Open Studio with Jared Bowen


“Visionary New England,” MASS Design Group’s Michael Murphy

The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum have a new exhibition, “Visionary New England,” complete with contemporary images and historical pieces that recognizes the area’s contribution to alternative thought. Then MASS Design Group’s Michael Murphy discusses their new book, “Justice is Beauty” and his non-profit architecture firm’s projects, including the King Memorial on Boston Common, and more.

AIRED: November 20, 2020 | 0:26:46

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up on

Open Studio-- visions of utopia.

>> Right now, amid COVID, amid different crises,

we are seeing a regeneration of utopian energy.

>> BOWEN: Then, the architect creating landmarks

built on justice.

>> I think a successful memorial space

allows you to connect directly to that individual

who, in this case, was brutally murdered.

To try to see who they were as a human being.

>> BOWEN: Plus, a makeover for theMayflower.

>> Come on board, Jared.

Let's go aboardMayflower II.

>> BOWEN: I'm sure it never gets old for you.

>> Not at all.

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

First up, Walden, Thoreau, Emerson--

New England has been rich in fertile ground and thinkers.

At the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum,

the contemplation continues

with a look at how artists define utopia.

New England is dotted with

the clapboard shelters of thought.

The Old Manse, where Ralph Waldo Emerson

sussed out spirituality in nature.

Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott's father Bronson

treaded a Transcendentalist path.

And Fruitlands, Alcott's short-lived utopian commune.

>> Throughout New England, particularly in Massachusetts,

there were a number of agrarian settlements

who lived communally and strived for a better-working society

on a small scale.

>> BOWEN: It's the belief of Sarah Montross,

curator of the exhibition Visionary New England

at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum,

that those utopian notions

linger here-- taking root today

via a host of contemporary artists.

Sarah, this is gorgeous on the surface,

but tell me what's happening here.

>> So we are standing amid an installation of photography

and a floor piece by the New Haven artist Kim Weston.

Kim designed this array of incredible photographs

activated by a memorial.

You're looking at thousands of red silk tobacco bundles.

And each of these

signifies a life lost.

So the memorial is to women and children

of Native American descent

who suffer much higher degrees of violence,

disappearance, and death.

Behind us are large-scale photographs

printed on metal that Kim took at various powwows

throughout New England that Kim and her family are a part of.

The spirit energy

of the ancestor or the deity

who is inhabited by the performers

is expressed through Kim's work.

>> BOWEN: Here you'll find the traditional trappings

of Transcendentalism,

like Henry David Thoreau's pencils,

but also new sculpture by artist Sam Durant.

It stems from 2016, when the California-based artist

stationed himself in Concord at The Old Manse.

Durant built the outline of a home

reflecting those of Concord's first free Black men and women.

The installation became

a meeting place for public conversation

and is resurrected here

along with this sculpture of fused furniture--

a desk representing 18th century Black poet

Phillis Wheatley,

morphed with a recreation of Emerson's chair.

>> Both of these pieces of furniture,

that which these writers, these creators,

these world builders would have sat and put pen to paper

are now being shown in dialog

and, in fact, supporting one another.

>> BOWEN: In gallery upon gallery,

artists in the exhibition interrogate utopian ideals.

The vibrant paintings of the late artist Paul Laffoley

are like diagrams for transcendence, Montross says.

While artist Michael Madore's

envision a future world after climate change.

>> Utopian thought emerges

during particularly contested historic epochs.

And so I do think right now,

amid COVID, amid different crises,

we are seeing a regeneration of utopian energy.

>> The artists who I was interested,

who I found interesting

in our collection, were invested in social progress.

>> BOWEN: Sam Adams is the curator

of the companion show

Transcendental Modernism,

which presents artists from the museum's collection

who crafted their own 20th century take on the theme.

>> Overall, I would have to say they're darker.

You know, the show opens with exiles and emigres

who are escaping Nazi Europe.

The development of mysticism in their art is different,

but it meets up with the same strands

from Transcendentalist thinkers from the 19th century.

>> BOWEN: Adams says for some of the artists,

including poet Gary Rickson, the spirituality

comes in the actual making.

>> For him, painting this

is a very charged experience

where he's channeling these words that have come to him.

>> BOWEN: For more than 200 years,

America's thought leaders, writers, and artists

have charted paths to utopia.

But as this exhibition reminds us, none have made it there.

What is utopia?

>> Oh, it's such a great, great question,

hard to answer.

I think utopia is a concept,

an ideal that is never achieved.

>> BOWEN: Next, 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.

The team's philosophy for design, building,

and living is documented in the new 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: Book your passage to India--

it's time now for Arts This Week.

Sunday, the American Repertory Theater gets poetic withANTHEM,

a virtual performance exploring issues of race, gender,

and politics from the perspective of trans women.

CatchGlories of the Baroque, a special streaming concert

from Handel + Haydn Society, Tuesday.

>> Now, now...

Here's looking at you, kid.

>> BOWEN: Thursday, Casablanca turns 78.

The film had its world premiere in New York City

and went on to win best picture at the Academy Awards.

Bogart was nominated, but went home empty handed.

Friday, explore more than 100 paintings,

sculptures, and photographs in the Peabody Essex Museum's

three newest galleries

dedicated to India and its people.

Worcester Art Museum presents its first digital exhibition

of historic and contemporary kimonos.

Kimono Couture: The Beauty of Chiso,

goes online Saturday.

As we head into Thanksgiving, we also remember

that this is the 400th anniversary

of the Pilgrims landing on these shores,

arriving from England aboard theMayflower.

Its full-scale replica, Mayflower II,

was just added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Here's another look at a piece

we brought you earlier this fall.

In Plymouth Harbor,Mayflower II is the embodiment of promise,

a full-scale replica of the ship

that delivered Pilgrims to American shores,

where they expected to establish religious freedom.

>> It was a Greyhound bus of its era.

It was just a ship that a group of people had hired

to get them to what they thought would be Virginia

and ended up being New England.

>> BOWEN: Today, though, it's an indelible part

of this nation's founding.

And on the 400th anniversary of that famous sailing,

Mayflower II has just undergone

a three-year, multimillion- dollar restoration.

What do you see when you look at theMayflower II?

>> The American story.

That for me,

Mayflower is a memory device and it is a symbol.

For someone that has direct family ties to that ship,

it may mean one thing.

For an Indigenous person, it may have another meaning.

>> BOWEN: The ship is operated by nearby Plimoth Plantation,

where Richard Pickering is deputy executive director.

The historic site recreates life during those first

precarious years as the Pilgrims settled here.

Although Plimoth Plantation's name is changing.

>> We wanted to make certain

that the Wampanoag voice, the Indigenous voice,

was as important as the English voice.

So we have become Plimoth Patuxet Museums.

>> BOWEN: Back to theMayflower II,

it gleams once again, and, more importantly,

it's staying afloat, says Captain Whit Perry.

>> When I first took the job before we did the restoration,

the bilge pump would be coming on seven or eight times a day

to pump out the water coming in.

And of course, the first, first rule of any boat or ship

is, keep the water on the outside.

>> BOWEN: The ship's restoration happened

at Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut,

where a team of shipwrights and artisans

restored the ship's sails, wood, and metal parts,

sometimes even using 17th-century tools.

>> No one was just coming to work to punch a time card.

Everybody took a vested interest.

Come on board, Jared, let's go aboardMayflower II.

>> BOWEN: I'm sure it never gets old for you.

>> Not at all.

>> BOWEN: Like a kid still excited to show off his new toy,

Perry took me around the ship, pointing out the paint colors,

bright combinations chosen so sailors could identify

ships from afar.

And the tween deck,

where more than 100 Pilgrim passengers were relegated

for their 66-day crossing.

>> It's kind of like... no umbrella drinks

and a Carnival cruise for those folks in 1620.

>> BOWEN: So quarantined, but no social distancing.

>> Exactly.

>> BOWEN: Perry points out where restoration has happened,

like on this windlass, which hoists the anchor.

And where whole sections of the ship have been fully replaced,

an expedition all its own, with wood sourced

from around the world.

>> We actually started coining the phrase "from tree to sea."

We would start right with the log in the woods,

and one of my favorite parts was going out in the woods

with a spray can to pick the trees right out of the forest.

>> BOWEN: Steering theMayflower was nearly as complicated.

>> You can see that we can't really see much out here at all.

So how do you steer the ship?

Certainly, they would have had a magnetic compass,

and the helmsman would be down here.

But if you look at this hatch grating,

the officer of the deck would be giving steering commands

from up on the half deck.

>> BOWEN:Mayflower II was gifted to the U.S.

by England in 1957,

a thank you for American support during World War II.

It crossed the Atlantic then,

and set sail again on the open sea this summer,

as it returned from Connecticut.

Perry captained the ship with a crew of 27.

Is it peaceful?

>> Oh, yeah.

Yup, it's all of those romantic sounds

that we all know and love from movies,

of the creaking of the rigging,

the wood working against each other as the ship moves

like a living thing, and twists and moves,

which it's meant to do.

>> BOWEN: There's one sound, though,

which Perry saves for the occasional visitor

who also happened to have emceed

the ship's launch ceremony in Connecticut.

>> Jared, thank you very much

for showing an interest in Mayflower.

I think you should ring our bell for us,

the Mayflower Bell.

>> BOWEN: I would gladly-- do I get down at all into it?

>> What we're going to do, it's about 1:00.

So that would be two bells on the sailors' watch schedule.

So if you'll give it a ding-ding,

that will let the sailors know that it's 1:00.

>> BOWEN: All right, here goes.

(bell rings twice)

1:00 and all is well, and as it was.

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, sits a castle.

Built in the early 1870s, it's a testament

to a different time and personality.

>> It's this rugged place at the foot of the Rocky Mountains

with an English-style castle

(chuckles) right in the heart of it.

It's a little shocking the first time you come to the grounds.

>> It's so beautifully constructed.

It almost is perfection,

and it looks like it's been here for hundreds of years.

I think the way

that you come into Glen Eyrie on this winding road,

up a canyon, and there at the back,

this castle is situated,

looking like it's always been here.

>> The thing that makes Glen Eyrie Canyon

so powerful is, you know,

it's part of the same geology as Garden of the Gods.

>> The Garden of the Gods landscape consists, of course,

of the large, famous

red rock formations.

>> There are different colors of sandstones and conglomerates

and granite that were actually uplifted

during the mountain building process of Pike's Peak.

So, as the mountain built,

the sandstones got tilted vertically.

>> You don't really see

the sandstone spires until you get here.

The canyon opens up to you

as you arrive at the castle and continues on.

>> It's a beautiful place,

and it draws many, many people and always has.

>> One person enraptured by the views

was General William Jackson Palmer,

who came to the region on a railroad surveying trip in 1869.

After marrying his wife, Queen, they returned to the area

and soon began construction

on their dream home.

>> John Blair, the landscape architect,

saw an eagle's nest or an eyrie

on the side of a beautiful rock here

and gave the name Glen Eyrie to the space.

The carriage house at Glen Eyrie was built in 1871.

It was the first building built on the property,

and William and his new wife, Queen,

lived in the upper stories

while they were waiting for their main house to be built.

The original Glen Eyrie was a Gothic-style house,

and it was built in the form of a Latin cross.

And it had about 27 rooms,

and it was built on the banks of Camp Creek

that flows from the mountains down the Glen Eyrie Valley.

>> Years of expansions and renovations

created the estate we know today.

After Palmer's death,

Glen Eyrie was eventually purchased by The Navigators,

an international ministry, becoming a conference center.

The region has long been affected

by natural disasters, including fires and floods.

While surveying a site for flood mitigation work,

the city of Colorado Springs' lead archeologist, Anna Cordova,

stumbled upon something left behind--

the site of Palmer's trash dump.

This is where one man's trash

became a treasure for local historians.

>> Context is everything in archeology,

and I started thinking of,

you know, what am I close to?

Who was living in this area at the time?

An archeology dig of this nature

is actually very rare.

To find more about Palmer

over a hundred years after he's gone...

>> It's once in a lifetime.

>> You can't tell a lot

about one particular family in a public dump

because lots of families

are putting their trash in those places.

The really unique thing about this site

is that everything that's out there

we know came from this estate,

which it was apparently a really rare thing in archeology.

>> The number of artifacts that we actually recovered

were about 65,000.

We have looked at

every one of those artifacts. (chuckles)

We have recovered and identified probably

at least 50 different types of ceramics,

buttons, forks, knives,

cooking utensils, cups, stemware, liquor bottles,

pipes, flower pots, lots of different animal bones,

wooden furniture pieces.

We just identified a tree cleat,

which was really interesting.

A cleat that you attach to the toe

so you could climb the trees.

There's also industrial items,

so a fire hose.

We also have bottles that went into early fire extinguishers.

Photographic equipment, so we have dark room elements.

There's a lot of medicinal things too,

as well as medicine bottles, medicine jars,

vials for homeopathic type of medicines.

>> And a lot of people ask why we care about trash,

why it matters, but trash can tell you

a whole lot about households and people.

It can speak sometimes even to ethnicity,

socioeconomic status, uh, gender.

It can answer so many questions

that will talk about the daily lives of these people.

So, what they ate,

what they wore, what they read.

>> It's unedited,

and that's where its power lies because it's literally

the raw material of their lives out here at Glen Eyrie.

>> For example, we now know that Palmer really liked

Worcestershire sauce.

>> Apparently, there are many,

many Worcestershire bottles.

>> We're seeing very few items in the scheme of thousands

that we've looked at that are domestically produced.

Most everything that we're finding is being imported.

I think that's another evidence of his wealth.

>> I've got some mineral water from Budapest

even though he had some mineral water

right next door in Manatee Springs.

As far as historic archeology goes,

it's probably one of the most significant finds that we've had

definitely in Colorado Springs in the Pike's Peak region.

Archeology is important in that

it connects us to the past.

I think that helps people

to form connections with those places,

and I think if you're connected to those places,

you take care of them more as well.

>> Having an English Tudor castle in the Colorado hillside

helps remind us how people have continued to reshape Colorado

over time in their own vision.

This place remains as a symbol of those dreams, visions,

and ideas of that founding

generation of Colorado settlement.

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

Next week, the Tony nominations are out

and we look at two of this year's most nominated shows,

Jagged Little Pill andMoulin Rouge! The Musical.

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

And on behalf of all of us at Open Studio,

we wish a you a very happy Thanksgiving.

And as always you can visit us online at,

and you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,



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