Coastal Marin’s Role in World Communication

The Bolinas Museum is preparing for the June 7 opening of Transmit / Receive–four inspiring exhibitions celebrating the story of wireless radio in coastal Marin and its role in world history and the evolution of the communication technology we all take for granted today. This year marks the centennial of theopening the Bolinas transmitting and Marshall receiving stations that were once the largest wireless stations on the planet. Built by Nobel Prize winning Guglielmo Marconi to connect his world-wide communications network across the Pacific, today the Bolinas and Point Reyes RCA stations are part of the Point Reyes National Seashore.

At the heart of the program is the exhibition Wireless Giant of the Pacific: 100 years of Marconi & RCA History curated by Carola DeRooy, archivist of the Point Reyes National Seashore, which traces this fascinating and complex history. Many people are familiar with the old buildings at Commonweal in Bolinas, the Marconi Conference center near Marshall, and the RCA buildings in the wild lands of Point Reyes Peninsula, but few know that these building represent an era of cutting edge technology. In 1914, dignitaries from great shipping and communications empires came to the Marconi transmitting complex built on the Bolinas mesa to witness its first Morse code transmission across the Pacific Ocean. It was the last link in Marconi’s revolutionary communications network.

What the dignitaries saw at Bolinas that day was massive generators housed in a huge building and nine 300 foot steel towers, each supporting 32 wires that were 2000 feet in length, from which the messages would flash across the seas by Morse code. RCA (Radio Corporation of America) took over Marconi at Bolinas in 1919 and later opened the Point Reyes station. Local men and women kept RCA serving trans-oceanic communication through Morse code until the 1990s with the advent of satellite technology. With the help of the Maritime Radio Historical Society, today the KPH stations come to life on special occasions for visitors to experience the equipment and excitement of radiotelegraphy. A private tour of the site is schedule for August 2.

The Museum’s history room will feature local family and individual stories that illustrate how Marconi and RCA impacted and enriched our local communities. Curated by Elia Haworth, the exhibition shares how RCA people such as Gus Kovats in Point Reyes and the family of Annie Crotts in Bolinas became part of the fabric of our communities. In addition to the two history exhibitions, the Museum will feature two inventive contemporary installations inspired by wireless communications. Guggenheim recipient and SETI Institute’s (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) first Artists in Residence Charles Lindsay is creating Code Humpback, a surprising multi-media sculptural installation inspired by recent developments in interspecies communications and Morse Code transmissions between the Bolinas and Point Reyes stations–the last of their kind in the United States to maintain this once vital Maritime language.

Through sculpture, video, and sound Lindsay raises questions about possibilities of alternate modes of communication through space and time that merge his interest in analog technologies with SETI astronomer Laurance Doyle’s recent findings in information theory related to the Humpback whale song. Lindsay is an explorer of art, science and the world. He was honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship for inventing a carbon- based imaging process, which he transforms through sound and sensors to create immersive installations. Lindsay and Doyle will discuss their stimulating ideas at a public forum on June 14. With both his writing and metal fabrication skills, Bolinas sculptor Wayne Campbell’s installation Swept/Up is inspired by his father’s experience as a World War II prisoner of war under the Japanese and evolved from a true story of human innovation in the face of unspeakable brutality.

Growing up in Jack County Texas in the 1930s, his father and his brothers and friends were radio enthusiasts– competing with each other to make radios out of unlikely materials. Together the young men joined the National Guard on a lark, not foreseeing being shipped out to Java as a field artillery unit, only to be captured and joined with 200,000 other allied prisoners as slave labor in Burma who were forced to build a strategic railroad in record time through dense jungle despite starvation, disease and the cruelty of their captors. Using scraps of paper, wax, barbwire-whatever they could find or steal, and risking vicious reprisal if they were caught, the Jack County boys started making radio receivers to catch word from the outside world. They hid their radios in mundane implements like the brooms used to sweep their ragged barrack—a story Wayne Campbell will powerfully interpret through steel brooms, bamboo, and his own text.

Transmit/Receive exhibitions open Saturday June 7 with the 2 pm preview talks with the artists and curators followed by the opening reception from 3-5 pm, co-hosted by the Point Reyes Nationals Seashore Association. Everyone is welcome. Visiting the Museum is always free. For more information about these exciting exhibitions and related events please visit bolinasmuseum.org.