Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S9 E41 | FULL EPISODE

54th Regiment Memorial, The American Heritage Museum, & more

Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, The American Heritage Museum, artifacts from the Salem Witch trials at PEM, and architect Michael Murphy of MASS Design Group

AIRED: May 28, 2021 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> We have a grand opportunity once this is restored

to expand the narrative of American history.

>> BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

the story of how the Shaw Memorial

depicting Black Civil War soldiers was made

and now restored.

Plus, a museum traveling through the history of war,

one tank at a time.

>> And you think about the crews at the time who were on these.

These were 18-year-old kids.

They weren't experienced.

They were young boys who were scared of being there.

>> BOWEN: Then, bewitched, bothered, and bountiful--

a trove of artifacts from the Salem witch trials.

>> This was a harrowing experience

for everybody involved.

>> BOWEN: And the architect creating landmarks

built on justice.

>> We have designed the plaza

as a memorial to the 1965 Freedom March that King led

with Ralph Abernathy and other great Boston civic leaders,

civil rights leaders of the time.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

First up this Memorial Day weekend,

we're revisiting memorials.

In a moment in which statues and monuments around the country

are being removed for what they represent,

the Shaw Memorial in Boston was recently fully restored,

and with pride that the monument

depicting Black soldiers marching off

to join the Civil War stands the test of time.

For nearly 125 years, the Shaw Memorial has stood

across from the Massachusetts State House.

It depicts Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

and the soldiers of the 54th Regiment--

one of the first groups of Black troops formed

during the Civil War-- as they march off to battle.

>> I see men who are determined to have their freedom

and the freedom of those who are coming after them

and their families.

So for me, it is a, a walk to triumph.

>> BOWEN: L'Merchie Frazier, director of education

for the Museum of African American History,

is a consultant on the monument's current restoration.

For the moment, bronze has been replaced by photographic brawn.

Do you still make discoveries when you look at the pictures?

>> Oh, absolutely.

There's a reveal that happens almost every time.

That, you know, you find the mastery of the angel

and components of the flight that she's taken

to guard the men and to protect.

>> BOWEN: Right now, the real thing

is taking the winter lying down.

Since August, the monument been at Skylight Studios,

a wonderland of sculpture.

Here, statuary abounds,

from a horse approaching the size of a Trojan one

to the gold eagle normally perched atop

Boston's Old State House.

But the pièce de résistance, of course,

is the monument which Robert Shure and his team

have been conserving for months.

>> We totally, um, stripped all the previous coatings

that were on it,

and refinished it, repatinated it.

>> BOWEN: This is a $3 million effort

sponsored by the National Park Service,

Friends of Boston's Public Garden,

the City of Boston,

and the Museum of African American History.

At Skylight, conservators take the project piece by piece,

shoring up the seams of the monument's

some 20 different parts.

>> A couple of nuts and bolts missing,

but it was in structurally great condition

for a piece that was over 100 years old.

>> BOWEN: The monument is the creation of sculptor

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who originally intended

to depict the colonel astride his horse.

But after Shaw's family of abolitionists

asked the artist to also depict the men

who elevated Shaw's fame,

Saint-Gaudens turned the project into a 14-year endeavor,

laboring over details, some which can never even

be seen when the memorial is upright.

It's a monument to perfection, says Shure,

who is also a sculptor.

What do you see when you get this close,

especially further up in the statue?

>> Just the faces, really, of the infantrymen.

The way the sculptor rendered them with such emotion.

You could see in their faces fear,

you could see the determination,

you could see the dedication.

>> BOWEN: In July of 1863, under the cover of darkness,

the 54th stormed Fort Wagner in South Carolina.

The regiment was defeated, with nearly half of the troops killed

or wounded, including Shaw.

But that moment, the regiment's ferocious battle for liberty,

would be memorialized-- in remembrances, testimonials,

and even in Hollywood, in the 1989 filmGlory.

>> Come on!

(gunshots, explosions)

>> (screaming)

>> BOWEN: Some 20 years after the battle,

Saint-Gaudens began work on the memorial.

We first reported on the monument in 2014,

when the National Gallery of Art

and the Massachusetts Historical Society presented

Tell It With Pride, an exhibition that told

the stories behind the monument.

For Saint-Gaudens, an internationally known artist,

the sculpture was a labor of love, said curator Anne Bentley.

Do we know why he was so obsessive about this?

>> That was just the way he worked.

After the monument was unveiled,

he wasn't terribly happy with it.

He continued to tinker for several years.

>> BOWEN: It is a piece rich in detail,

featuring 23 men marching off to battle,

guns hoisted,

packs tugging,

and fabric folding.

But they are not the real soldiers.

Long after the war's end, Saint-Gaudens hired some

40 models for inspiration.

The exhibition introduced us

to many of the regiment's real men--

well represented in photographs

they themselves commissioned,

said the society's librarian, Peter Drummey.

>> It's wonderful to see people who were

proud of their uniforms

and the accoutrements of their ranks

as non-commissioned officers,

their instruments as musicians.

Often, they paid to have the photograph hand-colored

to bring out the, um, gold of their buttons

or their belt buckle, or the different colors

of parts of their uniform.

>> BOWEN: All so that they could remember their days.

But today, it's posterity and a monument that remember them.

And during this time

of racial reckoning, L'Merchie Frazier says their valor

can be even more deeply understood.

>> How would they have reacted to their names being, um,

engraved in a monument in a permanent way

in American history?

So, I think that we have a grand opportunity

once this is restored

to expand the narrative of American history.

Next, one of the newest museums in Massachusetts

is housed in a 65,000-square- foot building in Stow,

a place large enough to exhibit some 50 fully restored tanks

and armored vehicles.

It's an awesome array, but make no mistake,

the American Heritage Museum has a mission of remembrance,

not glorification.

Step onto the mezzanine of the American Heritage Museum

and you survey what seems, from a distance anyway,

like a sea of overgrown toys.

They are anything but.

>> These are the vehicles, the artifacts that have

the chronology of how war came about.

>> BOWEN: Down on the floor, staring up at these behemoths,

you find a hulking history of war.

Tank after towering tank--

tools of one of mankind's darkest trades.

>> They were manned by humans, by men and women

in the case of the Soviet tanks on the Eastern Front.

And all of these have a remarkable story of sacrifice,

of perseverance and resilience.

>> BOWEN: Rob Collings is the president

of the American Heritage Museum, which opened in 2019.

Most of the tanks come from the late private collector

Jacques Littlefield and are housed in a custom-built,

65,000-square-foot facility

spanning this country's war record.

In terms of tanks, it moves from 1917

and the first mass-produced American one,

to the M1A1 in use today.

>> The collection is the best in the world of these artifacts.

There are at least a dozen,

they're the only examples on display in the U.S.,

and a handful are the only one of their type

in the entire world.

They're all restored and they're running condition.

>> BOWEN: So almost any of these tanks could roll out of here

into the field behind us?

>> Not only can they, they do. (vehicle rumbling in distance)

In fact, you can hear one right now.

(chuckling)

>> BOWEN: The source of the thunderous rumbling

that interrupted our interview-- a Sherman tank from World War II

making laps on a field behind the museum.

>> These could land on the beaches of Normandy

and drive all the way to Berlin.

And you think about the crews at the time who were on these.

These were 18-year-old kids.

They weren't experienced.

They were young boys who were scared of being there.

But also they had these mechanical skills

coming off the farm.

And it's a lot like a very large tractor.

>> BOWEN: In non-pandemic times, the museum typically offers

demonstration weekends and World War II re-enactments.

Helping to make those happen is Dick Moran,

whom we found nearing the end of a six-year-long restoration

of a Panzer 1, produced by Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

>> It was maneuverable, it was small, two-man crew.

It was the best of the best at the time.

What's really interesting, if you want to look up inside

the turret, you can see the machine guns in here.

The hatch, the sights, ammunition boxes.

>> BOWEN: And this is exactly where the museum

often returns-- to the deadly reality of war.

To the fact that these were killing machines,

not to mention literal death traps.

Tanks were the most obvious and often easiest targets

on battlefields.

This Jumbo, which lumbered through the Battle of the Bulge,

still bears the scars of bombs and bullets.

As mighty as they are, their crew rarely survived assaults.

>> One day we actually went to a lecture,

and a this gentleman stepped up and he said,

"Do you know the life expectancy of a tank crew?"

And he said, "If you go into battle, it was 25 minutes."

And we all sank into our chairs.

Wow!

>> BOWEN: Colin Rixon is the museum's lead docent

and a veteran of the British Army

who patrolled the Berlin Wall during the Cold War.

He and a host of veterans, doubling as docents,

tour visitors through exhibition highlights

like the Prime Mover-- an artillery vehicle later driven

by actor Lee Marvin in the film The Dirty Dozen.

They visit the Higgins boat that delivered infantry

onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day

and the so-called Churchill Crocodile,

which incinerated anything and anyone in its path.

>> This is my father's uniform that he wore

when he was commander on a troop of Churchill Crocodiles

that went ashore.

>> BOWEN: The personal is paramount here.

Rixon says a steady stream of veterans

now make pilgrimages to the museum with their families.

Is it good? Is it it bad,

as they remember all of these things,

seeing all of these pieces?

>> So, many of them, it brings the story to...

it helps them because they're able to talk about it now.

That's the way to get over it,

because you bottle it up inside you.

>> BOWEN: And it's where the museum leaves us,

with five men, part of a U.S. Marine tank crew,

who saw their commander, Marine Sergeant George Ulloa,

killed in an I.E.D. explosion during the Iraq War.

In this video, they discuss the attack

in front of his now-restored tank.

(explosion)

>> That was an I.E.D.

>> (expels air) They blew up.

>> BOWEN: It's a very cut and dry reminder

that everything here holds a history of horror,

making this the rare museum that, in one regard,

hopes to never expand.

>> A lot of people will say, coming in here,

"Is this a museum that glorifies war?"

And by the time they get to the end,

they realize it's an anti-war museum,

because to totally understand war,

you will never want it again.

It may not be a total surprise

that the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem

has a comprehensive collection of artifacts

from the Salem witch trials.

From original testimony to a chilling death warrant,

they reveal how times of crisis leave a community undone.

Centuries after its notorious witch trials,

Salem, Massachusetts, is still spellbound.

It's a brew of memorials,

historic sites, and tourist trails.

It also doesn't shy away from being a cauldron of camp,

fromBewitched toHocus Pocus.

>> Hello, Salem!

My name's Winifred-- what's yours?

♪ I put a spell on you

>> BOWEN: But as a new exhibition

at the Peabody Essex Museum reminds us,

the history here is real and it is grim.

>> The people involved in this crisis

had fears and emotions just like we do,

and that...

This was a harrowing experience for everybody involved.

>> BOWEN: The show of fragile, rarely exhibited artifacts

delivers us to 1692, when rapidly rising hysteria

resulted in a torrent of accusations

that brought down some 400 people

in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and led to the deaths of 25.

And it was all very diligently recorded,

says co-curator Dan Lipcan.

>> These are pieces of paper that people wrote on by hand.

These are objects that the people involved owned--

a chair that someone sat in.

That helps us identify with the people

that were involved in this crisis.

>> BOWEN: That crisis emerged from a set of events

that have a chilling resonance today.

>> There was extreme weather.

There were really dry summers, very cold winters.

There had been a smallpox epidemic.

There was a war to the north.

And there were refugees coming into town

from Maine and New Hampshire.

>> People begin to look for answers.

"Who's responsible for our problems?"

Basically becomes an issue of scapegoating, right?

Rushing to judgment,

looking for someone to blame for your problems.

>> BOWEN: Historian Emerson Baker

is the author of A Storm of Witchcraft.

He says the blaming was easy.

There was even this 15th-century book, theMalleus Maleficarum,

that was a manual for taking down witches,

something that had plenty of precedent in Europe.

>> What happened in Salem is really just the tip

of a huge iceberg between the, about 1400 and 1750,

which is generally called the great age of witch hunts

in Europe and her colonies.

About 100,000 people were accused of witchcraft

and about half of them were executed.

>> BOWEN: The accusations began to fly in Salem in January.

By June, there was this warrant

for the execution of Bridget Bishop,

the first woman to be hanged.

She'd initially been acquitted for a lack of evidence.

>> Witchcraft is a gendered crime.

About three-quarters of the people accused in Salem

and elsewhere across time are women.

>> BOWEN: In Salem, they were subject

to intense physical examinations that were neatly recorded.

>> A group of women and typically a male surgeon

were instructed to inspect the accused

for any skin abnormalities that might be seen

as a sign of, you know, the devil's influence.

>> BOWEN: I know this is one of the few

surviving remnants of a jail.

What were the circumstances in the jail like?

>> The jail was dirty, it was infested with vermin.

People were screaming.

Um, I think it was a pretty horrific place, um, to be.

>> BOWEN: The exhibition acquaints us

with how Salem's villagers lived ordinary lives.

The accused embroidered, and they had arthritis.

>> George Jacobs was somebody who was accused

and later executed.

And so he used two walking sticks to get around town.

And in the testimony of folks that, that accused him--

including his own granddaughter--

they mentioned as one of the ways

in which he afflicted them was that his specter,

or his ghost, would beat them with walking sticks

and with his two canes.

>> BOWEN: By the spring of 1693, the hysteria faded.

Villagers began to stand up for their neighbors

and the community collectively realized

it had gone too far--

not that it would acknowledge as much, says Emerson Baker.

>> I believe that this is the first

large-scale government cover-up in American history.

When Governor Phips ends the trials,

he also issues a publication ban.

And basically says,

you know, "It really wouldn't do

"to have a lot of talk about this.

"And we have the one book here we want.

We have Cotton Mather,"

who is really the apologist for the government,

"who's written this perfect book

"describing how no innocent lives were lost,

and we did everything right."

>> BOWEN: History, of course, would correct course.

And at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial,

days after the anniversary of when the final group

of eight witches were hanged in September 1692,

we found the victims were not forgotten.

How much does it strike you that people

are still coming here placing flowers?

>> This story is very much alive with people today.

It resonates.

People know what it's like to be scapegoated,

to be, to be victimized.

And they like to come here to pay their respects.

It's a pretty moving space.

>> BOWEN: Compelled to think beyond big, shiny,

attention-grabbing buildings, architect Michael Murphy

has posed the question: what more can architecture do?

He is founding principal and executive director

of MASS Design Group, which has built

schools in Rwanda, hospitals in Haiti,

and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

in Montgomery, Alabama.

A look at the team's first decade in design

is documented in the book Justice Is Beauty.

Michael Murphy, thank you so much for being with us.

Congratulations on the monograph.

>> Thank you, Jared. Great to be here.

I really appreciate you taking some time.

>> BOWEN: Well, of course. So in this monograph,

we see ten years of MASS Design Group's work,

buildings all over the world, big, small.

How do you, how do you distill

what the essence, the spirit of your design is,

especially harkening back to the title,Justice Is Beauty?

>> I think they all share a fundamental belief

that the role of architecture is really to guide us

towards spaces that deliver better health care,

be that better air flow from, say,

something like the coronavirus,

inspire us to believe in

something greater about ourselves and our community,

a kind of spiritual awakening, and also sometimes address

really fundamental problems in our countries,

for example, around memorials or landscapes of injustice

that we can actually address them

through the built environment.

>> BOWEN: A lot of your projects,

you go to a community, wherever it is in the world,

sometimes places you've never been before.

You sit down in that community, you spend time, months there.

You get to know the community.

So in the end, who is the architect?

Or is there an architect, or is it the community?

>> I think that's a great question.

I think you see this in hospital design.

You know, if you don't talk to the nurses,

you're never going to see,

you know, who the real designers are.

These are the folks that are

every day seeing that there's problems

not only in the building, but in their,

in their machines or in the tools that they have.

There is design happening everywhere.

And I think the role of the architect

is really as a steward, as a listener,

to try to find where those moments are

and inspire them into something more dramatic

and to also present not what people want,

but what people need, to listen really intently

and then to work with a team of folks who are trained

in the built environment to say,

"How does that translate to an infrastructure,

"a spatial solution that addresses the needs

"that we see being demanded, even nonverbally,

from people within the community that we're serving?"

>> BOWEN: We've talked a lot about health.

Of course, we're in a health crisis now

with the coronavirus, with this pandemic.

But you've already done work in communities and countries

where there have there have been outbreaks of disease.

So, in a way, I guess you're kind of prepared for this,

and as you take a step back,

how well does architecture stand up,

perhaps in places like the United States,

against a pandemic?

>> Yeah, I mean, I think our experience in the past

was a lot of times in pandemic-- you know,

we worked with tuberculosis in Rwanda,

we worked with cholera in Haiti, we worked with ebola in Liberia.

And I think in each of those cases,

designing for the limit case condition of the surge,

of the most problematic ultimate failure

that we might see turns out to solve

a lot of other problems as well.

Now, the whole world is aware.

Everybody in the world is aware that the buildings around us

are keeping us from uncontaminated air

and that that is a spatial awakening

that I believe we're all undergoing right now

that could radically transform

not only our built environment around us,

the buildings that are built, but what we demand of them.

>> BOWEN: Switching gears a little bit,

you've designed some very indelible memorials worldwide,

a Holocaust memorial and very, very notably

here at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

in Montgomery, Alabama.

Other people know it as the memorial to

victims of lynchings in this country.

How do you... looking at the lynching memorial in particular,

how do you use space to, to begin to understand

how to create something of that magnitude

with all solemnity?

>> Well, first of all, you know,

all credit for the Memorial for Peace and Justice

goes to Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative.

I mean, they truly have transformed

the way we understand our, our history of terrorism,

racial terror, our history,

the recreation and resubstantiation

of racial difference. And we took very seriously

the journey that Bryan Stevenson,

in his theory of change, talks about.

He talks about we must go through

a transformation ourselves in order to understand

the history of lynching.

And it's been really transformative

for the way I understand buildings more generally,

that they're... you know, they're not sculptures.

They're, they're experiences.

>> BOWEN: How much do you consider emotion

with the memorials?

I'm, I'm desperate to get there myself.

I still haven't been there,

but in the videos that I have seen,

in photographs I've seen from your own book,

you see the emotions on people's faces.

Is that something that you design around?

>> I think a successful memorial space

allows you to connect directly to that individual,

who in this case was brutally murdered,

or in the public square, for example,

connect to their name, try to find their history,

understand them as a human being,

and not just as a number, as a...

as a someone listed on a spreadsheet,

to try to see who they were as a human being,

their dignity.

That's the hardest thing a memorial can do,

but the other thing a memorial has to do is

make us feel the weight of the infinite,

that innumerable, unaccountable loss

that we can't even fully reckon with.

And that's that sense of the hugeness of it,

the volume of it.

And if it deals with both of those,

you can connect directly and also feel that infinite sense,

that innumerable weight,

the overwhelmingness of it.

I believe the memorial is working on both planes.

>> BOWEN: Well, with that in mind,

then take us through the experience

that we will have right here in Boston

with the memorial to Martin Luther King,

Coretta Scott King in the city where they met.

Your memorial will be on Boston Common.

>> Oh, I'm so glad you asked that.

We haven't really had a chance to talk about that.

But-- so let me do this.

I haven't done this before.

But, you know, first of all, what you're going to see

when you come to the Common is this incredible sculpture

by the amazing Hank Willis Thomas.

And the sculpture is gonna... is really,

it's coming out of the ground, and it's two hands,

two arms wrapped around each other.

And it's from an image of Coretta and Martin hugging

and embracing each other after he won the Nobel Peace Prize,

after it was announced.

And so you're going to see these arms,

these elbows leaning on the ground,

this huge sculpture that you can walk within.

It's going to be a beacon.

But as you get closer, we very, very deliberately designed

the experience of the ground, and we have designed the plaza,

which this sculpture sits upon, as a memorial

to the 1965 Freedom March that King led

with Ralph Abernathy and other great Boston civic leaders,

civil rights leaders of the time.

And here we have a chance to say they hold us up.

And these great heroes are only possible

because of so many of their voices and their activism.

And we give them reverence and give them space.

>> BOWEN: Michael Murphy, thank you so much.

Justice Is Beauty, it's a fantastic book.

Thank you for being with us.

>> I'm grateful for the time.

Thank you so much, Jared. Thank you all.

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, a family's dogged efforts to track down

art stolen by the Nazis.

Plus, a peek inside a Boston mansion

that is the last surviving home designed by Tiffany.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen, thanks for joining us.

As always, you can visit us online

at GBH.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter

@OpenStudioGBH.

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