AHA! A House for Arts

S6 E19 | FULL EPISODE

AHA! | 619

Explore the art of Melissa Thorne, who uses patterns in her work as an indicator of place and cultural identity. Discuss science, innovation, and creativity with miSci president, Gina Gould. Singer/songwriter Charlotte Reilly performs "Your Eyes" at WMHT Studios.

AIRED: November 04, 2020 | 0:26:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

(upbeat thematic music)

(upbeat music)

- Explore color and patterns with Melissa Thorne,

learn about innovation and science with miSci's, Gina Gould,

and hear a performance by Charlotte Reilly.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA!, A House For Arts.

- [Announcer] Funding for AHA! has been provided

by your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation,

and the Robinson Family Foundation.

- At M & T Bank,

we understand that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M & T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.

(upbeat music)

- Hi, I'm Laura Ayad and this is AHA!, A house for arts.

A place for all things creative.

Let's send it right over to Matt Rakowitz

for today's field segment.

(bouncy music)

- It's a rainy day here in Troy, New York.

But we're about to head up into the studio of Melissa Thorne

who's abstract painting contain patterns

with a story to tell. Follow me.

(pulsating music)

(door shuts)

- Hi, welcome. Come on in.

As you can see around you

there's a lot of pattern in my studio.

Part of my interest in pattern

has to do with this idea of taking this sort of

disparate and confusing elements of the world

and making some kind of order out of them.

In most cases, I'm also thinking about

how can I take something in the world

that I see and look at and recognize,

maybe something that's familiar,

how can I simplify or abstract that in a way

so that it might become unfamiliar

or might open up a kind of possibility

or a doorway inside of it for some other way

of seeing or looking or thinking or feeling?

(background piano music)

I knew I wanted to be an artist from a very young age.

My grandfather was a serious woodworker

and let me work in his shop with him.

As early as the age of probably four or five,

I started building things with him in his shop.

And my maternal grandmother was a real crafter.

She made ceramics, she was a needle worker.

So I didn't necessarily know that

being an artist was something

that you could do as a career or as a kind of vocation.

But I knew that I liked working with my hands

and that I was drawn to activities

where I got to sort of make some sort of

expression of how I wanted to arrange the world.

(paced piano music)

Probably when I was in undergrad,

so probably around the time that I was in my early 20s,

I started gravitating toward patterns

that came from things like wallpaper, textiles.

And initially, I was really interested

in the history of these patterns.

So I was looking at something like Victorian pattern,

like a wallpaper pattern and thinking about,

where did these forms come from?

What is the sort of design history behind them?

What kind of cultural information

might be embedded in these patterns?

I became more and more interested

in patterns that are hand-made.

So for instance, a potholder or a crochet Afghan or doily,

thinking about the decisions and intentions

that go into a crafted object.

And also thinking about this idea of

what do we think of art,

what do we think of as craft or design?

What are the sort of hierarchies involved there.

I'll make a template and then just print it out,

put it in a way, we're kind of coloring them as.

I go through a process of drawing and usually starting

to take information out.

So maybe simplifying something,

maybe taking out a detail and repeating it

to create a new pattern.

In some cases, taking something that might be a flat pattern

and making it dimensional, giving it volume

and seeing what does it look like if this becomes a form

instead of just a surface?

So that's how the drawings and paintings sort of start.

And then past that, there's another part of my process

that has come up over probably the last decade

in which I'm also painting the walls of the space

that the pieces appear in.

So here in my studio,

we're just looking at individual pieces,

but in a gallery situation or museum or institution,

or in some cases abandoned cabins,

I'll make a piece that is painted directly on the wall

and then perhaps something will hang on top of it.

(dramatic music fades)

(lively piano music)

I started this process where I collect color

for a project from the surroundings that I'm in.

Things from nature,

different kinds of paint finishes

from vernacular architecture.

So it's like you're kind of collecting color

to create a sense of place.

Color is a really central component to the way that I work.

It's probably the most,

what's the right word?

I think a lot of my work works through systems and methods,

but I give myself a lot of permission to perhaps be

more evocative or sensory

or kind of more intuitive with color.

(upbeat music)

Painterly abstraction offers an opportunity

for a viewer to have a new experience.

We are so bombarded with images

and with sensory information

and a lot of it is given to us in formats

that are very familiar to us

and that we read in a very linear way.

And I think when that is interrupted,

when we have a moment that proposes a new way of looking

or a new way of feeling or seeing,

that that is an opportunity for some kind of opening

that I think is really exciting.

(upbeat chime music)

- Gina Gould is the president of miSci,

the Museum of Innovation and Science

in Schenectady, New York.

Why is miSci so important to the capital region?

And how are creativity and science connected?

Let's chat with Gina to find out.

Gina, welcome to house for arts.

It's a pleasure to have you.

- Thank you very much, Laura.

It's a pleasure to be here.

- So tell me a little bit about

the Museum of Science and Innovation in Schenectady.

What is its mission?

What kinds of collections do you have there?

- Well, it's miSci, Museum of Science and Innovation.

And it used to be the Schenectady Museum,

which was really more of a local museum

where they had textile collections as well as art.

But there was a lot of science, right?

There was a lot of gadgets, I call them,

but they're really innovations from GE

and various other places around the country.

So back about 2015, Schenectady Museum

really switched over to a science museum

and we are really focusing on, now we're focusing on steam.

So we're really looking at, for example,

we'll have a collection of toasters from the first toaster

to a modern toaster and people don't even realize

that the toaster was the second electrical appliance

ever created, the first being the lamp.

- Wow! So just common household items

that we sort of take for granted every day.

We don't realize how old and what it is.

- How old and how important and how they changed,

how we live in our culture.

But we don't just have that, for example,

we have the first dynamo which created electricity.

We have the first recorded human voice,

which was Edison's

So we have a lot of things that really, chronicle innovation

from the beginning of electricity, right?

Because Schenectady used to be the electric city.

- Yeah.

Yeah. No, I know.

That's a really common way to refer to Schenectady.

- Exactly.

- I'm wondering what's the difference

between the collection-based science museum like miSci

museum in Schenectady and a science center?

Which is sometimes something you also hear about

science center in major cities.

So what's the main difference between them?

Maybe give us an example too.

- In general, science centers

don't actually have any collections.

So everything they do, every topic that they consider,

is really focused around

18th century and 19th century phenomena.

Explanation of physics or something like that.

Whereas a collection space museum

is something altogether different.

Research occurs in a collection space museum.

So for miSci, we have over 400 scientists

from around the world every year

asking for information from our archives or collections.

There's over 25 books written

about the importance of our collections.

So a science center actually doesn't have that,

and they can pick the topics that they want.

Our mission is driven around what's in our basement,

what are the stories,

and the stories that your collections tell

and your archives tell.

That's really the big difference.

- What's the importance of miSci

to the capital region in particular?

- Well, I think it's several fold.

And I should tell you that this was new to me,

I'm a former evolutionary biologist and paleontologists.

I'm used to looking at bones and skins.

And when I first came to miSci

and walked around the collections, I was gobsmacked by the,

I don't want to refer to it as stuff,

but it's just stuff that you can relate to,

because we all have had,

we all have a telephone, we all have a radio,

we all have a refrigerator,

but we never really think about how it was engineered,

how the idea came up, the design, right?

How did they market it?

So we really chronicle innovation and the business thereof.

Which is one of the reasons why so many researchers

come to us for information, because GE during their heyday,

they had it down, they had the formula down.

So we're telling the story of the capital region

and innovation, but that story is also the global story.

I mean GE sold products to Mexico, to Europe,

all over the world. They changed the world.

And so that's why it's not just our capital region story,

it's a global story and I think it also,

when people really get what happened here, it elicits pride.

And I think pride is really important

to have right now, especially now.

Pride is really important

and to understand that,

"Wow, you know that happened here before?

Why can't we make it happen again?"

- Yeah, a sense of grounding in the local community

and the history of the community as well.

- Absolutely.

- So tell me, you talked before about, well,

looking at bones and skins in your career historically,

but how did you get to miSci? What was your journey?

- Well, I got my doctorate

at Lamont-Doherty Earth observatory

in Columbia University.

And yes, okay, I studied hedgehogs.

(both laugh)

- But they're really cute though.

There's tons of YouTube videos on hedgehogs.

- They are absolutely adorable.

And they have a long history.

They're actually,

their lineage goes back way before dinosaurs went extinct,

so they're quite interesting. - And before toasters.

- And well before toasters, right, and electricity.

And I just really started getting,

I love to do the research,

but I really got interested in doing exhibitions.

I find exhibitions really fun to do

because you're working with engineers,

you're working with designers,

you're working with artists,

you're working with graphic designers.

So, just sort of my moving around the country,

taking different jobs, I found miSci was looking for a job,

and I thought, "Wow, that's a really interesting museum."

Not to mention that I went to undergraduate school

in SUNY, Oswego and my friend lived in Troy,

and I'd come and visit and I always thought

I would retire in Troy. It's a nice town.

- Yeah. Yeah.

So it sounds like all of this collaborative work

as well as your focus at miSci

on things like design, innovation,

I mean, oftentimes when we think of creativity,

we think of artists like painters

or dancers or visual artists,

but scientists are no strangers to creativity clearly.

- Absolutely not.

- I'm wondering how do you and the rest of the staff

at miSci use creativity to engage

with people who visit the museum

and how you see that moving forward

for the next couple of years?

- Well, that's a really good question,

it's very COVID-dependent right now.

We have been really switching gears

and living up to our name, innovation,

and really taking the next steps

to engage in our community digitally.

Our community is really spreading.

We've been taking a lot from our collections now

and actually posting it online.

With these stories, not just from our collections,

but connecting them to NASA collections,

to the Smithsonian collections,

to collections in California.

And we're really telling a complete story for the first time

because we can pull from different databases.

And that conversation on social media, on our Instagram,

and our Facebook page,

we've really started dialogues among scientists.

For example, one of our posts about

Knolls Atomic Laboratory, right?

"Pulling Back The Veil",

we posted one thing and it started this national

conversation between scientists

and then talking about what they want to see next.

And that's how we're pulling our creativeness from them.

- And I'm just curious,

where are you posting these videos?

Also so that viewers too can know

where to look for these types of programs?

- Well, our website is www.misci, M-I-S-C-I.org.

And you can go on there and find our YouTube channel,

which has a host of really great videos.

You can like us on Facebook or our Instagram page.

- Yeah.

Why do you think these...

These programs sound fantastic.

Why do you think these programs and partnerships at miSci

are so vital to local communities as well as communities

more nationally and internationally, it sounds like?

- Well, you know, this area is really interesting

because it has more PhDs, mathematicians, and engineers

per capita than anywhere else in the world.

- Even more than Boston. - Even...

I'm sorry, but it does. (both laughing)

- No, no, no, that's okay.

I'm thinking of PhDs

- And so it's phenomenological, right?

But yet the underlying issue is that

we also have a huge amount of poverty

and poor and underserved communities.

I mean, miSci is located in one of those communities.

And so I think it's really important to connect the two.

Right now, we've started

a partnership with Clarkson University.

They call it CRC Clarkson, Capital Region Clarkson.

In their department of education,

Graduate School of Education is

right across the street from us.

And we're starting this partnership to really drill down

on how do we engage these communities

from the time they're little, tiny ones

all the way up through college?

And how do we engage the teachers?

Because a lot of teachers

that teach elementary school learn pedagogy,

they don't learn science in there.

They got to teach science.

- Right.

Right, they're not learning about

the content that they're teaching,

but they're teaching the methods.

They're of learning about

the methods of teaching. - That's exactly right.

- Can you give me a little more of a picture

of an example of what that might look like,

what this partnership with Clarkson

and working with teachers?

Is there any particular example you can think of?

- Yes, well, right now we're working on

a new Master's Degree program in experiential learning

where we really want the teachers

to get away from some of the things that they're used to

and get their kids engaged in week-long topical things

that include math, science, history, sociology, civics,

all in one fell swoop.

Because that really is what science is, right?

You can't look at the toaster then you ask,

okay, here's the question,

"Gina, why did they...

Why was the toaster the second thing they ever created?"

Because more women went on fire trying to make toast.

Remember they wore all of the long dresses

and the long sleeves and they were sticking these tongs

in the fire to toast bread.

And everybody toasted bread

because bread was so hard to make

and it was expensive. That's why they made it.

So you've got to think about

what was happening in the history.

Why they did those things.

Why did they create these little breakfast items

that you see in photographs on tables

when they had a stove.

Well, it was a coal-burning stove,

it took a long time to get it going in the morning.

They didn't want to do that.

They wanted to plug in, heat up their breakfast, and go.

And so teaching teachers these,

it's like the envelope around the...

- The story of the human experience, the fuels,

innovations and science - Exactly, thank you.

And the science behind it.

- Yeah, that sounds absolutely amazing Gina.

I can't wait to check out

all the new programs that you have for miSci.

It's such a pleasure having you on the show.

- Thank you, it was a pleasure being here.

Thank you, Laura.

- This next song is called, "Your Eyes".

I was going back and forth on which one to play for a while

and this just seemed right.

It was a couple of years ago, four or five now I think,

my mom wrote the lyrics to the song for me.

And she handed me the lyrics

and I wrote a melody and chords to it, I think that hour.

And it's been one of the songs that's meant a lot to me

but I haven't played in a while.

And yeah, I just wanted to dedicate this one to my mom

and everything she's going through right now.

I hope she enjoys.

(subtle guitar music)

♪ I search your eyes ♪

♪ And find ♪

♪ An abundance of intensity ♪

♪ I see the love you hold for me ♪

♪ And love for so much more ♪

♪ Innocence and wonder ♪

♪ In your eyes, my love ♪

♪ In the darkness of the night ♪

♪ They are the stars above ♪

♪ They smile and they sparkle, yeah ♪

♪ Your eyes, my love ♪

♪ Oh, your eyes ♪

♪ They draw me in ♪

♪ It's more than beauty that I find ♪

♪ Dark blue water ♪

♪ Oceans deep ♪

♪ Shadows playing with the blackness ♪

♪ Beautiful blackness ♪

♪ I find intensity ♪

♪ Expressive as the sunrise ♪

♪ Call of a morning dove ♪

♪ She-Wolf who I love ♪

♪ The painted sky above ♪

♪ Expressive as the sunrise ♪

♪ Call of a morning dove ♪

♪ She-Wolf who I love ♪

♪ The painted skies above ♪

♪ The painted skies above ♪

♪ It's endless ♪

♪ prayer, my precious ♪

♪ It's endless ♪

♪ My prayer, my precious ♪

♪ Innocence and wonder ♪

♪ In your eyes, my love ♪

♪ In the darkness of the night ♪

♪ They are stars above ♪

♪ They smile and they sparkle ♪

♪ Your eyes, my love ♪

♪ Your eyes, your eyes, your eyes ♪

♪ They draw me in ♪

♪ Oh, your eyes ♪

♪ My eyes will find you in the stars ♪

♪ Will find you in the dark ♪

♪ Wherever you are ♪

♪ My eyes will find you in the stars ♪

♪ Will find you in the dark ♪

♪ Wherever you are ♪

(subtle guitar music concludes)

(upbeat theme music) - Thanks for joining us.

For more arts visit wmht.org/aha.

And be sure to connect with WMHT on social.

I'm Laura Ayad. Thanks for watching.

(upbeat music)

- It's locked.

(laughing)

(upbeat thematic music)

- [Announcer] Funding for aha,

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation,

and the Robinson Family Foundation.

- At M & T Bank,

we understand that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M & T bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.

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