The Museum That Couldn't Think Straight

It's named after Kemper Marley, the apparent inspiration for the murder of newsman Don Bolles. It's full of inaccuracies, racism, Chamber of Commerce blather and third-rate gimmickry.

In Driggs' view, the plan is neither a shell game nor a loan.
He needs the Phoenix money up front, he says, to get further donations from other municipalities.

And he'll be the first to say a lot of the money expected from private corporations is pledged--meaning that it will come in over a number of years.

So all the exhibits still haven't been completed.

Shortly after the Marley Center opened, Michael Freisinger, a curator for the Arizona State Parks museums, visited the new facility at least twice.

He viewed the museum's outside exhibit, "Roosevelt Dam Terrace," which was funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior and extols the glories of Roosevelt Dam.

He looked at the exhibits inside the building.
He saw the traveling Geronimo exhibit, which was designed by Historical Society staffers. The exhibit is not in the least racist; in fact, it takes the point of view of Apache Indians. Freisinger liked it.

But the exhibits conceived by the American History Workshop--"Foundations of Central Arizona History: 1860 to 1912" and "Desert Blooms"--troubled him.

Freisinger expressed his disappointment in a March 1992 memo copied to Paul Piazza, the society's Central Arizona division director, and Nancy Dallet, a former American History Workshop researcher who was the lead planner, researcher and writer for the museum's opening exhibits. Dallet now is the Marley Center museum department head.

"Overall, I found the exhibits to be well-constructed with quality materials," Freisinger noted. "The physical layouts and exhibit design attributes are excellent. Some of the context, text and interpretation is faulty, misleading and inaccurate."

He pointed out that the vane on a huge windmill in an exhibit on the second floor was upside down. (It was later fixed.)

Freisinger was especially disappointed with the Foundations of Central Arizona History gallery. "The overall main theme is oversimplified, vague and somewhat confusing. . . . The interpretation level of the exhibit is weak. There is inconsistent labeling of objects.

". . . the exhibit cases are too low," he went on. "The text cannot be read without getting down on your hands and knees."

Among other things, Freisinger noted that "a small relief map has Lake Havasu City on it. Since the dates are clearly indicated as 1860-1912 [sic]. This is confusing, since Lake Havasu City was formed in 1964."

Dallet defended herself in a follow-up memo to Mike Weber: "The overall theme [of the Foundations gallery] is not oversimplified or vague," she wrote.

"We are not writing a dissertation, nor are we interpreting the nuances of someone else's dissertation. We are presenting a history for the public."

She explained away Lake Havasu City's placement in an exhibit that predates it by several decades this way: The map is not a "history lesson" but a "geographical orientation point."

"The towns identified (including Lake Havasu City) were chosen because they give a sense of scale to the visitor, not because of their history," wrote Nancy Dallet.

Freisinger refuses to comment to New Times.
Piazza says Freisinger was put up to criticizing the museum by some of his friends who were "personally unhappy with the exhibit."

"We are not a typical history museum," says Piazza, a former art museum director. "You're not going to see rows and rows and rows of guns, rows and rows and rows of buttons and, for the most part, reams and reams and reams of data.

"We are far more interested in getting across ideas and concepts to people."
That's why, for instance, a video about Teddy Roosevelt's 1902 meeting with the Salt River Valley Water Users Association in a Phoenix opera house is perfectly okay--even though Teddy Roosevelt didn't visit the Valley until 1911, and the Salt River Valley Water Users Association wasn't officially formed until 1903.

Piazza acknowledges the video is fantasy. That "exact thing didn't happen," he admits. But, he contends, the video does make the key points about the controversy over building the dam.

He says upcoming exhibits will include data about blacks and Jews and will more fully explore the Pima Indians in a section called "Communities of Vision and Persistence," which will also feature Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West.

Exhibits on boom towns, the military and communities of tourists and retirees are planned. There will also be a "Futures Lab."

Piazza explains away staff complaints about inaccuracies in existing displays as "sour grapes" complaints coming from people who don't want to support the interpretive direction the museum has taken.

But documents reveal that many problems brought up years and months ago now must be corrected. In a memo in late March, Piazza says, "We obviously have discovered a lot that needs to be done and redone. Some of it, fortunately, can be done inexpensively--others may involve major cost."

Changing things is not unusual for a recently opened museum, he says.
He refers to the current displays as "exhibits in progress."

On a weekday afternoon in May, a foursome of winter visitors from Minnesota tours the Desert Blooms gallery at the Marley Center. The tourists are in a part of the gallery called "At the Fair"; this portion was conceived by the American History Workshop.

They stand before a wood cutout of a fortuneteller with beguiling eyes. She sits in front of a painted backdrop, an Arizona scene complete with saguaros and palm trees.

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