Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Centerpiece for model Springfield

Here's the centerpiece for my model of historic Springfield, the Old State Capitol. This is the building where Abraham Lincoln delivered his ground-breaking "House Divided" speech.

Hopefully, this will be the most intricately detailed model building I'll have to build because it really was a bear. I decided this should be the most detailed model because it is the center around which the rest of my model of historic Springfield will be built.

I'm proudest of the dome and the circle of doric columns below it. The problem-solving involved in creating these forms is what makes this all so interesting to me. I can't wait to see the rest of the town square and the other surrounding blocks as they develop.

I guess I still need steps for the front and back. I'll probably add them with the rest of the landscaping.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Model Springfield is coming

I’m a giant step closer to realizing my long held dream of experiencing a 3-D computer model of historic Springfield. Google has a product called “Sketchup” that makes 3-D modeling easy. They have a beta version available for free downloading. I was able to render a simple log cabin in a few minutes and a rather elaborate model of the Elijah Iles House (shown here) in a few hours after downloading the beta. The pay version is only $20.00 per year (I think) and the pro version is over $400.00. I’m going to see how much I can get done with the beta for now.

What I’d like to see first is a representation of downtown Springfield circa 1856 or thereabouts. We have reams of data about the time & place, including bird’s eye views that are very reliable. We have a lot of surviving structures to model from as well. Eventually, it would be nice to model the appearance of the town longitudinally beginning in 1818, but that would be a gigantic project.

The main challenges at present are getting the terrain as accurate as possible (the downtown area was intersected by deep creek beds before sewers and pavement were introduced), and keeping the models “light,” that is, keeping the models simple enough to keep their data size down without compromising too much realism. To the latter end, I will try to use textures from images instead of modeling minute details into the structures.

There is still much for me to learn. I’ll have to solve problems like terraforming, creating dirt (mud) streets, fashioning domes, etc., but it all seems “doable” now.

I encourage others to take this up and join me in creating models of historic Springfield. This could very well lead to a wonderful tool for students and historians and anybody interested in seeing what Springfield looked like to Lincoln.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A new museum for Springfield

I just now this very moment returned home from the christening of the premier exhibit of The Farrell & Ann Gay Museum of Springfield History, "Time to Remember", in the basement of The Elijah Iles House. "Time To Remember" features the wristwatches & other memorabilia of the Illinois Watch Company from Mr. Gay's collection.

It was the christening of a museum in a city that seems to be becoming a museum capitol. (I wonder how Springfield's museum floor area per capita compares to Chicago or New York or Paris?) This latest of Springfield's many museums is the first ever dedicated to the history of Springfield herself. It is a rich history indeed.

A facet of that history is the Illinois Watch Company which set the standard for timepieces during the late 19th Century and early 20th. Mr. Gay's collection of fine Illinois watches sets a high bar for future exhibits in this new museum named for him and his wife.

He gave a touching speech at what must have been for him a peak moment in his life. Mr. Gay mentioned that it was his "less collectible material," the company letters, letters of employees to other employees, the photos and especially the faces in the photos that he found so fascinating.

The exhibit is about so much more than watches. The Illinois Watch Company was a model employer in the industrial era. As one of the displays relates, a former employee remarked that the watch factory was the ideal place of employment because you couldn't manufacture precision instruments in a grimy, unlit place. The factory featured its own observatory so the company could measure the accuracy of its watches with its own data. Besides watches, the exhibit features the original factory signage that stood above its front entrance for decades, great block letters spelling out "Illinois Watch Co" in a beautiful font.

For museum afficianados, the presentation of the exhibit is first class. The curators of the exhibit are Ed Russo and Corrine Frisch.

Although there is limited floor area in the museum, the space is open and nicely lit. The new, finely crafted wooden display cases almost overwhelm their contents, but make the most elegant presentation imaginable. At every side is found some array of treasures to behold or some smartly-printed text or photo. The place was filled with people this evening and yet it was suprisingly easy to navigate.

Three cheers to the Gays and their wonderful gift of a museum to our town!