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Invasion of Vintage Robots in Small Upstate Village

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 6/7/24 | 6/7/24

By Rebecca Andre

Over one hundred humanoids descended upon the Galli Curci Theater in Margaretville, NY on June 1, 2024, to witness a historic moment: 44 vintage robots on display in a pop-up Space Age Museum. These robots, from colorful to monotone, cute to creepy, clunky to streamlined, stood silent and stalwart while humans of all ages gawked and pointed and snapped away. Monuments to the past, as well as visions of the future, this collection of robots belongs to the Kleeman family, who began collecting Space Age cultural artifacts in the early 1980s.

Peter Kleeman, Curator and Director of Space Age Center LLC, tells the story of how it all began. Together as a family, he and his parents, John and Veronica, scoured flea markets, tag sales, antique fairs, and even dumpsters, looking for artistic and cultural remnants of the past. Their treasure hunts resulted in a collection of space toys, amusement rides, folk art, and design items. Robots became a recurring theme.

“We realized we were shining light on a pivotal moment in history,” says Kleeman, referring to the 1980s, when “the transition of the human species to a spacefaring civilization had begun.” By then, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had become the first humans to walk on the moon in 1969, and the fictional Captains Kirk and Picard were “boldly going where no one had gone before,” as promised in the television show Star Trek’s famed monologue.

This realization led to a formal mission for the Kleeman family: “To create a Space Age Museum and to boldly seek, preserve, and interpret the material culture of the Space Age for posterity.” 

Saturday afternoon, the museum, in its temporary home, did just that. Visitors engaged with robots of all shapes and sizes, including ‘Zord’, a robot vending machine c. 1980s; ‘CP-1’, a floating robot from the Hershey Chocolate Amusement Park c. 1988; ‘AN5607’, a female robot from a Long Island bar with bicycle brakes for hands c. 1980s; and my personal favorite, ‘Headless Milk Can Robot’ from a farm stand in Pomfret, CT c.1950s that greeted visitors to the theatre with a red-painted warning message  “The humans are coming!”

What did these humans think of this lively display of inanimate objects bursting with personality? “So fun!” could be heard at any given moment. “Fabulous, fantastic, everyone must go!” exclaimed local resident Barbara Raggi, “Margaretville is really getting culture!”

The mission of the Kleeman family has since grown past simple entertainment to include an educational endeavor, Space Age Center, LLC. Its purpose is the sharing of culture, art, and imagination of the Space Age in public exhibits and through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) educational programs. For example, a workshop called ‘Robot Craft Time’ is being held for small ones on June 12 from 4-5pm and then again on June 15 from 11 am-12 pm for ages 4-12 at the Galli Curci. RSVP to ifeltpen@gmail.com.

The Space Age Center does not yet have a permanent physical space, but Kleeman expresses hope for finding a facility somewhere in the Catskills that can be a forever home to the beloved robots. In the meantime, you can visit the robots at the pop-up exhibit ‘Vintage Robots - Humanoid Visions of the Future’ at the Galli Curci Theater in Margaretville, on Saturdays and Sundays, noon - 4 pm, through July 9th. Admission is free to the public. This project was made possible with funds from community partner Bushel Collective and Delaware County Arts Grants. Learn more at SpaceAgeMuseum.com.

*Disclaimer: This article was written by a human with a bias towards art and science fiction, and edited for spelling, grammar, and punctuation by AI.


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