A Life in the Trades: April 2011

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010. October 2010. November 2010. December 2010. February 2011.

This is Nicholas’ final blog post in the Building Preservation & Restoration Program at Belmont Tech in St. Clairsville, OH. Nicholas will be continuing on the preservation trades path and, hopefully, will keep readers updated on his journey. In the meantime, I’m sure readers share my sentiments in saying thank you to Nicholas. It’s been a great opportunity to read along with your lessons and adventures while in school, and to learn along the way.

By Nicholas Bogosian

This month I wanted to share with you all the recent arrival of PiP to the BPR program.  PiP stayed for a day and we were happy to give a tour.

 

a life in the trades april 2011_1

PiP on the bridge. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP in the fridge. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP and Renata. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP playing in the hydrostone. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP getting off the elevator. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP starts to miss home. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP meets with Cathie for prospective student info. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP meets with Cathie for prospective student info. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

A Life in the Trades: December 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010. October 2010. November 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

A Photo Diary of the Fall Quarter at Belmont Tech’s BPR program.

Metals class introduced us to the art of blacksmithing as well as the deterioration and preservation of various metals. Jeff Forster, guest instructor, owns a decorative ironworks and metal restoration business in Wheeling, WV.

The author at work.

Our Field Lab class in Morristown, OH gave us the opportunity to carry out sandstone foundation repairs. Improper face-bedding of the stone as well as the use of a Portland cement had caused some noticeable deterioration of the stone. The joints were repointed with an appropriate Virginia Lime Works mortar and one significantly damaged stone was given a plastic repair with a Jahn restoration product so that its cavernous face could be made sound again.

Jahn repair.

After Jahn repair.

In Windows & Doors class, damaged sashes and sills were removed from an 1880s one-room schoolhouse in Pleasant Hill, OH for repairs back at our lab space. Repairs included documentation of conditions, wood consolidation, paint removal, and re-glazing. Our final project was the creation of a paneled door with traditional mortise and tenon joinery and raised panels.

Graining & Marbling Class introduced us to the art of faux painting. Projects included sample boards of various stones and wood species. Final projects involved the creation of a “Pietra Dura” panel or stone marquetry as well as a panel with a graining and marbling combination.

And finally, my advanced material science class, which I elaborated on in my last blog, involved the conservation of structural timbers. Various techniques were carried out, including: splices/ dutchmans, WER (wood epoxy reinforcement), as well as mechanical repairs.

 

Carving out interior wood rot.

Splice/dutchman of knee brace.

 

BETA system repair to end rot using fiberglass rods and epoxy.

All photographs courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

A Life in the Trades: November 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010. October 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

In the Advanced Materials Science class of Belmont Tech’s BPR program, students plan a focused study in a particular building material (plaster, wood, masonry, ceramics, metals, etc.). Students are mentored by a faculty member, but ultimately organize their own learning program.

My interest in wood conservation began my first quarter with a paper I wrote on wood preservatives. Subsequently getting to witness great timbered structures like the nationally registered barn of the Kinney Farmstead or seeing evidence of powder post beetle damage to hand-hewn joists of the 1820s Lundy house further cemented my interest. After taking the Theory of Structures class, I fine-tuned my interest in wood to its structural functions and began to wonder how engineers, preservationists, and timber framers deal with the conservation of our historic wood-framed buildings.

Split beam of historic carriage house. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

So, for the Advanced Materials Science class this quarter, I have set out to study timber conservation and how to implement the various options of repair. Though I want to have a basic understanding of wood science and the chemistry involved with resins or the physics of different joints, the ultimate goal is to develop technique in implementing the various options of repair and to understand the appropriateness of each to different situations.

At this point, all of my research has been compiled and I’m 20% through the implementation procedures.

Books which have proven very useful are Brian Ridout’s Timber Decay in Buildings, David C. Fischetti’s Structural Investigation of Historic Buildings, Weaver’s Conserving Buildings as well as Wheeler & Hutchinson’s article “Resin Repairs to Timber Structures.” Ridout’s book is interesting primarily in its intent. The book is meant to educate on the science of wood as well as offer thorough explanation on the various agents of decay. His goal is not to educate on the various repair techniques, but to give preservationists or concerned building-owners a foundation by which to understand what repairs, if any, are necessary. He laments the reactionary use of preservatives or irreversible repairs when all that may be necessary is reducing moisture levels in the building environment.

Preservation engineer Fischetti’s book addresses the conundrum of historic buildings, bridges, towers, and mills which have stood the test of time, but cannot pass current testing for structural soundness despite actually being quite sound. He argues that there must be something wrong with our testing procedures. But Fischetti is not blinded by nostalgia – he’s a schooled engineer and understands the complexity of dealing with structural issues in historic buildings. His book is laden with case-study examples of various investigations and repairs to historic buildings all over the country. Martin Weaver’s book has been helpful in its chapter on resins and polymers as well as his succinct pictorial descriptions of various timber repair techniques.

In designing my project, I ideally would have worked at an actual site, but that wasn’t feasible. It would have been very unlikely that I would have found such a structure that provided all the necessary situations to carry out the various repair techniques. So I decided to create mock set-ups. The actual wood I am dealing with is old-growth timbers retrieved from various historic buildings and which display some level of rot or insect damage.

Old growth oak. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

So far, I have retrieved a knee brace from a barn that fell down in Cadiz, Ohio which displays wood rot and likely powder post beetle damage. I was recently offered rotten sills from a historic spring house a mile from my house which are being replaced. The sills will act as my other two mock-pieces.

Repair Techniques which I will be exploring:

– wood splices

– replication of historic joinery (tenons)

– mechanical fasteners

– Wood Epoxy Reinforcement (WER method)

– BETA system

BETA system, as depicted in Martin Weaver's Conserving Buildings. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Currently, work has begun on a splice repair to the knee brace in which a complicated scarf joint has been carved out. This test piece will incorporate the replication of a missing tenon into the splice and the use of mechanical fasteners (in this case, bolts) to join old and new. The “new” wood has been salvaged from a knee brace from the same barn and will have a high degree of grain matching.

Splice repair in progress. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

In the end, I would like to have concrete, hands-on examples of various repair techniques as well as a supplementary manual for a conservation-focused repair methodology. This manual would have basics on the agents of decay, investigative techniques, environmental controls, appropriateness of various repair options, and positives and negatives of the various repair options.

Ultimately, my goal is to make sense of “minimum intervention” when it comes to the conservation of timbers. It seems that much of the conservation world is not only defined by its sensitivity in intervention, but also its sensitivity in the diagnosis. Once all other variables have been dealt with, if wooden members have, through thorough testing and deliberation, been found to require physical repair then the skills outlined in my project should prove useful.

A Life in the Trades: April 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010.

By Abigail Watson-Popescu

Belmont Technical College’s hands-on approach to teaching building preservation breaks into two divisions: the construction track and the decorative track. While I learned quite a lot in my carpentry class this past quarter and found it to be good fun, as a student with a keen interest in historical interiors, I have chosen to pursue the decorative track. The decorative track focuses primarily on teaching the preservation and restoration of interior decorative work. This line of focus features courses in wall finishes, gilding and composition, marbling and wood graining, ceramics and plaster, as well as introductory courses in model and mold making and paints and clear finishes. As our director Dave Mertz likes to say, if you repeat the information often enough and there is enough repetitive practice using the information, it will hopefully stick once the students are out of the program and in the field. I find this to be entirely true regarding the building block sort of architecture upon which this program is designed.

In the introductory courses of Model and Mold Making and Paints and Clear Finishes, students have a chance to explore and experiment with a particular medium, whether it is molding rubbers, plaster, aniline dyes, milk paints, or the production of homemade walnut dyes, to name a few. These introductory courses allow us to plunge into the process of getting our hands dirty all the while learning the chemical properties of each component and media, resulting in an understanding of what works with what (and often vice-versa). This occasionally requires learning the hard way, involving extra work to make up for novice mistakes. (For instance, learning never to use a nylon brush for oil paints, or a natural bristle brush for latex!)

Dave Mertz also likes to say that students usually don’t believe they have a free hand to experiment (often because there is grading involved)—but in these intro classes, we really have been given free reign to plumb the great unknown (once armed with a great deal of encyclopedic knowledge from our sage professor, of course). This process of experimentation in the introductory courses allows us to really find out how the various media work for ourselves. Once we’ve got a handle on the media, students in the decorative track then go on to employ their knowledge of paints, stains, molding rubbers and plaster in more refined ways, with the end goal of reproducing historical finishes and plaster decorative features.

As a student pursuing the decorative track, I have, up to this point, delved into producing rubber molds of three-dimensional objects, from which I then produced plaster reproductions.

Mold and plaster cast derived from model created by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

Three-dimensional plaster cast from brush on mold by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

This spring, I will take my experience of creating molds and producing plaster casts to a more practical and applicable level in the advanced plaster course. In the forthcoming plaster course, we will learn how to repair and reproduce decorative plaster elements, such as the components of a plaster ceiling medallion, via the mold making and casting process. In this course, students will also learn how to repair and reproduce traditional three-coat plaster, as we work on our ongoing restoration of Belmont Technical College’s Field Lab house in Morristown, Ohio.

Plaster medallion reproduction from original, Belmont Technical College. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Another pair of advanced material science courses encompassed in the decorative track that build upon knowledge learned in the introductory classes include Wall Finishes and Graining and Marbling. Having taken the Wall Finishes course this past Winter Quarter, I found it grew organically from the knowledge I acquired from the Paints and Clear Finishes class. My final project for Paints and Clear Finishes involved producing a wood sample board, featuring various types of wood in a variety of finishes.

Paints and clear finishes wood sample board by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

I experimented with making dyes out of natural earth pigments such as Prussian blue, as well as producing homemade dyes from walnuts that I picked in the fall. I even went so far as to make my own encaustic paint out of beeswax and pigments from a recipe I discovered in The Painter’s Handbook by Mark David Gottsegen. I relished the experience of making traditional finishes, which allowed me the feeling of putting myself in the place of a historical artisan, even though I occasionally found it to be very hard and frustrating work (particularly in producing the very labor-intensive traditional French Polish!)

French polish on mahogany by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

This experimental introduction gave me a familiarity with paints and clear finishes that enhanced my creativity when it came to producing an interesting and visually pleasing finished wall in the more focused course. The wall finishes course taught me the intricacies of a variety of paints and decorative finishes, which culminated with the production of a finished mock-up of a room, including walls, moldings and ceiling. When it came to deciding how I would undertake developing a color and decorative scheme for my wall, I took my instructor Jeff MacDonald’s advice to heart: “Never underestimate the power of a limited palette.” And, indeed, I chose a limited palette of golds and sage-like greens. I found that choosing a limited palette allowed me more room to experiment with a variety of finishes to produce a visually interesting but cohesive wall.

Finished wall by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

In going with a historical sort of feel, I decided to depict a parchment paper-like effect for the main portion of my wall. I did this by creating a glaze treatment made of raw sienna oil paint, primer, and an oil-based glazing liquid, which I thinned out with mineral spirits in order to achieve the appropriate weight (not an easy task!) This resulted in a yellowish hue that was lighter than my gold wall. The weight and hue of this glaze would give just the right effect of crinkles of parchment paper, when ragged on with crinkled newspaper-weight paper. I chose another glazing treatment for the portion of the wall below the chair rail. For this treatment, I used the sage green oil paint of my trim, glazing liquid and mineral spirits, which I applied in a horizontal wave pattern using graining combs. Lastly, I turned to the traditional stencil (which I traced and cut out of Mylar) in a thistle pattern for the corners of the ceiling to add the finishing touch to pull the whole scheme together.

Top view of finished wall/ceiling by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

My work on finishes will culminate with the Graining and Marbling course this spring. In this course, I will learn how to create marbling, or stone-like effects, on wood using paints and glazing liquids. The wood-graining portion of the course will likewise involve the use of glazes and combing techniques to produce a faux-wood grain finish, much favored in many historical buildings.

I was pleasantly surprised by a wonderful and expansive example of traditional wood graining of the late 19th century while I was investigating the Italianate YWCA building in my hometown of Titusville, Pennsylvania for my building pathology report last quarter. The cabinetry and woodwork in the kitchen and main office of this building is beautifully finished in wood graining, albeit unfortunately suffering from serious damage over time. Seeing the damage to the original wood graining in this building has piqued my anticipation for learning how I might combine my knowledge of repairing the damaged wood (which involves epoxy-consolidation and sanding) with restoring the artistic element of the traditional wood graining.

Detail of traditional wood-graining in YWCA building, Titusville, PA. Photo by author.

What I enjoy most about pursuing the decorative track of Belmont Tech’s BPR program is that reproducing or conserving artistic decorative elements enables me to share in the historical process, allowing me to walk in the shoes of the historical craftsperson, as it were. While I certainly would not consider myself an accomplished artist by any stretch of the imagination, learning to preserve, repair and reproduce decorative elements allows me a certain appreciation of the work of the craftsperson at a level which I could not have had prior to this hands-on experience. In many ways, I feel that regardless of a person’s level of craft, having the experience of producing a decorative piece with one’s own hands gives one an in-depth appreciation of the level of skill and labor that has gone in to the making of so many of our incredible historical buildings. And while interiors might not be a number one criterion for the National Register (although it seems the tide is changing a bit on that front), I believe that the preservation of interiors is central to the preservation of the fine artistic accomplishments of the past. The decorative track of Belmont Technical College’s Building Preservation and Restoration Program cultivates not only an appreciation for the work that went in to the production of historic interiors, but also an ability to preserve and repair these interiors wherever they might be failing. In this way, the spirit of the historic artist lives on in those who practice and conserve their work going forward. As a student on Belmont Tech’s decorative track, I am proud to be a member of this movement.

By Abigail Watson-Popescu

A Life in the Trades: March 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

In the Materials Science of Wood class at BPR this quarter, we’ve been assigned six projects: Bracket reconstruction, wood epoxy repair, dutchman repair, lathe turning, wood carving, and parquetry design. The focus of the course is to get us fully acquainted with the character of wood, the tools by which we manipulate it, its common deterioration mechanisms, and basic methods by which to conserve, preserve, and restore it. The nature of the more significant projects (bracket & parquetry) lead us into aspects of fine wood working, whereas the separate Building Carpentry class focuses on wood as a framing material in a historic context. The Building Pathology component of the program, in turn, reinforces the study of deterioration and stabilization of materials such as wood.

This month I documented the process of my bracket reconstruction. “Case by case basis” is a phrase we hear all the time in our classes. The goal of the program is to equip us with an index of options. Much like a doctor upon hearing her patient’s symptoms, she must catalogue in her brain potential causes and possible remedies. If she is a good doctor, the cause of the symptoms will be considered the first priority to solve. In the field of preservation we also have other variables dictating our actions: time, the vision of the owner of the object/property (are we restoring to mid-18th century or are we leaving “as is” and conserving what we have only?), and the budget of the owner.

In the context of my bracket reconstruction I pretty much assumed the vision of the project as a restoration of sorts. I also assumed that if any problem exists that was a direct contributor to the bracket’s complete failure/disappearance, that it has been investigated and fixed. Whereas dutchman and wood epoxy repairs are repairing a wooden object and retaining as much original fabric as possible, a reconstruction effort is dealing with recreating an object based on documentation of what used to be. Perhaps only a couple of the brackets remain. Perhaps none exist at all. If it fits the parameters of the project’s vision, the reconstruction process may begin once all proper documentation and research has been accomplished.

All documentation and research aside, I began at the drafting table rendering the bracket in detail. Generally, all profiles need to be explored. I learned very quickly in the construction process, that this time spent at the drafting table is the most difficult and most important part of the entire process. Every dentil, every depth, every component of the design must be understood in your mind and explained on the paper. If you can see its multiple layers coming together accurately, then the construction process will run much more smoothly.

A bracket’s width is determined by the height of the individual boards that compose it. A process of glue lamination will give us our bulk. Once the height of these individual boards is determined, they are planed down to the correct size. In our case we’re dealing with rough-cut Poplar. Rough-cut boards are not necessarily the dimension we need and may show signs of crooking, cupping, and bowing.

_______________________________________________________________________

A note on dimensional lumber…

The most cost-effective and resourceful method of dimensioning lumber in a lumber mill is the plain sawing method.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The downside to plain sawn planks is the nature of the growth rings in relation to moisture evaporation processes. They are more prone to warping. The quarter sawn method produces a more durable cut of wood that is less prone to this warping.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

In our case, the boards are roughly plain sawn. Each face grain is planed down to the correct level in the planer which also provides a finer finish. The purpose of the planer is to give plumb dimensions on these face grains as well.

Board planer. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

After the face grains have been planed, one edge grain per board must be joined in the joiner to remove any imperfections such as crooking. Once a single edge grain side has been joined, the other side must be trimmed off on a table saw setting the recently joined side against the fence. End grain sides may be simply trimmed on a chop saw. Now the board should be square on all sides.

______________________________________________________________________

After all individual boards have their proper height, the edges are glued together with a Poly Vinyl Acetate adhesive (i.e. white glue and wood(yellow) glue). These adhesives are water based and work best on porous materials. F-clamps keep the boards in place in the drying process.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

It is best to arrange the boards in alternating end grain patterns. Should further warping occur, ideally the warpings will oppose each other and cancel themselves out.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

After the boards have dried, the process of tracing the side profile of the bracket onto these begins. I used a simple carbon paper. I needed to trace seven profiles, as seven profiles would create the width of my bracket once placed side by side.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Once the individual profiles have been cut using a scroll saw, they are aligned together and once again glued in the final lamination process.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Left to dry. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

There might be irregular edges along this profile after the lamination process. Using a bobbin sander, the bulk of the bracket may be sanded down to a smooth and regular shape.

One component of my bracket was a turned rosette. After a block is attached to the end of the lathe, using various turning speeds and different turning chisels, my contoured shape was created. These discs were then glued to both sides of the bracket.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

In creating the decorative scrolls which flank the bracket, a 3-D carved depth illusion is given by joining two pieces: one creating the elevated portion and the other providing the backing.

Prior to cutting. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Using a scroll saw once again, the piece is “carved out.” Once the two pieces are glued together, a simple dremel tool helped to establish even more depths in the scrolls. These too were glued to each side of the bracket.

The last decorative element of the bracket was creating the partial architrave on the top and base consisting of a simple cornice and dentil run. It is worth noting that options for replicating historic and even rare molding profiles must be indexed as well for future “case by case” assignments. Options can run the gamut from locating rare router bits, creating custom router bits, or even doing a combination of routing with existing bits in one’s collection and hand planing/shaping. All decorative trim and molding must be carefully tagged, photographed, and organized if detached from a structure in a preservation endeavor.

Once a matching router bit was found, the cornice was shaped using the router. Various miter joints must be cut with miter saws to create the corners of the cornice.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Dentil blocks can be created with a few different methods. The most time-efficient method is using a dado blade on a common table saw. The dado blade is intended to carve out the wood. The width of this uniform shape is determined by placing spacers in between two saw blades and based on the height of the saw blade. A jig is created for the assignment if not already in your jig collection. By simply passing the dentil plank inside a jig over the dado blade, the spacing in between the dentils is created accurately.

And…..I’m finished.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

A Life in The Trades: February 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

“Why in the world would you move here?” This is a question I get all too often. They can’t understand why someone would move to the Ohio Valley. Most of them are younger and can’t wait to get out. Columbus lies two hours to the west – a bustling college city with enough to keep you busy for weeks. Pittsburgh, PA offers the same advantages an hour northeast. Wheeling, WV (the closest city) lies ten miles to the east and offers an impressive collection of Victorian architecture, no matter if any preservation effort exists to keep it alive. But St. Clairsville, “paradise on the hill,” gets squashed between the three.

In answering the question, I subdue my glee and explain to them that I’m here for school – that I’m studying building preservation at Belmont Technical College. I explain that there’s only a handful of preservation trade schools in the country and that Bel Tech’s program is the only one of its kind, with a pretty stellar reputation. Never mind trying to comprehend somebody studying building preservation, they still seem surprised that “little ol’ St. Clairsville” and that “little ol’ Belmont Tech” has a nationally recognized preservation program. In past blog posts, the issue of the preservation trades as a sort of “secret field” has been brought up. It seems the same is true for its training institutions.

For somebody wanting to study historic preservation with a trades/technology emphasis one could seek out any of the following programs: College of the Redwoods (Eureka, CA), Colorado Mountain College (Leadville, CO), Belmont Tech (St. Clairsville, OH), SCAD (Savannah, GA), American College of the Building Arts (North Charleston, SC), and North Bennett Street School (Boston, MA).

Belmont Tech’s program, established in 1989, was the first preservation trade school in the United States and a few of the later programs have been loosely modeled on Belmont’s. Most of these programs, however, are still in their infancy, with the exception of North Bennett Street School & SCAD. Despite the common thread of “preservation trades” in these institutions, each have their own distinct way of doing things and none are exactly the same. The primary factors that attracted me most to Belmont when researching these schools were:

– national reputation (high job-filling rate upon graduation)

– intensive hands-on focus on all basic materials of buildings (masonry, plaster, metals, wood, ceramics, wall finishes, etc )

– rigorous academic parallel in curriculum to preservation theory and history as well as historic research, field documentation, and the history of American architecture.

– focus on building pathology and available technologies to conserve structures and their materials.

– ample opportunities for field labs including four quarters of mandatory field labs at local sites (run in conjunction with Allegheny Restoration)

Examining the curriculum at Belmont, I got a true sense that the program embodies the interdisciplinary nature of historic preservation and that it acknowledges preservation as an act that is theoretical, scientific, and artistic.

The BPR (Building Preservation & Restoration) program is housed on the second story of the Science & Engineering building on the Ohio Eastern University Campus. I don’t have an exact count, but the program is relatively small – roughly forty students. The program’s only form of major publicity is an ad every month in Old House Journal. But the name seems to get around otherwise. Students arrive from “all over.” A map of the United States hangs in the lounge with a cacophony of multi-colored pins marking their hometowns. Recently, a map of Croatia was added as an addendum with a single blue pin.

I feel inclined to give the reader a James Agee approach in documenting the annals of the program and what it symbolizes in minute detail. I want you to smell the wood shop and the saw-burnt poplar, to feel the exothermic heat rising off of curing plaster, to hear the planer in its glorious mechanized chipping upstart, to hear the clinking of the Mexican Coca-Cola bottles when anyone opens the mini-fridge, the smell of the soldering metals permeating from downstairs, the tidy and almost choreographed way in which the stained glass students maneuver around the lab with monk-like focus. I want you to sit through a week of Dave Mertz’s lectures and see that a whole hour can be devoted to pigeon crap. I want you to peer deep into his eyes as he simultaneously laughs at and laments the common roofer’s default obsession with roof tar.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Ruskin’s words beam in the industrially-lit stairwell.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The library has over 1,000 volumes of books, videos, and magazines pertaining to the preservation field at large. This resource has been an immeasurable blessing. There is always research to be done. The St. Clairsville Public Library just wouldn’t be sufficient in this case.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The draft room is where a lot of projects take their shape.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The plaster shop, displaying medallions. Model & Mold Making class meets here as well as Plaster class and Chemistry for Conservators labs.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The wood shop is where I’m spending most of my time this quarter. Between Material Science of Wood class and Building Carpentry class I’m reconstructing a bracket, doing Dutchman and epoxy repairs, traditional and modern joinery, lathe shaping, wood carving, and marquetry. Students have access to a wide variety of hard and softwood species.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The paint and glazing lab houses the Stained Glass, Material Science of Paint, Wall Finishes, & Historic Interiors classes.

Lab spaces also include a darkroom and a metals shop. Off-site field lab classes are in pretty constant rotation. The surrounding area is graciously in the habit of donating jobs which need to be done on historic sites, but would otherwise not have the funding to go about such repairs. We, of course, are happy to have the opportunity.

Dave Mertz, the director of the program, has been here since the beginning. He has shaped the program into what it is today and has developed a national reputation and a great list of contacts as we begin to network in the field and ultimately graduate to our first job.

In short, Dave Mertz is my hero. I was wary in the beginning about entering a field so blindly, having no previous formal exposure to the field. I was concerned about the “movement” status of the field. In my case, I was not interested in becoming an “advocate,” per se. Rather, I was more compelled by the natural and concrete rationale behind preservation and conservation. Material objects have no value besides the value we place on them, and people have a tendency to change their tastes over time. Like Ruskin proclaims: “let us not build for present delight…” What lasts is intention of design and quality of craftsmanship.

Ironically enough, a large part of our jobs as preservationists is to fix mistakes of the original builders, or the mistakes of the handymen which followed them. Granted, we are often dealing with natural deterioration processes as well and, if we are so blessed, even buildings of exquisite craftsmanship and high art. Unfortunately, the preservationist is a separate entity from the building construction force in society today. This wasn’t always the case. Would we even need “preservationists” today if modern builders commenced with Ruskin’s ethic to build for posterity? Would we even need “preservationists” if modern builders had the knowledge of building materials to effectively maintain these structures?

Dave Mertz is not a preservation hobbyist. He is more than talk. I am happy to say that a large part of his focus is teaching us the correct way of dealing with a plethora of preservation related problems and simply how to be good workers. In the age of the “Millennial,” this concept seems somewhat rare and admirable.

In addition to Dave, Jeff MacDonald joined the faculty this quarter after serving as the Lead Preservation Specialist to the Montana Heritage Commission. His specialty lies in the decorative arts and crafts and is passionate about the development of preservation education worldwide.

The BPR program is typically a two year program. The degree earned is an Associates of Science in Preservation Technology. The program attracts students with all sorts of academic backgrounds: fresh out of High School to full-out Master’s degrees. Many continue their education beyond Belmont. The great thing about the program, as already mentioned, is the wide scope of focus. While the trades are key, so is preservation philosophy, architectural history, historic research, and design. Graduates find themselves in all sorts of preservation related jobs around the country – whether they be working for a State Preservation Office or as a masonry conservator at the Lincoln Memorial.

So while the Ohio Valley is a completely new world to me (i.e. frigid winter weather, a desperately struggling economy, and largely rural) I have come to find a home in the BPR program. The high quality of work that is expected from us and the amount of critical thinking involved in the preservation trades can seem like an overload at times. Not to mention the excitement of learning new things every day. I have to stop myself from investigating things beyond the depth that I have the time for. Other students struggle with this problem as well. It’s just impossible to do thesis-level research on every single thing we come across day to day, though whole theses could indeed be devoted to the evolution of the wrought nail, the damaging Deathwatch Beetle, Copper cleaning, and Histoplasmosis. In reality, this is just preparation for our jobs at large. The learning process does not end when we are handed our degree. It is something we will take with us.

The Great Western School House. Past field lab structure. Photograph courtesy of Jess Warren.

For more information on the BPR program, please visit: http://www.btc.edu/bpr/

A Life in the Trades: December 2009

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009.

By Nicholas Bogosian

When did manual competence become inferior to informational and technological competence? When did blue-collar become blue-collar? When did the college degree become superior to vocational training? In recent years, this dichotomy has been explored in academic realms to reveal fascinating insight. In truth, the line between the manual and the intellectual cannot be divided so easily.

The work of the preservation tradesman, like many other trades, must utilize the mind and hand in ways which few other careers can match in the modern world. The tradesman is not simply a field-trip factory worker cranking out the steps he or she learned back in trade school. The preservation tradesmen, in particular, rely on their knowledge of material sciences, history (human and building), building construction, conservation methods, the use of tools and various technologies, and manual proficiency at various building crafts. Their learning is a process which extends far beyond their initial training in a world where every new project is a process of new research and insight. Indeed, the critical thinking and management of all these elements into an informed decision and application seems to be a truer throwback to what we once called the “Renaissance Man.” The interdisciplinary character of the preservation trades can seem overwhelming and exhilarating.

Dave Mertz, director of the Building Preservation and Restoration program at Belmont Technical College, explains about his paper “The Role of Higher Education in Traditional Trades Training” that

“As late as the 19th century, the construction trades were considered highly desirable fields which required manual dexterity, critical thinking skills and advanced technical knowledge. This array of skills attracted highly qualified apprentices who were academically proficient and career driven. With the advent of higher education in America, the role of the training shifted from the practitioner to the technical and vocational schools and the quality of the student began to slowly diminish as parents, teachers and guidance counselors pushed their children into career paths that were deemed more socially and financially advantageous, leaving those who were not deemed “college bound” to fill the trades and other jobs perceived to be laborious in nature.

Today, students who struggle academically or who are socially maladjusted are often pushed into high school vocational programs. This influx of under-prepared and often unmotivated class of students along with the shift to assembly-like construction practices during the post-war building boom has led to the “dumbing” of the trades. Today’s preservation trades programs have begun to challenge the academic paradigm of the past fifty years by reinventing traditional trades education under the banner of historic preservation and at a collegiate level.”

Ken Follett, a historic conservation specialist in Mastic Beach, New York writes in his article, “A Contractor’s View of Craft Training”:

“The very idea that any modestly literate young individual should choose anything but a college education seems to run contrary to an economically-driven myth of our education system. (In crude terms, I think the myth runs something like: Pay up, and we will teach you how to capture the golden goose.) As well, respect paid to the trade of an artisan becomes a threat to the dreams of hard-working parents. Parents who work with their hands, especially, hope their children will not follow them in a career of physical labor…

Why is the preservation industry so incredibly lopsided in favor of intellectual occupations, to the neglect of hands-on craft? I have not met many people who think that a young person following a trade career is not headed on a difficult way in life, especially where higher education is available. Granted, physical labor makes a person tired. But it does not reduce brain cells. On the other hand, too much schooling can dull the senses, inhibit thirst for life, and inflate an individual’s self-importance. And however much is spent on an education, it does not increase the quantity of brain cells….

Hands-on work is not a refuge in a simpler life and it is unfortunate if a vital national resource, the skilled craftsperson working in traditional trades, is allowed to be stereotyped as a theme worker whereby anyone can take it up as a hobby. Construction contracting is not trivial; it is highly complex and demanding. There is an undeniable amount of pain in the fully engaged practice of hoisting two cement bags at one time; this is not a pursuit that comes easy. Progress is measured, not by a high grade-point average, but by food on the table. The gap between those who design and those who implement, between those who think about it and those who have a constant backache and dirty hands, is a convergence of two economic classes. The educational ideals of these two classes, totally foreign, collide at the building site. And neither system of ideals seems disposed to admit the validity of the other. There are few exceptions.”

Matthew B. Crawford majored in physics in undergraduate school and earned his Ph.D. in Political Philosophy. He later ditched numerous “information jobs” to open up a vintage motorcycle repair shop in Virginia. He wrote an essay for The New Atlantic which he later expanded into book form entitled, Shop Class as Soulcraft. Here’s an excerpt:

“Today, in our schools, the manual trades are given little honor. The egalitarian worry that has always attended tracking students into “college prep” and “vocational ed” is overlaid with another: the fear that acquiring a specific skill set means that one’s life is determined. In college, by contrast, many students don’t learn anything of particular application; college is the ticket to an open future. Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the ideal of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement. Somehow, every worker in the cutting-edge workplace is now supposed to act like an “intrapreneur,” that is, to be actively involved in the continuous redefinition of his own job.”

In another example of such matters being criticized, Richard Sennett, professor of sociology at NYU and at The London School of Economics, recently wrote an opus of sociological investigation with his 2008 book, The Craftsman. In it, he explores the meaning of the craftsman through history. Though Sennett does argue that the art of “doing as thinking” in craftsmanship is intrinsic, he does not believe that the craftsman has disappeared over time, rather that the intrinsic qualities have merely shifted into other areas of our economy: the computer programmer, the doctor, the parent, the musician, the chef. However, for those interested in the role of the craftsman through time and what makes them unique, this work is fascinating in its insight.

Matthew B. Crawford states, “Tom Thompson, of Oregon’s Department of Education, says there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that one of the fastest-growing segments of the student body at community colleges is people who already have a four-year degree and return to get a marketable trade skill.” He later goes on to say that 98% of those who graduate get jobs in their first year after finishing.

Though not all college degrees create abstracted job skills, I agree with Crawford’s sentiment that higher education is sometimes failing in its practicality and application. My step-father finds humor in the fact that he graduated with an architecture degree and was asked in one of his first interviews upon graduation, “Do you know how to change a light switch?” Well, he couldn’t. I know myself and a few others in the Building Preservation & Restoration program at Belmont Technical College are attending with previous undergraduate and graduate degrees ranging from history, economics, to theatre. I can’t speak for the others, but it was the specific career-defining move that attending such a trade school creates that drew me here. Dave Mertz, the director of our program, receives more job offers for students in the preservation field than can be filled. There’s a boom right now in the demand for preservation craftsmen as never before. It is heartening to know that at least under the “banner of historic preservation,” our skills are needed and that we should find work for many years to come.

———————————————

Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class As Soulcraft. (New York: The Penguin Press, 2009).

Follett, Ken. “A Contractor’s View of Craft Training.” 1997: Cultural Resource Management, an online journal from the National Park Service. Volume 20, Number 12.

Mertz, Dave. “The Role of Higher Education in Traditional Trades Training.” From the International Trades Education Symposium, 2009. Web. http://www.iptw.org/iptw09-ites-speakers.htm.

Sennett, Richard. The Craftsman. (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2008).

A Life in the Trades: October 2009

Read series introduction.

By Nicholas Bogosian

El Dorado, AR (’92): Though established in Union County in 1843, it wasn’t until the 1921 oil boom that El Dorado gained the historical character it is known for today. With a historic district that comprises nearly seventy brick and masonry structures, the star is clearly the Union County Courthouse – a four story Classical Revival style building of cut limestone block.

My family moved from Houston to El Dorado in 1992. I was nine then, and had never really known of a life that had a town square at its center. Living in Houston sprawl created the perfect antithesis to a historic home across the street from the funeral parlor, the Episcopal Church, and the gas station.

The Rialto Theater on East Cedar Street. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The Rialto Theater on East Cedar Street. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

My zeal for dinosaurs was met in all its glory when I saw Jurassic Park at The Rialto – the oldest operating Art Deco theatre in the state (gold-plated popcorn dispensers, the ghost of Greta Garbo, plush seats, red velvet drapes…you get the picture). The town came to life every year with the advent of Music Fest. Zydeco street musicians, high school marching bands, crawfish broils, all zipping up and down Main Street into the early morning hours.
El Dorado Main Street. Source: Preservation Nation

El Dorado Main Street. Source: Preservation Nation

I grew quite comfortable with this new life and the rehabilitation of our 1904 home on the corner of Madison and Shepard. I still keep the few pictures we have from that time. Though we’ve moved on to other places, my mother has a picture of the façade of our house in a frame which reads “HOME.”

Claremore, OK (’94):

In the many boutiques lining Claremore’s main street (Route 66), one can always count on a slew of Will Rogers tourist goods. The iconic political satirist was raised there. My parents took me to his birthplace in Oologah, OK on the shores of Lake Oologah.

Dog Iron Ranch. Photo source: Stock photo from The Will Rogers Memorial Museum.

Dog Iron Ranch. Photo source: Stock photo from The Will Rogers Memorial Museum.

The ranch home was built in 1875 and is considered a vernacular interpretation of the Greek Revival style. Here was history out in the wide open. Built with 10-inch logs hand-hewn from indigenous oak/hickory/walnut, encased with clapboard siding – inside, sitting in a glass display, Will’s typewriter (retrieved from the Alaskan plane crash) that was abandoned mid-page: “death.”

Houston, TX (’08):

In my last semester of college I developed an insane Talk Radio addiction while making the thirty mile commute to school every day. And when I was fortunate to catch Houston traffic, I was often able to listen to whole hour-long radio shows before I even made it home. I was about to be bestowed with a degree in Theatre and I had recently come to the conclusion that the theatre wasn’t for me anymore. Like Mark Twain realized in his Life on the Mississippi, “…the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river.” And even more than that, I wanted an occupation in life which was useful, in a practical sense, and tangible. How nice it would be to see the results of your own labor.

While visiting family over Thanksgiving in North Georgia, I discovered the umbrella term “Historic Preservation.” I had exhausted my Google searches on career placement sites by this time. Soon, I got wind of North Carolina being a beacon state for Historic Preservation. “Historic Preservation? What is that?” I can’t tell you the frenzy of excitement that rushed through me when I realized that something I had intuitively loved and understood for so long was a viable career choice for me.

St. Clairsville, OH (’09):

Many have lamented that preservation trades training is dead, and that there are few skilled laborers left to carry out the work of preservation. Some have argued that the Whitehill Report of 1968 unnecessarily limited preservation training to graduate level students and created a barrier for those either in the building industry already or kids fresh out of high school. Others claim that it’s a moot point: “the trades are alive and well! What ‘lack’ of skilled workers?”

Regardless of the current state, I was happy to find one such institution alive and well in its training of skilled preservation workers: Belmont Technical College. Fully accredited through its partnership with Eastern Ohio University, the Building Preservation & Restoration program is typically a two year program and awards an Associate of Applied Science Degree in “Preservation Technology.” Nestled in the Ohio Valley eight miles west of Wheeling, WV and one-hundred-and-fifteen miles east of Columbus, OH, the school attracts students from all over the nation and from wide-ranging academic backgrounds.

Just skimming the curriculum can cause one to drool: Chemistry for Conservators, History of American Architecture 1 & 2, Preservation History & Theory, Building Interiors, History of American Landscapes, Ceramics, Plaster, Masonry, Building Pathology, Documentation Field Techniques, Model & Mold Making, Roofing Fundamentals, etc.

The Benjamin Lundy House. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The Benjamin Lundy House. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

I have been fortunate to lease from a local landscape architecture firm the Benjamin Lundy Home on Main Street while I am here attending school. Built in the early 1800s, it is a house of modest style – a two-story brick row home. Its true significance lies in it being where the first substantial abolitionist society in the country was formed – The Union Humane Society. Benjamin Lundy would go on to incite some of the greats that we often associate with the leaders of the Abolitionist movement, but would sink into obscurity and die before emancipation ever became a reality.

Plaque near the front door. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Plaque near the front door. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Though the home is in decent shape, it has absorbed many alterations through its time and has lost a lot of its integrity. The prospects for the home becoming a museum someday are still in abstract form.

Lundy House first floor fireplace (possible parlor room). Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Lundy House first floor fireplace (possible parlor room). Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

In the coming year, I look forward to being able to utilize the Lundy space in many of the challenges that one faces in preservation work in conjunction with my training. I will have 24/7 field lab access here to ruminate, investigate, uncover.

Next month on Preservation In Pink, I will be focusing on the historic Quaker Village of Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, eight miles north of St. Clairsville. Though it is a registered national landmark and has a significant history attached to the underground railroad, it has fallen by the wayside and many of its structures have not been properly maintained. Meanwhile, a very large and expensive Underground Railroad Museum has been established in Cincinnati.

FYI – Turns out the NTHP awarded El Dorado, AR in its Great American Main Street program this year along with four other cities across the country!

A Life in the Trades Series

Preservation in Pink welcomes a new monthly series by Nicholas Bogosian, a student at Belmont Technical College’s Building Preservation and Restoration Program in St. Clairsville, OH. His primary interests lie in the preservation trades and community development. In each “A Life in the Trades” post Nicholas will discuss preservation trades lessons and information that he is learning program.  From his training, he will be able to apply new skills to the Benjamin Lundy House, the home of the first notable abolitionist in America, which is currently owned by an architecture firm and leased by Nicholas. As Nicholas will show readers, it is like living in a preservation project. In addition, he will share local history with readers. Restoration, preservation, a historic home, hands-on work, local history – what could be better?

A Life in the Trades will be posted on the 30th of each month. To find all of the series, click on the category for “Nicholas Bogosian” or “A Life in the Trades.”