25 July 2017

Why I enjoy teaching

Thanks to the Connecticut Historic Preservation Trust in conjunction with Historic Windsor/The Preservation Education Institute I have presented six lectures and a three day hands-on workshop on historic wooden window restoration in different regions of Connecticut. We are hoping to run at least one three day hands-on workshop this coming winter.


In my twenties I did not consider myself "teacher material" but have been pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoy lecturing and teaching. Presenting and verbalizing the techniques and information I use daily for others to understand provides me with clearer perspective and understanding of what I do and why. It helps me solidify my years of experience and knowledge to truly understand my approach to historic preservation.


Given that I spend my days working alone in my shop time spent with others who appreciate my work and want to learn more about it is great boost and provides a chance for me to learn as well. I think I must come away from each workshop and lecture with a new nugget of information to add to my knowledge of window restoration.


One example comes quickly to mind from the lecture I delivered Haddam, CT. I was demonstrating paint and glazing removal techniques prior to re-glazing. Greg Farmer, the CT Trust circuit rider who makes these programs possible, speaks up while I am cleaning up the little bits of paint and glazing still stuck to the edges of the glass, (the glass must be clean prior to re-glazing for the glazing and paint to create a good weather tight seal to the glass). Greg notes that he uses 0000 steel wool to remove those obstinate bits of paint, glazing, and other films that are not easily scraped off the glass. Brilliant ... now why have I never heard this before?


If I've read it in one of the many books on window restoration it did not stick in my brain long enough for me to bring it to the shop. I decide that as soon as I am back in my shop I will have to try this solution out. Weeks later I am removing some stained glass panels from sashes that we are restoring. I notice the bits of paint on the stained glass and think "perfect opportunity to try Greg's trick out."
If you've ever tried to clean paint spots and brush marks off of stained glass you know it is near impossible due to the texture of the stained glass. The 0000 steel wool, and even 00 ought worked great and did not scratch the glass. Now I have a use for those packs of steel wool I bought years ago besides polishing hardware.


In addition to lectures and workshops, two years ago I agreed to work with a Vermont Youth Conservation Crew. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has run the HOPE, Hands-On Preservation Experience, program since 2014 with the Youth Conservation Corps to introduce younger folks to historic preservation. They partner YCC programs with historic sites and preservation professionals.
I agreed to be the preservation professional guiding the VYCC crew in the maintenance and restoration of the Marsh-Billings Estate greenhouse windows. What a pleasure it was working with the crew. Aged 18 -20 years old they were polite, respectful, and hard working. There were many challenges along the way but they never faltered in their work ethic and did an excellent job with the tasks they were given. The majority of the work was repainting and re-glazing the windows but some repairs were also required. They stepped right up to the task of using hand tools to create good wooden Dutchman repairs even though they did not have prior hand tool experience.


Another opportunity this past year re-invigorated my love of historic preservation. Ross, a Danville High School Senior, contacted me in spring of 2016 hoping to work with me over the summer and into the school year learning window restoration for his senior project. I agreed to have him work in the shop one day a week. Ross worked on a variety of projects, some of our current jobs, some for my house and a few for his house. I must admit taking the time to train someone side by side in the shop does slow down the process but the reward was Ross' help and seeing him learn the steps and complete them well. In addition, having an enthusiastic person around who is already well versed in architectural history and restoration theory was a joy. Working with Ross renewed my energy and appreciation for the work I do. I assume we all get tired and frustrated at times with our work even if it is our passion. This was a well needed boost for me. I should note that he did an excellent job presenting the steps of window restoration to the teachers and parents attending the senior class project presentations. Plus, he is helping us stack 6 cords of wood!


In closing this blog post I would like to note another teaching and demonstration opportunity coming up in August. On August 5th S.A. Fishburn, Inc. will be holding a SASH REVIVAL at the Theron Boyd House in Quechee, VT. We will spend the day demonstrating restoration techniques on sashes from the house. You can come for the day or just part of the day to observe or try your hand at stripping and re-glazing window sashes. For more information visit our events page. 

 

 

19 May 2017                                                                                     E.A.I.A. Annual Meeting


Good Day. I am blogging today from Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA. Every May the Early American Industries Association holds its annual meeting at an historic site. This is the third time that I've been to Old Sturbridge Village and the E.A.I.A. has met here more times than that over their 84 year history.


I must admit that I do not retain any memories from my first visit in 1970 (?) and only one from my visit in 1989 while a student at the North Bennet Street School. I remember trying out blacksmithing in the blacksmith's shop during a tour of the site. Now the village has an education center where they run blacksmithing, tinsmithing, and hearth cooking classes.


Sturbridge Village has had to remain relevant in order to remain open. They have struggled with the same setbacks over the last decade all museums have with declining admissions topping the list. There has been a 50% reduction in school field trips due to reduced school budgets. They have been working to offset the costs for transporting school groups to the village.
Their newest initiative is building a charter school at Old Sturbridge Village for K-8th grade. They have just started construction. Part of the school's curriculum will include learning in the Village. For those of us who focus on our country's history, in all branches there is a concern about reduced access to history education leading to a general lack of knowledge about our country's past and history.


As for the Annual meetings, they are always informative and fun. We get the behind the scenes tours! Yesterday I toured the collections facility and had a chance to see both furniture and tool collections. A grouping of tools had been pulled and presented by curator, Tom Kelleher. Of special interest to me was a sash sticking board. To most it looks like a piece of lumber with a bunch of grooves in it but to me it was an important tool to facilitate producing sashes with the hand tools available in the 17th – early 19th C.


I also enjoyed a tour of the Farm and Garden Tools and later today will enjoy a mill tour. There is a grist mill, saw mill, and carding mill on site and all of them can be "turned on" with water power. For mill enthusiasts this is a great grouping. Not only are these tours informative and fun but you enjoy them with all of the other likeminded history and tool enthusiasts who belong to the E.A.I.A. There is an amazing wealth of information among the membership.


These meetings are a vacation for me but also a good learning opportunity to build on and expand my working knowledge of our historic built environment. By the way, Sturbridge Village interprets an 1830s village. The Greek Revival buildings are wonderful. I have taken a particular liking to the bank.

 

27 April 2017

A Midwest Modernist Bathroom

 

After considering writing a blog for years I've decided that it is time to just do it. Often when recounting a story from work the response I hear is, "you should write about that." This blog will be about historic preservation and my work in the field. Welcome to my thoughts and stories from 25 years in the business. The only connecting thread will be old buildings, cool architecture and historic preservation. Often the blog subject will pertain to something that has come up in the last week, leading my mind down a particular thought process.


This week is cool architecture and the constant preservation theme of how to repair/replace items that have failed.


Every spring I head to Racine, WI for a weeks visit with my parents and sister. Being a proud New England Yankee (by choice, not by birth) the first time I went to Racine I found it flat and modern. I have always enjoyed Frank Lloyd Wright's designs but now I've come to respect and enjoy the full spectrum of mid-20th century architecture as well. I have a degree in Architecture and while in school particularly loved modern architects who included nature in their work. My work in Northern Vermont is generally on 19th C. buildings thus that time period has been my focus for the last 20 years.
A short side note - If you are in Racine do make a point to visit the Johnson Wax Headquarters building and research tower designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Research Tower was just opened a couple of years ago for tours. It is worth the visit. The next place to stop is Wingspread, the house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Herbert Fisk Johnson Jr. president of S.C. Johnson.


When my folks moved to Racine they purchase a 1950s contemporary house designed by Hans M. Geyer, an architect who was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. The house has remained relatively unchanged. While visiting this past spring we discussed their struggle with updating the toilets. The original toilets are Case 3000, a brand I've never heard of. But what do I know? I've spent the greater part of my life in northern New England. They decided to replace them when they found that there was no longer anyone in the area who could repair the original toilets. That turned out to be almost as hard as finding someone to fix the toilets. The replacement issue is in finding a toilet that mounts to the wall in exactly the same place as the originals leaving the original tile work in tact. The original tiles are also irreplaceable.


I love the tile work in the bathrooms. The guest bathroom in particular is a gem. The details of the tiles are a fascinating combination of texture and color. This bathroom is placed in the center of the bedroom wing. This bathroom is completely on the interior of the house; there are no exterior walls.
Given the toilet discussions I spent some time really absorbing the "experience" of this bathroom. The whole point of today's blog is to introduce the pictures of the guest bath attached below. I did have an "Aha!"moment in my observations that had not occurred to me before. The etched design in the shower doors is splashing water. So very cool.


By the way, their plumber Brad did find appropriate toilets and they are being installed this week. Finding good craftsmen who are conscious of our historic buildings and willing to go the extra steps to provide their services while maintaining the integrity or our historic architecture is key to a successful renovation project.

 

 

 

3 May 2017

Educational Opportunities

 

I have been on the phone more in the last week than usual. It is time well spent getting the details in order for lectures and workshops that I will be presenting in the next two months. If you have stumbled upon my website looking for information on window restoration then upcoming events may be for you.


I love my profession. I love restoring historic buildings and especially windows. Restoring windows is a multi-stepped process spread out over several days and weeks. You can not beat the satisfaction of returning the restored sashes to the frame, have them work smoothly and be energy efficient, knowing that they will last several lifetimes more with regular maintenance.


We have all hear complaints about those leaky old windows that over the years have been painted in place. At this point many folks wonder why they should save these non-functioning old things and instead have new modern windows installed that "work", do not require maintenance and tilt in for cleaning. There's more to that story than meets the eye and I am sure I will be writing about that subject in the near future.


Actually, not everyone responds that way to their historic wooden windows. I have the pleasure over and over of working for people who understand the beauty, historic integrity, environmental responsibility and value of those original wood windows. If you are questioning the worth of restoring your old wood windows vs. replacing them attending one of the upcoming lectures may well answer some of your questions.

Window restoration can range from a fairly simple process of cleaning up excess paint on the frames and sashes and re-roping the weights to the more complex work of completely stripping the windows and making repairs to deteriorated sections of wood. Knowing just what your windows need is the first step.


Over the years a large part of my job is educating people about their historic windows. These upcoming lectures focus on helping people understand the value of their windows and how they can be good as new again with a little work. The workshops provide the opportunity to learn the steps of restoration while practicing them on real historic windows utilizing the tools that we use in our shop.


There are four opportunities to join me for a two hour presentation that includes a lecture packed with window facts and some hands-on demonstration. The first lecture happens next Saturday, May 6th in Rockingham, VT. The following Saturday is at an event in Burlington, VT and in between I will be in Connecticut.


I am also teaching three day workshops in Connecticut with the future possibility of one in Vermont this year. As a group we will restore several sashes from a historic building. You get try out the different steps and the non-profit organization hosting the workshop gets a few restored windows.


All the information on these workshops can be found on our Events page.