© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Berkshire Museum Celebrates Long History Of Area Innovators

A recently completed renovation has recast the Berkshire Museum’s focus on the long history of innovation in the area.Walking through the Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation is a realization of what creative minds and hard work can produce. As the Berkshire Museum’s communications director Lesley Ann Beck explains, some of the advances made in or by people from the Berkshires are part of our lives today.

“It features the accomplishments of Berkshire innovators and inventors and all the many ways they were able to change the world around them,” Beck said. "Such as William Stanley’s design for a transformer that was able to make electricity available for people in homes and businesses. His ideas for how a transformer could work are still in use today. We’re lucky enough to have one of his original prototype transformers on display in the museum. Also, the very innovative approach that Clare Bosquet took to work with engineers from GE and light the ski slopes at his resort so people could ski at night. That happened first right here in the Berkshires.”

Using a portion of a $500,000 grant from The Feigenbaum Foundation, the museum in Pittsfield recently completed the first in series of upgrades to the hall, which is a permanent fixture.  Interactive features such as a downloadable mobile app provide extra content not seen in the exhibitions. In a tribute to the power of the brain, the hall is now home to the only publicly accessible Mindball game in Massachusetts.

“It uses EEG biofeedback,” Beck explained. “There are sensors in headbands that the two players wear on their forwards. The Mindball game uses those brain waves to move a ball back and forth on a table in sort of a channel. The idea is, by relaxing and focusing, you can cause the ball to move down the table into your opponent’s goal. At the same time, your brain waves are projected on a screen on the wall so you can see the Alpha and Theta brain waves moving as you play the game.”

Director of Development Nina Garlington and development associate Lo Sottile were gracious enough to demonstrate their mental fortitudes against each other.

After tossing my brain waves into the game, let’s just be glad no one is relying on me to invent an earth-shattering product.

When reading the hall’s display panels, it’s almost natural to do a double-take as you try to wrap your head around the fact that such accomplishments are tied to the Berkshires.

“Cyrus Field was born in Stockbridge and he was able, through great persistence with only five attempts, to lay a cable across the entire Atlantic Ocean so that telegraph information could be exchanged back and forth between the U.S. and Europe,” Beck said. “It changes everything to be able to communicate in real time.”

Fast forward from the latter half of the 1800s to the 1990s when two Williams College students developed Tripod.com, one of the first websites to popularize “blogging.”  Visitors to the hall can hear the story through an audio message at one of the innovation workshops complete with building and drawing materials.

“Different sites have different things that you have the ability to do,” the message states. “Whether it’s putting up information about yourself or some comment on a movie or book, it’s something that one person instead of a major corporation can control.”

As Beck explains, the innovation continues today in the Berkshires.

“Eric and Lisa Chamberlain at the Chamberlain Group – who have used their skills from movie special effects to now creating medical models of organs so that surgeons can learn to do their jobs better,” Beck pointed out. “These are accomplishments, inventions and creative ideas that affect everyone. It’s very, very exciting.”

When it comes to innovation, the Berkshires aren’t just noted for physical products, but also thoughts and ideas. The late Feigenbaum brothers, Armand and Donald, for whom the hall is named, lived and worked in Pittsfield. With their organization General Systems Company, their best business practice theories, including total quality control and total management control, have been put to use worldwide.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
Related Content