From small beginnings come great things! The Nikola Tesla Experience.
Ever since earlier this year when we went to Philadelphia to visit Tacony Academy Charter school and see the presentation for teachers and kids, a spark of an idea formed in my heart/mind to create a kind of interactive Nikola Tesla Experience. People of all ages enjoyed the coloring book as a gateway into the fertile imagination of Nikola’s mind, inviting them to color in a legacy while they learned. In the following months I hosted a few of coloring parties with abundant, coloring supplies, fun and relaxing atmosphere, tea, snacks, and my copious knowledge of Nikola to shed some light. In fact, light and sound were what Nikola was all about- the symphony of vibrations! The most successful of these parties was one held in the basement of Big Idea Bookstore in Pittsburgh. Since it was so nice and dark like a cave, I was able to make it a black light coloring party too, and demonstrate the wonders of UV fluorescent light and how it would transform a colored image before your very eyes into a beautiful violet glow. Kids and parents, beatniks and geeks all loved it in great measure!
My friend Geno from Hack Pittsburgh co-presented this one with me, and brought his plasma ball of lightning- the same one you see above here. It was a source of endless fascination for a couple of the younger children there.
One little girl declared after minutes of silent touching and contemplation- “It likes me! The lightning moves to my hand”. In her declaration I at once saw the same innocent awe and wonder that Nikola must have felt as a child, witnessing lightning storm and seeing sparks fly from his cat and sensing with his whole being that nature is alive. That little girl (and her younger brother) are the child in all of us, the child I was in 1975 when I picked up a little garter snake from the school yard and brought it inside (much to the amazement of all the little boys) and declared- “See, it likes me- it’s purring!”
It was a parallel experience that hurtled me back through time, connecting it to the present, and inviting a future of creating opportunities for realizations of brilliant young minds. After all, they are the Earth’s future.
I got to test out a Tesla Experience in September at Assemble’s art & tech community space in September for a crafternoon, working with a small group of kids. It went really well- they were fascinated and excited by painting with light, and playing with lightning! They shared and learned about energy first hand, discovering the genius of Tesla’s mind while enriching their own. This gave me encouragement to move forward with the Maker Faire Pittsburgh exhibit, in cooperation with my friend and fellow Tesla buff Geno at Hack Pittsburgh.
We brainstormed on a way to integrate the coloring book experience with light and Tesla’s technology- the Tesla Coil. There were already some inspiring precedents out there for merging art, sound and tech into a playful experience, but nothing like what we were after. We decided that coloring the book while simultaneously triggering the Tesla Coil would be the way to go. It certainly helped that Geno had built a Musical Tesla Coil! (see photo above). As someone with electrical and software engineering experience, he was able to put together an interface of a touch screen upon which my coloring book would be placed, so that touching it with either a metal coiled pen or a human figure would trigger a musical tesla coil to play notes. The task of making the screen to talk to the coil through was apparently an arduous one, and there were some technical faults with the equipment. Even the coil itself had mysteriously stopped working, and the culprit diode was replaced just in time. It was just a few days before the Faire and still not ready. I was a bit nervous about this, but decided to keep faith in the Universe and late-night hacking. Three sleepless nights later, he put the hardware together, did some coding and got it to the play a song when you touched the coloring page. Voila!
Come early Saturday it was time to spring out of bed and get to Maker Faire. Geno had planned to stay nearby my place at his Mom’s but had left his Tesla Coil at home way out past Monroeville, so it took awhile to get to my place. Then when we tried to get out of the south hills, the fun really began. Every single road on the way to the Fort Pitt tunnel was blocked by police cars and sawhorses without any explanation- it was like some surreal 70’s movie about being trapped in suburbia! We got so lost with all the dead-end avoiding turns that we had to use the GPS to find our way out. Finally got to the grounds and parked, 15 minutes before the Faire opened. Lots of heavy lugging later, we began to set up. Fortunately many other people were still setting up too. People don’t like to get up to early on Saturdays I guess! Laissez Faire.
We didn’t have a ladder so improvised using tables to set up fabric. It was necessary to have this to block the bright sunlight of the day, so that you could see the delicate purple lightning of the coil. I really wanted to make a black light tent too, but there just wasn’t enough time, space or fabric (fabric of space/time?). What we did set up was a fun bohemian influenced tent which welcomed people into our Nikola Tesla Experience! The N in the above pic is for Nikola, obviously. And the crazy metal helmet with led lights and a fluorescent bulb was a fun touch- Geno brought that. It actually lit up wirelessly when the Tesla Coil was zapping later on!
Once people started coming in it got really busy. We were still adding a zillion finishing touches- fortunately I had recruited some help from some other members of the beloved Pittsburgh Tesla Team- Alysha and Susan. Like most people coming to the Faire, Alysha got lost trying to find me because there wasn’t a makers map. She arrived just in time (again, using the force) with her extra art supplies and bag of tricks! She had these wonderful gold fabric stars to attach to our drapery, making our booth more like a cosmic cradle for the imagination. As an experienced school teacher she also had mad organizing and art set up skillz- quick with the scissors to create an example Wardenclyffe Tower crown, as you can see! All around an inspiration, and bringer of food to boot.
So what was the cohesive theme and message of our exhibition? How did it allow one to experience Nikola Tesla? I thought you’d never ask 🙂
We offered several ways one could experience Tesla- through playing with a Tesla themed chess set, through coloring in pages that showed and told his inventions, through making your own Wardenclyffe Tower “world wireless” crown, through playing with the lightning plasma ball, through coloring in and touching an image of him to play a musical Tesla coil, and through reading his quotes and lists of inventions that underpin the growth and operation of the entire 2oth century- and my rhapsodic glimpse of who he really was, what he did for humanity, and why he did it- in spite of being betrayed, robbed and removed from history by big business bullies in his lifetime. How it was so incredible that one illumined heart and mind could produce so much, and that it was an inspiration to the future generations to come up with much needed solutions to a planet in dire need. How so much of his work had yet to be discovered, tried, and implemented. And how unfair his label of “crazy” was, mostly for being so far ahead of his time, and a threat to big oil industry.
The most exciting and poignant demonstration of the Nikola Tesla Experience was the Tesla coil itself, the glory of the sounds it made, and how it was making it. It was so fun to watch people’s faces when we told them the sounds were being made with lightning, literally turning electricity and light into sound by charging the air! And to see the realization of what that meant seep in, turning into a “wow”. Watching the lightning dance and hearing its musical thunder was a direct window into Tesla’s soulful, synesthetic mind, as we see in this quote from him:
“I am part of a light, and it is the music. The Light fills my six senses: I see it, hear, feel, smell, touch and think. Thinking of it means my sixth sense. Particles of Light are written note. O bolt of lightning can be an entire sonata. A thousand balls of lightening is a concert.. For this concert I have created a Ball Lightning, which can be heard on the icy peaks of the Himalayas.”
― Nikola Tesla
Now we begin to get the picture that Tesla was so in tune with the forces of nature that he became on himself. Dancing with lightning, singing with thunder, and infused with the very spirit of electricity, he became a bridge between the sky and the Earth, leaping through time and crossing impossible gaps to bring us the fires that sparked our civilization for next 100 years. He deserves our respect, awe and gratitude- and our determination to follow in his thundering footsteps in name of nature, Earth and all its creatures.
Ah, oops- I was rhapsodizing again wasn’t I? Yes yes because it’s true. I’m happy I was able to share this Nikola Tesla Experience with people, and that we were awarded this Maker of Merit ribbon too! Thank you to Maker Faire for the opportunity, Zero Fossil for powering the event sustainably, and to everyone who cares to keep Nikola’s free energy legacy alive. Tesla sis grateful too and is dancing for joy in the realms of electricity, ready to spark your imagination.
~ Niffer Desmond,
creator of Nikola Tesla Coloring Book.
Be sure to watch the new PBS show on Nikola Tesla airing tonight October 18th, 2016! Get the info here on the PBS site.