“Live From Schenectady,” the latest exhibit to open at the Museum of Innovation and Science, is all about the earliest days of television, a point of pride for the city.
According to curator Anne Rockwood, it’s incredible that the exhibition -- like television itself -- was able to come together in the first place.
Last year, Rockwood worked with Schenectady filmmaker and community advocate Joe Piazzo to create an exhibit dedicated to Izetta Jewel, who was one of the pioneering actresses in dramatic television broadcasting, as well as an activist and political figure. Because of the exhibition, the city of Schenectady declared Nov. 24 Izetta Jewel Day.
Rockwood and Piazzo planned to expand the exhibition over the next year, with Rockwood focusing on the history of Jewel’s life. Piazzo received a community arts grant from the Arts Center of the Capital Region to help cover the cost. Sadly, Piazzo died suddenly late last year, leaving the future of the exhibit in question.
“About two weeks ago, I found a video of Joe talking to the Early Television Foundation,” Rockwood said. He’d planned to reconstruct the very first pieces of television technology that General Electric produced, including photocells and television cameras with 3-inch screens.
So that's exactly what Rockwood did to honor Piazzo’s memory and his plan. With the help of carpenter Kevin Nauman, the miSci archives, and hours and hours of research, she was able to recreate look-alikes of the original technology.
“I found that not knowing about something beforehand is a good thing,” Rockwood said. It made her cast a wider net in her research. That's not to say it wasn’t difficult: Much of the technology that was originally designed and produced is no longer around.
“These don’t exist today,” Rockwood said. Luckily there were plenty of General Electric press releases and other articles to work from. GE also released directions on how to make the television set and encouraged people to write in with questions. The exhibit includes some of those letters and inquiries.
Using the reproduced photocells and TV cameras, Rockwood and Chris Hunter, miSci's vice president of collections and exhibits, managed to recreate the set of the first theatrical broadcasts.
“Schenectady is home to a lot of firsts,” Rockwood said.
Ninety years ago, Jewel, among other actors, brought drama to the radio and television with “A Queen’s Messenger.” When it was released, people watched it on 3-inch screens. In some ways, we’ve reverted to that size as we watch shows and videos on our phones, said Rockwood.
That first dramatic television broadcast sparked others. Of course, a few months before “A Queen’s Messenger” made history, WGY went live with its news broadcast in Schenectady. It focused on weather, farm reports and a bit of news.
“People say to me ‘What does Schenectady have to do with movies and television?’ And I say, ‘A lot actually,’” Piazzo told The Gazette in 2017.
That's why Rockwood and Hunter are already planning an even bigger exhibit in 2028 to celebrate the first 100 years of television and Schenectady’s role in its development.
With the “Live From Schenectady” exhibit, they’re hoping people become familiar with that development and with some of the important Schenectady figures who were involved.
Rockwood has also set up pop-up exhibitions around the city to get people thinking about Jewel and the early days of television. So far they’re at Ambition Cafe, the Skyport Diner, Marty’s Hardware and Kristin's Terme on Jay.
“Live From Schenectady” will be on exhibit until Nov. 11. MiSci is located at 15 Nott Terrace Heights, Schenectady, and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. For information, visit misci.org.