How I spent my summer vacation…

1…without a stitch…

Is it a caution of old age to be first grateful for safety? Our hammers, saws, awls, razor blades, scissors and sanders barely nicked the young hands we guided.  There were more skinned knees than knuckles to attend.  The 78 epi pens we logged in were ready, but unneeded.  The bees minded their own territory, and nuts were verboten.

2…in an ensemble…

The product of our workshop that you see is things:  sewn, flown, battery powered, sculpted, painted things.  What we see is the resourceful, disciplined, eager effort of a staff of 40.  The Apprentices range from the last of their middle school years to the last of their college years.  We ask none of them to work the full ten weeks.  So it takes a pool of 60 prepared apprentices to fill the summer’s weekly requirements.  So many skills, so many responsibilities.  They are a product of every hour of our work.

Each year a precious core of leaders moves on to internships, travel, and careers.  This year’s senior designers Olivia Mahler Haug and Mark Wesolowski are headed to Tulane and Penn State, respectively.  In a few weeks we’ll start again with a dozen 13 year-olds, knowing that with about 2000 hours  of training, they too could become the new design leaders.

3…in the company of masters…

Virtuosity is compelling.  Our students know this.  Al Volmer invested his many decades of aeromodeling wisdom in our novice builders.  Master designer Martha Burns trained our staff and students… some as young as 7, in the arts of “building” with needles and thread.  Susan Clinard and Alexis Brown brought the verve of the Art Institute of Chicago to young sculptors.  Artist/woodworker Sylvie Rosenthal returned to inspire mechanical birds based on her work that began here some twenty years ago.  And preeminent archaeologist Michael Coe graciously answered the questions of our young rebuilders of Tenochtitlan.

Alex:  Dr. Coe, why did the Aztecs eat dogs?

Dr. Coe: Apparently when dogs are fattened on avocados, they are quite tasty.

4…under Wanda’s watchful eye…

So many children, parents, babysitters, and staff.  How can we keep track?  Wanda Faison has an uncanny gift for knowing who everyone is, where they are, what they’ve left behind, and, if they are distracted, why.  We are not sure how she does it.  We know, and every child knows, that nothing can go wrong when Wanda is here.

5…in the shade…

Ten years ago we began a plan to systematically restore the site’s tree cover.  It was hot and humid this summer.  But a breeze comes up the river.  And the trees have begun to spread essential shade.

6…less wastefully…

We cut our solid waste pick-up in half.  We returned lunch bags and left-overs.  Parents knew just how much was getting eaten.  We sent 66 yards less “stuff” to land fills.

7…in other than words…

Words are not the best way to master the shapes and colors and connections of our projects.  Perhaps that’s how our summer got translated into so many languages.  We hosted children from Iraq, Romania, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Mexico, Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Eqypt, Israel, France, Switzerland, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Guatemala, Iran, India, Pakistan, Mongolia, and England.  (And we’ve probably overlooked a few.)  Their voices enriched the shape and colors of every workshop.

8…exploring new directions…

We thrive on experiment.  Michael Brownstein introduced Scratch Programming developed at MIT.  Sally Hill and Martha Burns developed an elegant table loom that young teens could build, warp, and weave.  Apprentices translated 20 of English scientist  Neil Downie‘s remarkable experiments for the hands of novice tinkerers.

We worked with our CNC robot to tame horses:  1000 horses for the hordes of Gengis Khan.  Our motorized and puppet horses evolved dramatically from carrying Crash Test Dummy knights to Leonardo’s stable.  The remarkable British production War Horse will influence our work for the next year.  No, from this point on.

9…less predictably?…

Yes, the number of girls almost equaled the number of boys enrolled this summer.  We still struggled with balance.  Girls favored the Velveteen Rabbit, Micropottery, Sewing, and Elephant Parade.  Boys favored Analog Gamebuilder, Aeromodeling, and Crash Test Dummies.  Experiences equal but still asymmetrical.  We have work to do.

10…grateful for your trust…

Your children make this work.  Their curiosity, their patience, their inventiveness, their resilience, their fresh twists and wisdom fuel our effort.  Their imagination drives ours.


The Staff of the Eli Whitney Museum


Filed under General

8 responses to “How I spent my summer vacation…

  1. Natalie Lourenco

    Thank you for our 5th year with you. I say “our” because my whole family benefits from the creativity, skills developed, and fun of the summers that my kids spend with you. We look forward to next summer!

  2. Susan B

    My visiting grandsons had an absolutely grand time, one building electric star wars and the other a fleet of beautiful sailing ships. The Eli Whitney program is stupendous!

  3. Lisa Hodes

    The blog looks great! Thanks again for a wonderful summer of learning and fun. I just got through rearranging our daughter’s room to accommodate birds, dinosaurs, monkeys, apes, and a magnificent river boat!

    I think the water lab deserves a mention!

  4. Betsy

    Nice, nice and appreciated synopsis of the Eli Whitney Museum summer 2010 of which my children gratefully appreciated once again.

  5. Jodie Lang

    We had to finally move the Galileo telescope and marble track from summer ’09 off the shelf to make room for a fantastic Viking ship, Crash Test Dummies, Micro Pots and a Velveteen Rabbit. It is amazing that each summer you are able to top the last! Many thanks to all your staff for great ideas and the ability to find creativity in each child.

  6. Anna Mae

    Thank you for a great summer! My son has been coming to the Eli Whitney since he could first hold a hammer, and I’m sure we’ll be coming back for many years to come.

  7. Laura Miller Cozean

    What a wonderful experience, our son loved every minute and can’t wait to return. Many thanks for an incredible summer!

  8. Julie Parr

    Thanks for posting this! My son had a wonderful time at the Eli Whitney Museum this summer at Micropottery camp. He had always wanted to try his hand at using a potter’s wheel, and the pots he made are so precious that they make my heart ache. But, while he was there, he got a good look at crash test dummies and decided that’s what he wants to do next year!