Beatrix Thurber and Barton Thurber

Recorded January 23, 2020 Archived January 23, 2020 40:02 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ddf000460


Barton "Bart" Thurber (71) and Beatrix "Bea" Thurber (72) talk about Beatrix's work founding The New Children's Museum with five other women, discuss children's educational theory, and describe some of their favorite installations throughout the years and different iterations of the museum.

Subject Log / Time Code

Beatrix T describes the beginning of the founding of the museum, she and 5 other women got together to organize the project.
Bart T talks about children's education theories and the "hands on" approach.
Beatrix T talks about moving from getting inspiration from other museums to doing their own thing.
Bart T discusses the fact that interactivity in children's museums influenced the rest of the museum world to feature more interactive installations.
Beatrix T describes an exhibit educating kids about money that was very successful.
Beatrix T talks about the push to embrace contemporary art more fully, especially for children.
Bart T shares a story about losing a papier mache dinosaur that was supposed to decorate the new museum on the highway after it fell out of his truck.


  • Beatrix Thurber
  • Barton Thurber

Recording Location

The New Children’s Museum

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type

Fee for Service



StoryCorps uses Google Cloud Speech-to-Text and Natural Language API to provide machine-generated transcripts. Transcripts have not been checked for accuracy and may contain errors. Learn more about our FAQs through our Help Center or do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

00:02 Hi, my name is Beatrix Thurber. My nickname is B. I am 72 years old. I'm at the new Children's Museum in San Diego.

00:13 And I'm here with my husband Bart Thurber.

00:17 And

00:19 We're going to begin by talking about how we got started because we had lived.

00:27 I need to introduce myself. My name is Bart Thurber on 71. Today is January 22nd 2020. I also met the new Children's Museum in San Diego to my interview Partners Beatrix Thurber my name for her is Beefy husband.

00:46 Okay, so we were going to begin by starting how we got started with the children's museum for a number of years at least a decade. It was so overwhelmed our lives. Two of us and about this six of us. It was 6 women that we weren't an established group of friends before we you know, before we got started on this endeavor, we came from different walks of life. And I really didn't know anybody when we got started it really the original founder was Sharon. Oh, man.

01:34 And she was the one who I had originally contacted and went to meet her.

01:42 And

01:44 We got together. I think we all because we had both seen Children's Museums in other states and you remember about Boston?

01:56 Yeah, I remember I be was that time and that this was in the early seventies in the process of becoming a special ed teacher and she was also interested in Children's Museums because

02:18 Well, I had I had I had my first contact with the Boston Children's Museum was as a teacher and what they had there was recycled materials.

02:32 And we would go the two of us would go remember and we would go with a bag, you know a grocery bag and pick up all these different cast off things for your classroom. And so what I was doing at the time

02:50 And you helped him a lot with that was created building and creating learning stations in my classroom. It took every day all weekend skills gotten a lot more sophisticated and doing that not to mention cutting and pasting but the Children's Museum in Boston was also more than that. That was our entry point. But there was what they were doing with kids themselves to write because that after a couple of years that we would go to the recycle place. We finally ventured and it to the actual Museum said, well, I wonder what the rest of this is all about and that was on Jamaica Plain.

03:37 That for me it was that hears a learning environment that's non-coercive and free and the kids could do essentially whatever they wanted and it was it was really exhilarating. Yeah. That was our first experience with a non corrosive School environment, but one that was experimenting with interactivity with the idea that would amuse could be is not just a lot of static displays but a place for children to actually interact with exhibits. In fact the whole point of the exhibit which to get them to interact that was new to us. And as a matter fact I've since discovered it was somewhat needed at Boston Children's Museum wasn't until 1964 and Michael Spock, the new director was the first to do an interactive exhibit, right and

04:29 Part of the thing that was going on. I think at the time the late sixties early seventies and public education was the idea of Hands-On and the children learn by doing and those were kind of slogans for Children's Museums to use later on it was on the same kind of idea about how to work with children.

04:58 Right. So when the when the 6 of us got together, we each had a burning desire to open a children's museum in San Diego cuz we don't have what and

05:10 But we didn't really know how to go about doing it.

05:14 So we would meet at Carol settlements house or Carol Fox's house and kind of hash things out.

05:22 We we love Children's Museums. We wanted to open one in San Diego and that's kind of as far as week and you had come to us on a number of occasions and yeah harass us about but a mission statement you need an emissions of mission statement and what I meant by that was not just words to put on a wall that a mission statement is is actually a tool. It's a metric you can use to decide what goes in the museum and the way you do that is in the first place with the Children's Museum and interactivity was to ask a very simple question. What is it that the kid would do here with this exhibit. Once you have an answer to that question. You can search the name of this idea works for that. This other ideas somewhat worse for that. The other idea doesn't really work for that. It gives you a way to create the Museum from first principles.

06:21 And they seem to like it. Although they were irritated with me from coming in and acting like a professor in the beginning. We were just going to have kind of a mish-mosh of things that we like. Another Children's Museums that we started did that but as we went along I remember when you're talking about it allows you to make decisions that I would get phone call. I remember this from a woman who said I have 800 hippopotamus hippopotamus open would really love somebody and I said, well can they play with them and touch him and she said, oh my gosh, no,

07:08 Am I said well then know if she was so upset with me, but I didn't have to think about it that much couldn't touch it. We didn't want it. So that that that was pretty easy. But we did we need to talk about it. We did it open with a TV studio and the art studio and health clinic at the theater and I do remember the working the switchboard wires from plugs and plug them in somewhere else. It was a nice piece of about 1920s technology and I'm connected to phones and in the museum and then over time when it would break. I couldn't find anybody to fix it the parts to bro. And by the way, I should say that I was

08:08 Sam and it was interesting between the six of us that we had to decide after we opened in 83 who was going to be on the board and who was going to be on the staff.

08:24 And Sharon was the executive director.

08:28 Until but then she went on the board and they hired a nude executive director and kill sickleman and I remained on the staff and the thing that I wanted that was a thing I wanted most to do. I was the reason I was there pretty much because of those all those learning stations. I had developed over the years. So it it was a it was an interesting Divergence. So because the women who went on the board still wanted to have a say in the day-to-day up to the museum so that a little tense of time as we grew up.

09:11 Yeah, that was all part of your guys growing and gradually. My impression is that you move from sort of thing about ideas you like another museums to develop in your own your own way of doing things your own version of interactivity. You really encouraged that but don't look to other music, you know other museums for inspiration. You have everything you need right here. That's true and took a certain amount of confidence in ourselves that we kind of developed over the next 10 years or so it led to that new confidence that that the idea that you knew enough about what you were doing to go out and do it led to some I think pretty Innovative exhibits one of which was called the creative journeyman and based on the idea of Choose Your Own Adventure games, but another way of fulfilling this interactivity.

10:11 Mission statement because what it was was we were what we were thinking about where these computer games where you can be a kid or sometimes these were the years in which the personal computer was invented. So they were also online and book Choose Your Own Adventure games and we started thinking about what if we could make a three-dimensional version of that kids could actually play with be part of like it's almost like what we now call a three-dimensional webpage and the result was this maisel through but they was painted by Phil match that guide an artist and it had an all kinds of adventurous places to visit. So we had a snake. And we had a gold mine and we had a scary bridge to cross and Anna jungle and once we did when we had a lot of fun deciding what

11:11 Each cell or room was supposed to be not know design-wise you had to have three openings cuz you went into it and then you had to make a decision and then on the narrative which way to go and that would each one of those decisions took you on a different path through the through the maze. So after we decided what we wanted to do in terms of all, we want this we want that then we kind of dumped it on you and as the English Professor Rider and said, okay now you have to have to write a story that this is all going to work out in the end up in different places is there are the paintings along the walls to guide them at all so they could read their way through the maze. If you could read that you could then say well, you know, you're likely to wind up in a snake bit if you go this way if you like snakes

12:11 School, but if not you might want to go this way and it was that's to this day one of the most interesting manifestations of the aesthetic of interactivity that I have been aware of but you guys didn't otherwise to there was roots and wings. There was Daniel story, which they got I persuaded the national Holocaust Museum. Bring to San Diego and I want to go back to the maze for a second because

12:41 Well, first of all was it but I remember worrying about what if you end up in the snake pit and then you're out back. I mean did you die I mean there was so soft. We had a lot of questions about how they were going to end up at the end in the in the narrative. But also I remember many years later when I was working at Mission Bay High School and that special running that special ed program and one of the students parents came to me and they were just talking and I said, oh, yeah, I didn't know it was with the Children's Museum and

13:19 She said she looked at me and she said that her that her son that my student had gone there and this was years later far and he had gone there and had done every permutation of that story and I was like, oh my God, I can't believe this because well I saw typically is that they ran through and yelled and screamed and came out or they they they did try to

13:53 You know figure out what the combination was to the treasure box. Yeah, but that was quite something to know that at least once headed actually done what we were hoping and I'd like to talk about it the current Museum 2 and how they also are, you know, achieving their mission statement and how they're doing but let me say one other thing before we moved to the museum, which is that it's interactivity business. I keep talking about I think beginning with Michael spacca to Boston Children's Museum began a movement a big increase historically from about 1975 on into the present in the number of Children's Museums in the United States and around the world and I think I would argue that this interactivity the Hands-On thing begun in Children's Museums Nationwide.

14:42 Became a permanent contribution to the idea of any kind of Museum that museums everywhere now not just Children's Museums are doing hands on things and it seems to have changed the way Americans and other people around the world. Think about what a museum could be or should be or can be depending on what they want to do.

15:02 And that's a permanent cultural contributions made by the children's museum Boston and Denver where the people that were telling us how to do it and

15:21 So that it it was a time. I mean it was a very interesting time. We weren't the only one struggling with opening one, but it was also a time and which kids could not roam freely in their neighborhood and that was a real change from the 50s that everything was structured for them cuz it was too dangerous and the museum was in place for them to be free and to approach their environment in in whichever way they wanted to approach it with an open. This was not possible in all the neighborhoods. So I think today it's still serve that function.

16:02 So that then we were we were dark for a year. That was the dark Year and that was in 92 to 93 cuz the La Jolla Village Square shopping mall closed for a huge renovation. So we were out to talk about nonprofit Wellness. They needed to revitalize this baby. So but we had also by then. We had also had a commitment from the u.s. Memorial Holocaust Museum to to open their traveling exhibit called.

16:47 Daniel's story remember the children and

16:53 So we ended up putting it installing it at in the San Diego Historical Society. So they were generous enough to allow us to use that today. So that kind of kept us alive, even though it was a controversial exhibit. You know, why are you bringing this horrific story to children and we did have an answer for that.

17:20 But the the

17:24 But one of the things that I was most moved by and I think you were too is that we needed to connect with the Survivor community in San Diego. And I remember one of the women guess he sacks was the one who caught the other survivors to say. Yes, I will come and sit in the museum and and talk to the children who come through about what it was like first-hand and she's I think just died last year, so I don't know how many more

17:59 Survivors are still alive.

18:12 But you guys part of the deal was that apart from being chosen to host Daniel's story was it there was another area of the exhibit that was about specifically San Diego and how certain kind of restrictive policies we have here are a little scary and strange and not I mean nothing's like the Holocaust but we were Border City. We have an immigration problem, which is very controversial now and 8:20 and was your way of getting us all to reflect on our own actual situation San Diego and historical situation of the of the Holocaust right in the biases and stereotyping in general is stations about other, you know, people are still out there, but they also are there had been an incident in which somebody had painted swastikas on Temple.

19:09 So we showed that the photograph of that and yeah, so it wasn't just something all this happened way back when but one thing that to that surprised me. I thought it first this might freak out little kids medicine and other people did but I was in that exhibit a lot. They were not only not freaked out. There were no of those grisly pictures of Holocaust prison camps. It was all mementos left by children behind and that has

19:42 Yeah, yeah.

19:45 Will the other thing that we had going on man was money works and that one we had started when we were open and that was one another on the other end of the spectrum think that was one that had to do with household economies and we never did a wreck that in the museum is always traveling and we set it up in elementary schools and it was an immersive environment. I mean we had module that the kids could get a paycheck and

20:26 It'll put money into an ATM machine. I know we had to erect some sort of facsimile to the restaurant and then had to figure out how much money they had at the end of all that so that was very very popular in it. And it. It allowed us to have a van for the first time. So we had a van with throughout the city. So people knew who we were and then we had to rant because we had to money Works exhibit is the Imperial County which is both geographically. Those are two huge counties in southern part of South of San Diego. So that's probably that was the most sustained and successful Outreach. The museum has conceived of as not your, San Diego, California.

21:26 Call and I worked with Sheridan double the executive director at the time said man be this is the only thing I can ever get money for it was a real easy sell so that's a no from the bank. So that's when we ended up with two but it was a good thing we did because it kept us alive in the in the city for that year that we were dark and we didn't know where we going we were going to go but do you remember that? We we got awarded?

22:07 The The House of Torment Balboa Park to move in there Balboa Park beautiful Central Park Place that we have had a change of directors and it and they decided to go into that Warehouse downtown. And so there we were the museum would have had to pay for all the tenant improvements and everything and then you know, the museum was Cash shy and a point about the warehouse downtown Not only was that a cool space in itself, but it was free because we're really good at getting free places to be for a while. But there we are with with 40,000 square feet and

23:06 And some of the board members thinking that we could just move what we had in in the little children's museum down there which wasn't very realistic. So we ended up with the Dinosaurs. They were Huge lot of dinosaurs were visible. And we also had the remember working with Paul Hobson and also sharing again, her name's come back toddler space there. So turn off Christine Oatman did some things for the music NYC did Paul Hobson. So in addition to everything else there had begun to be working with local artists to help, you know to work on the transmission and that's continued in expanded now and then

24:04 We'll ride in bed. Then why then I laughed our life kind of went back to normal and we could have went to special ed class and becoming you know re-engage for the public school system. So a man that turn out for us to be actually a good thing because I could get it I could retire with the number of years went by an end the 6 of us. It did kind of fall apart two of us have since died and we kind of went our separate ways because we had started the Witch's Hat Brewing was the museum and then

25:01 So I think it was.

25:04 It was Julianne markow who reached out to all of us and that was around 2010-2011. But that's on the head is beautiful new building in Downtown, San Diego.

25:22 And it was immensely gratifying for her to make that call and even acknowledge that we had done this or that we expelled find an acknowledged in honor the Museum's history cuz it had one and now it's been produced that carry has produced. So that was it that was gratifying for all of us and I think that in terms that they had by then it was their mission statement had changed quite dramatically from ours and we just want a real commitment to Contemporary Art and contemporary artists.

26:11 Well, I thought about that the then I think that children and contemporary artists have a natural affinity for each other because the contemporary artist that I understand thinks outside the box 4 modes a different way of looking at different perspective putting disparate elements together and unusual ways to get you to think differently about things. Anyway, the fit with with modern art was was a natural and I would also add that. I'm not sure it was a complete break from the earlier Museum because they too or thinking about in terms of Hands-On interactive and how to make you know, how many things can you do with a Picasso painting? Well, you can look at it and then you can look at it some more and then you can stand on your head and look at it. But with the museum did was use Modern Art Moore skull.

27:11 So that it was eligible for could be interacted with.

27:17 But the way I like to think about it or the way, I'd like to see the museum had it with this is that

27:26 Contemporary artists have a certain ego. So you find one that approaches. I used to use the word humility with all the designers that I worked with is a new approach. This is not your work. This is a war that's for children, and it's at the Bears and it's only functions when they're in it. It doesn't function or function as a static display can still be beautiful as a static sculpture. Let's say or something the museum has a lot of that especially when it's a work of art, but it's a different kind of work of artists like it's achieved its highest calling as a work of art with kids crawling all over it.

28:09 Does that it needs to keep the kids in order to be a work of art and when we win the sharing of authority and how powerful that is. So that is a teacher or even ubar doesn't Professor. You're up there with all the knowledge best of deconstructive classroom again, and again because that could be real handicap if the new knowledge. If you are the sole fount of knowledge in the classroom what you would I try to do and it was connected with my thinking about the Children's Museum was be a note that would enable walls to come down and that let them let students let people take control of their own their own way of learning and and even if what they know even though I have to give him a great at the end there still the custodian of their own knowledge.

29:07 And the art well, that's why I mentioned want wamic that artist. Toshiko Macadam in the ideal artist British museum, I think because when she came with the grand opening of the exhibit and we all knew what it was about and we were praising her as an artist, but her address to us said thank you, but this is all of you all of us came together. We all talked about it the children play with their their part that they have the authority to use that word inappropriately maybe but they have the the they can control their than human kind of experience. They have is a crawl around on this and in the process realize what this art was meant to do. It's for them and for them to create will not see what she didn't put it in quite this way but not from me to be an artist and say well here I am in this is this wonderful world.

30:07 She is Asian. There's something. Asian Zen like about it. Didn't hear this is this is a gift. This is an opportunity make of it what you will and she wants us. Yeah, you're the one that that's comes close is is the Wonder sound is it's quite a dynamic P. I mean is all kinds of places for the killer real she could ever imagine, right all kinds of obscure hieroglyphs all over it which apparently can be interpreted. If you want to stand during the artist private languages is hieroglyphics like you wander into a tree house full of rooms and strange markings and Mysteries to be explored. I guess we're going to be wrapping up and I wanted to actually Bart thank you for hanging in there all these years because it wasn't easy.

31:07 Ups and downs and yeah in the shopping center, I mean it was huge to fill the entryway and it was from Fremont Elementary School and all the kids made in and was for us and and I do mean it was great because the commission me to go pick it up and bring it to the museum. So I hadn't borrowed a pickup truck from somebody and I think this is the day of the opening go by the way, we need to put the honey you go down and pick up this huge dinosaur got it, but then I noticed a big thing in

32:07 But there was nothing to tie down except a few anyway, so I did what I could and I thought we'll all go slow but UK I had to drive on the freeway.

32:17 And of course it blew out of the truck and crashed all over the freeway and I showed up in the museum and Beatrice could hardly believe it but then it occurred to me to does the highways because there's a dead paper mache dinosaur on a major freeway. So I somewhere when you call him, they record the conversations and I don't know if this conversation is still in existence recording but what I had to say was well the thing is there's a dinosaur in the middle of a freeway and it crashed out of my pickup truck and they were like what it's not believing and I said what's a paper mache dinosaur and I said, you know, there's there's it's not just paper mache disboards and wires and nails and stuff and then they have came off and start thinking about what about what if there was something behind me. You see this giant dinosaur flying through the air

33:17 He was completely was too. I just couldn't believe it because and all the kids were going to come see their dinosaur and I had to call the school and tell him we didn't I mean it was then a friend of my neighbor and I Steve and I went back the next day to see if we could some fragments we could pick up there were any it was somebody had maybe we do, you know, 30 flat tires later something so no it was not all a bed of roses.

33:46 Even though that makes a good story to tell although I do think about those kids who spend all those hours in Billings and they're only to be wrecked by Yours Truly anyway, so it was the only thing we had that was really as you know a way to present the museum when we oh well anyway, you know what I think anyway part

34:27 However, I would like are we done? I mean there were some things I didn't mention like roots and wings and

34:33 Little little

34:38 Well, I would rather roots and wings was an exhibit in which being a museum the museum now, does this to outreach to the community to try to be relevant to where you are? One of the exhibits was an attempt to not just an attempt it did reach out to the black community in San Diego to tell the story of business is not our decision of museums decisions what these black women wanted to address slavery and there was an artist and author of the new nyny it was going to be like a five-year project and we started with western Africa. So that was the first year was the North Atlantic Street a slave trade end in the sense that they brought people over but what their culture was like in a Sierra Leone when I remember getting a lot of artifacts from there and show the first year was

35:38 We had two years before we closed before the whole thing closed and then it wasn't continued under the next to get director here. I was sitting in a room with some very heavy duty. I mean serious intelligent black women slavery and even asked because that's what came after that was the next year and I think we're all aware of the seriousness of there was a this artist and writer who did a book a children's book to accompany the museum for the exhibit but one of the things that I personally and it's a published children's music.

36:31 Anyway, but it started out of the roots of wing roots and wings exhibits and my apart from just the power of that. It was a small accident but it was some of it was like what a slave Shack might have looked like we did what we had. I wanted to erect a slave a cabin and so it couldn't be fun but the kids use it as a fort. I mean, sometimes you don't know what's going to happen, but I can remember get having a bill then the guys I said, it can't look this solid. I can't look this good and they said lady, you know, we have to handle we have code and then we had to have a you know, a sprinkler inside and all of that but there was a moment when we were talking in the room, and I just noticed that

37:27 Part of the story that women when she didn't tell him involved Native Americans.

37:32 And that that was Chris Mitchell and language therapist with me ended in the district. And so she put us together with the Jack and Jill society and and in San Diego and that's how we got that Committee of women trying to get out is that we as we were talking it became clear that each of those women valued either their own very much value their own.

38:13 African American Heritage and the Native American Heritage if they had one because the Native Americans from their point of view or free when black people that stayed with me all these years because that is something I didn't know first of all and secondly, it's just well, you're a black slave and you see native Native Americans. I mean, I don't know the years 1830. What were the Native Americans doing it? I don't think they were already in Florida. I think he's but I think what happened a lot of times when the slaves ran away or were free. They ended up with a Native American. So that's how I had come to your key in her background and she was very proud of that. Not all the women have that background.

39:13 Things that we normally wouldn't expect I guess working in the children's museum.

39:21 That we took on some of these issues.

39:24 In sensitive and caring ways and involving the local community in right away and listening people think I have interactivity on the brain.

39:44 Okay.