of how it turned out. It represents a surprising amount of research, trial and error, and planning. Though I now feel that a one-man curatorial team is not sufficient, it taught me a lot about what I am capable of.