Annual Appeal 2020

Eli Whitney Museum

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We teach children to think with their hands, to share tools, to step outside the social bubbles of their neighborhoods…

I have begun a lot of appeals with those words since March. You don’t need to be told how much we have had to abandon. I wish that I had written more often. We teach children to let go of designs that have lost their promise, to step back, to find new paths.

I want to tell you about an actual path we have made the focus of our work this Fall. This is one of the ways we have adjusted to keep our work effective and relevant and, we hope, worthy of your continued support.

A Path?
East Rock Park borders our site on the south and east. It’s a treasure. It draws a remarkable migration of birds each Spring. We have developed our site to become the Park’s northern public entrance. Two thousand people (and dogs) a month cross our bridge to walk or jog the Park’s 10 miles of trails. Our programs follow the Park’s birds and butterflies, turtles and trees. A midday walk in the Park with Wanda is a favorite ritual of generations of students.

A Problem
The Parks Department has rarely been given the resources to
attend to the roots and rocks that obstruct the trails. That’s a challenge for meandering children, walkers, joggers and Birders. Years ago I made a promise to Alan Tractenberg, a neighbor and scholar. He had been birding in the Park. He had tripped on a root that had invaded the path. In the stumble, he had lost a hearing aid. He was near tears. I reassured him we would fix the trails. He gave me a skeptical smile.

An Opportunity
Eighty apprentices are the heart of the Museum’s work. They prepare and teach our projects.

Older Apprentices have mentored younger Apprentices continuously for 30 years. Until last Spring. The price of this disruption is incalculable. We proposed a remedy. We would commit our Apprentices to restoring the mile of trails our programs rely on. It would be a safe way for Apprentices to both distance and connect. We would reenact the genius of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps that helped expand the Park’s trails in the 1930s: if day-to-day work is lost, find work for the future.

The Hixon Family Fund, The Smart Family Foundation, and the Carter Family underwrote the 1,000 hours of Apprentice labor. Tilcon CT contributed 22 tons of crushed stone. Stone mason Anthony Izzo repaired a difficult section of stone abutment supporting the bridge. Eli Ward from the Forestry School taught us to respect root anatomy. Eliza Valk, Alex Pisha, and Katherine Jacobs assisted with design recommendations. Coach Travis Gale and the Wilbur Cross High School Cross Country Team tested the work weekly.

The Joy
When Apprentices sprint past your expectations of their prowess and passion, they are likely headed in the right direction. Covid confinement has pent up righteous energy. Simple goals – clear 250 feet today – restored the lost satisfaction of achievable purpose. Unknown tools – the pick, the mattock – awakened primitive ingenuity. Exhausted muscles relieved the tensions of exhausting times. And the Park is a place of refreshing beauty.

Respectful Invisibility
~ 4 tons of stones removed from trails.
~ 1,000 roots, that trees could spare, excavated.
~ 60 feet of drainage culverts.
~ 300 wheelbarrow loads of crushed stone.
~ 4 truckloads of storm-broken branches and invasives carted.
~ 5,000’ of trail restored.

All of this is invisible except in the safety and comfort of walkers and runners on the trails. Yet each of 40 Apprentices has left a mark. Vivien’s artful parging of a stone wall. Jonah’s mosaics that line the catchment basins. Leo and Jacob’s 700 pound fieldstone, tipped from the trail and rolled to a new repose.

The Bridge Approaches
An Iron Footbridge built in 1890 carries the trail across the Mill River. Notoriously awkward steps connected the bridge to the trail. I had planned to recast the steps. The Apprentices knew better. A West Nile Virus infection put Sally in a wheelchair in September. They argued: not steps, but a ramp. Leave steps, Sally will return in a wheelchair. Build a ramp…well, it will be better for everyone Ryan Paxton, who directs our Workshop, adapted the Forestry Service
Design Standards (a legacy of the WPA) to create an elegantly simple solution that was always meant to be.

Alan Tractenberg
Professor Tractenberg taught observation at Yale. His field was American studies. He had a gift for parsing historic photographs. He illuminated context, contradictions, nuance and truth that had always been there but that required an unflinching eye. In Alan’s eye, our birds were of equal wonder,story, and splendor.

Alan died on August 18th, just as we prepared to honor our promise to him and the Park. He was a patient friend. He would have agreed that this is a good time to invest in the Park’s power.He would have said: This is a moment that the Park was created for. And – When you walk in a Park, you need to feel free to look up.

With your help, we will continue to find new paths to explore with children moving forward – looking up.

How we invest your generosity (adapted for an uncommon year.)

37% – The Open Workshop Fund.
Free or reduced price take home Playing with Ideas Projects.

23% – The Apprentice Training Fund.
On site, online, and at-home training and work.

11% The Catherine Green Fund
Funding the development of young women designers and leaders – this year in the Norm Methot design internship.

9% – The Jack Viele Fund.
Providing projects for children served by the Smilow Cancer Center.

20% – The Stewardship Fund.
Enriching outdoor teaching and learning spaces for the Summer of 2021.

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