How does someone become a member of the Cassilly Crew?
Knickmeyer: There is no typical way to become part of the crew. Everyone here has his or her own unique background and story to tell.
Heinemann: Bob [Cassilly] would hire people and they would go through a trial stage to see if they were going to mesh with us, and we held onto the ones who did.
Knickmeyer: Some people just walked off the street and basically asked Bob if there was any way they could work here. We'd be in the middle of a project and Bob would hand them a broom or a trowel and – depending on their response – that was it. They pitched in and joined the crew.
Heinemann: Bob was pretty fair. He gave pretty much anybody a chance.
Knickmeyer: Credentials didn't mean anything to Bob. If you came in with a master's degree or a Ph.D., that was probably a negative. He valued hard workers and problem solvers over advanced degrees.
What is a typical day like for the Cassilly Crew?
Heinemann: That's one of the great things about this job. Every day is different. You don't ever need anything to break the monotony around here!
Knickmeyer: Some days we might have our trowels out and be doing a little plaster work, and other days we'll come in and there's a crane there ready to lift something that weighs 20 tons. We work with all kinds of materials: steel, stone, concrete, wood and whatever kind of found objects that pop up. A lot of times we get to roam around junkyards and just pick up neat objects that inspire ideas about what might go in the museum. No day is a typical day here and that really does make the job special.
Heinemann: Because of the materials that we work with, your days can't be the same. You have to know how to work with wood, steel, electricity, plumbing ... all different mediums.
Knickmeyer: It's really fun figuring things out, too. There are a lot of times where we don't really know how to get a big object in a tight place or something like that. So we all stand around talking and scratching our heads until we dive in and give it a shot.
How are your displays and installations designed?
Knickmeyer: There is almost never anything on paper until there's something in place. There are ideas that [are] scratched in the floor in soapstone or sketched on napkins, but most of the time we just talk about where there will be expansions or changes, and then it's a matter of coming up with a junkyard piece or some cool thing we have in storage that will fit in the space we need to fill. It's rare that an idea doesn't change or evolve along the way. The biggest thing is just getting started, and then the ideas start coming. There were times — especially when Bob was still around — when we would be working in certain areas and we'd come to a point where it wasn't obvious what needed to be done. And Bob was really big on this: Rather than dwell on something that needed to be completed, he'd ignore it and go somewhere else. Then somehow we'd come back around to the project and that problem would resolve itself. Bob didn't like wasting time. If he couldn't come up with the solution to a problem right now, he'd immediately go on to something else. He was a very interesting person to work for.
How have things changed for the crew since Bob Cassilly's passing in 2011?
Knickmeyer: It's similar, but the energy is different. I'm not saying that our team is lacking energy, it's just that things were always humming when Bob was there ... and everybody was always nervous! The energy was crazy when Bob was around.
Heinemann: Everyone has had a boss who asks his employees to do something he wouldn't do himself. Bob was never that guy. He would never ask you to break down a block wall with a sledgehammer until he got started doing it and then asked you to come help. Bob's energy was everywhere, all the time due to him having four or five projects going on at one time.
Knickmeyer: It was contagious.
Heinemann: He was the hardest worker I've ever met.
What's your favorite part of the City Museum?
Heinemann: I'd have to say my favorite part of the museum is the caves.
Knickmeyer: I think so, too ... and specifically the Shoe Shafts, the 10-story slides. They were an original part of the building that has been modified.
Heinemann: The second phase of the caves has a really nice mixture of mediums: gunite, steel, glass.
Knickmeyer: Yeah, Bob never got stuck on any one material. If he was driving through Forest Park or Tower Grove Park and he saw that a neat tree with awesome branches had died, he was quick to make a connection and go pick up that tree and somehow get it into the museum. We'd get a lot of insane phone calls!
What's next for the City Museum?
Knickmeyer: On the third floor in the Toddler Town area, we did an expansion last year and made some new animals. As soon as the weather got nice, we moved outside again, but I think this winter we'll find ourselves back in there working again. There's still a big expansion in the works. We have some ideas, but it's still a little unclear where some things may head.
Heinemann: It'll be one of those situations where we jump in and get started and the snowball effect will take over, and it'll be open by spring!
Knickmeyer: We just got a new mini-Ferris wheel, maybe 16-feet tall or so, and they're talking about moving that inside and cutting a hole in the floor so that it'll be on one floor but the Ferris wheel rises through the next floor. A lot of times that's a good place to start: You have a center object like that, and then it becomes clear what else needs to be done within the space.
Heinemann: They are also currently working on the fourth floor. There will be another cafe of some sort. I think the expansion up there will be mostly architectural elements.
Knickmeyer: We've made a lot of really neat purchases. A lot of nice stuff came out of Chicago, some Lewis Sullivan pieces and some from Sullivan's students. Very nice pieces. It's going to be a big exhibit area. There have been some suggestions that we could connect the fourth floor to the Shoe Shafts.
How can you tell when a new exhibit or installation is successful?
Knickmeyer: When you see the kids going crazy on it!
Heinemann: It's really gratifying.
Knickmeyer: A lot of times you can walk away from something and know that it's going to work ...
Heinemann: But until you see the smile on that kid's face ...
Knickmeyer: Yeah, that's the deal sealer: When you see a whole bunch of kids lined up to see it or get on it. Seeing kids experience real things is super gratifying to me. I'm not anti-technology, but I love to see kids enjoying something other than cell phones, computers and video games. I love to see them get a little bruised and bumped and screaming with delight and having an awesome time.
Heinemann: It's living!
The City Museum is located at 701 N. 5th St., St. Louis, Mo., 63103. Call 314-231-2489.
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