Here's an advance look at the $10.5 million National Steinbeck Center, opening next month.
Thursday, May 14, 1998
When the National Steinbeck Center opens June 27 in Salinas, visitors will get to inhabit, however briefly, the world of Nobel Prize-winning author, John Steinbeck.
Visitors (an estimated 140,000 to 300,000 a year) will enter the lofty glass and steel building on the 100 block of Main Street in Salinas via a rounded brick staircase. Once in the entryway, they''ll pay their fee ($7 adults, $4 children over 10) and begin a self-guided tour that is interactive and multi-sensory--in short, the latest, greatest in exhibitry as dreamed up by the Oregon-based museum design firm Formations.
"We''re taking themes and values from his work and expanding on them in educational programs." says Amanda Holder, director of marketing for the National Steinbeck Center.
Steinbeck spent much of his life traveling through Mexico, Europe and the United States. The main exhibit gallery is set up geographically, with Steinbeck''s books woven into the places in which they were set, such as his boyhood home, the Salinas Valley.
The first exhibit, called the "Valley of the World," will house a recreation of Steinbeck''s bedroom, with photos of his family, books he read as a child, and quotes from East of Eden, plus audio interviews and readings by the author. Visitors will be able to turn the crank on a 1917 Model-T Ford, just as Adam Trask did in the book. A life-sized box car dominates the room, a cardboard hobo riding aloft. Turning the corner, you''ll be able to see a replica farm-hand''s bunkhouse, complete with blanketed beds and a deck of cards. Kids will be able to sit on a plastic pony while reading about Steinbeck''s horse Jill, the basis for "The Red Pony."
Canisters with labels reading "horse stable" and "wet dog" will disperse odors at appropriate moments. "Sweat" or "baby with dysentery" might have been appropriate in the "Hooverville" section, which focuses on the poor migrants Steinbeck wrote about in The Grapes of Wrath and the social essay "Their Blood is Strong." Instead, kids will be able to play with "puppets that poor children might have played with," says Holder. Visitors will also be able to learn about what migrant life by rubbing clothes on a washboard, lifting weighted buckets, or by hearing Steinbeck give his "I am a revolutionary" speech over a loudspeaker. Woody Guthrie''s "Ballad of Tom Joad" will play in the background.
Other exhibits include the Mexican Plaza, designed to pay homage to Steinbeck''s fascination with the people, history and culture of Mexico with the scent of mangrove flowers, a miniature version of the "Western Flyer" from The Log from the Sea of Cortez and film clips from Viva Zapata. There''s also an exhibit featuring Monterey''s Cannery Row in the ''20s, complete with the sounds of seagulls, creaking wharf pilings and waves, as well as the smell of fish and recreated portions of Doc Ricketts'' lab, where kids can look at real specimens through a microscope.
The Center also includes a multi-purpose theater space, and a gallery. The first exhibit will be art depicting the Central Coast of California during Steinbeck''s lifetime. Titled, "This Side of Eden: Images from Steinbeck''s California" it will include oils, watercolors, and etchings from the 1930''s and ''40s.
Steinbeck archives, for serious scholars, will be housed in the center''s basement although the original manuscript of "The Pearl" sits on display in a protected case within the museum.
Each exhibit location will, however, display selections from some of Steinbeck''s works as well as artifacts from his life. Perhaps the most "real" of all the mementos is the camper truck Steinbeck called "Rocinante," in which he lived and wrote Travels With Charlie. Curtains, made by Steinbeck''s third wife, Elaine, still hang in moth-eaten splendor at the back door. The old mildewed linoleum smell is real.