On the Right Path

What in the world would I do without Cat?! For more pictures, visit !

Cat and I flexing our muscles at the Barker House! For more pictures, visit my flickr page!

Each summer, UNC-G’s Historic Preservation program offers its students a chance to attend a three-week Field School, giving them hands-on experience with a variety of preservation trades. Each year includes a week at Old Salem, during which students get a number of behind-the-scenes tours; lessons on historic wood, brick, and metals; and an opportunity to try their hand at a number of eighteenth-century trades.

This year also included a week at the Barker House in Henderson, North Carolina, a fascinating little house built in the mid-1700s, where we learned more about how to identify the type and age of wood and how to repair and reglaze historic windows, cut slate, form concrete, and install a wood shingle roof, just to name a few. Not only did I learn a lot, but I finished the week with all fingers in tact, despite some quality time with a chop saw, glass cutter, and nail gun.

We finished the class off with two days at the High Point Friends Meetinghouse doing masonry repointing and grave marker repair, followed by a lesson in historic paint analysis, which included spooning out a tiny fleck of paint layers and looking at the divot through a microscope to identify the different layers of paint that have been added to a surface over the years. Though I found the paint analysis fascinating, after two and a half weeks of wanting to DO ALL OF THE THINGS (!!!), I was relieved to discover one preservation profession that I do not want to do. While I am perfectly content to go down a rabbit hole in an archive, the tedious, microscopic detail of paint analysis was not for me! Now I know who to call if I need it done, though, and that makes me happy!

I learned so much during field school. Here are just a few of the lessons I took away:

Buildings talk, if you know how to listen. OK, so I knew this already, but before I really could only listen intuitively. I could stand in an old building and feel its history. And of course I know how to research buildings in archives. But in field school, we learned how to listen visually. The craftsmen and historians at Old Salem and Dean Ruedrich or Ruedrich Restorations taught us to date buildings using wood types, saw marks, nail technologies, and types of metal (among other details), and I am continuing to learn about the chronology of architectural styles (I think i am going to print architectural history flash cards). With an unlimited budget, dendrochronology (dating wood based on its rings) and paint analysis can also confirm observations made with the naked–but well-trained–eye.

Excitedly talking about the brick bond used in a restaurant will make your friends look at you weird.

The Moravians loved Flemish bonds. Even more interesting is the likelihood that they applied a red wash or paint to their brick buildings, as seen along the mortar joints here.

The Moravians loved Flemish bonds. Even more interesting is the likelihood that they applied a red wash or paint to their brick buildings, as seen along the mortar joints here.

Since I learned the different kinds of patterns used in masonry, I have become a brick-bond-identifying crazy person. “Flemish!” I proclaim in a restaurant with friends. “Common!” I explain to my husband as we walk downtown. It’s like I’m a toddler who has learned how to say a bad word, and I just won’t stop saying it (except this is probably way less amusing). This is really my penance for all the eye-rolling I did when my mother would turn over chairs in public places to see who manufactured them. Now my friends and family are rolling their eyes at me (as if that’s anything unusual)!

Some of the lessons were as applicable to life in general as preservation. For example, you don’t always get something right on the first try. Just ask Johann Gottlob Krause. (We’ll call this Philosophical Life Lesson from Field School #1.)

My friend Cat with one of Krauss's oversized bricks.

Cat with one of Krause’s oversized bricks.

Krauss was a potter-turned-brick-maker in eighteenth-century Salem, and his first attempt at molding bricks was, from a modern perspective, a bit comical. The bricks and bond patterns in his first building–the Tavern–were awkward and irregular. But within a few years, he had become skilled enough to mark his initials using the bond patters of his buildings. A lesson in perseverance.

The first step is always the hardest. Or, getting the plaster from the hawk to the trowel is the hardest part. (Philosophical Life Lesson from Field School #2)

My first (unsuccessful) attempt at transferring the plaster from hawk to trowel. I finally got it. ... Sort of.

My first (unsuccessful) attempt at transferring the plaster from hawk to trowel. I finally got it. … Sort of.

Master plasterer Dwight Love’s lesson also featured the moral of perseverance. It’s interesting that the hardest part of the process is the first step. Well, at least I think it is. I only took a few swipes at the wall with the trowel, so I can’t really say that it’s easier than getting the plaster to the trowel in the first place. But the first step is hard. That much I know. Dwight said his father made him practice that one motion (which he made seem effortless, of course) over and over and over until he had mastered it. He also started out doing the plaster work in closets, so when he messed up, nobody would notice. Our afternoon with Dwight was awesome and though none of us will be master plasterers anytime soon, we did learn a lot about the craft (and life in general)!

Keep moving forward. (Philosophical Life Lesson from Field School #3)

Me, pushing forward.

Me, pushing forward.

Dwight Love told me this as I prepared to apply the plaster to the wall (once I finally got the plaster to the trowel), and I decided it was my new motto for life.

Sometimes, it’s hard to master the fine line between too much pressure and not quite enough. I found this to be true with cutting glass for window repair and life in general. (Philosophical Life Lesson from Field School #4)
glass  Windows
I really struggled with cutting glass for window repair. Slate was no problem (Dean even convinced me not to be scared to punch a hole in a piece of slate while I was holding it in my hand), but glass was hard. I somehow became the glass cutter for the project, but I never got completely comfortable with it. So I definitely want to do it some more. Anybody have a window repair project they’re willing to let me fool with?

Things were much harder without power tools. Does this really need any explanation? Our time at Old Salem gave us a new appreciation for craftsmen of the pre-modern period (and the modern ones working at Old Salem today)!

rivingsawExcept sometimes power tools can make things more difficult. The nail gun and I … how can I put this … we didn’t really hit it off. I on more than one occasion channeled my inner construction worker and called it many bad things. I think at one point, after I was sure I had it working  and then it failed me again, I might have even shed a little tear. It finally started working better for Cat and, while I’m still not quite over it, we persevered and got the roof DONE! Well, half of it, anyway.

I loved working on the roof (really), but the nail gun and I had a very turbulent relationship.

I loved working on the roof (really), but the nail gun and I had a very turbulent relationship.

Teamwork is important.

The nail gun liked Cat more than me, but that was OK because in the end, we achieved our goal of half the roof finished!

The nail gun liked Cat more than me, but that was OK because in the end, we achieved our goal of half the roof finished!

And so is laughter.

I found something hilarious.

I found something hilarious.

This might have been the most important lesson I learned: If you love your job and you surround yourself with good people, you won’t ever “work” a day in your life. At the end of these three weeks, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but I knew that I was definitely on the right path.

One year down, one to go!


UNC-G’s Field School 2013 in front of the 19th-century wash house that the group help to spruce up.

So, um … about this blog. Whose idea was it to undertake such a project in the middle of one crazy semester? Oh. It was mine. Oops! That wasn’t very smart, now was it? Now that it’s summer, I’ll try again.

The end of the first year of my “Grad School: Redux” experience came to a close in early May, quickly followed by a three-week “Field School,” which was an appropriate end to the spring semester in a variety of ways. I had a number of exciting educational experiences that left me feeling empowered and more confident in my professional future. Field School was part of that, though I did get overwhelmed as I added more and more skills to my “want to master” list. I chalk this up partially to ADD, but I think that even more it’s a good indication that I am doing something that I truly love! All in all not a bad problem to have!

My field school experience was just one of several “Eureka!” moments I’ve had in 2013. As I mentioned in my last post, this past spring, my cohort also had the opportunity to participate in Preservation Action’s  Lobby Day/Preservation Advocacy Week (during which I began to master the art of  talking about preservation in a persuasive way, an experience akin to learning a new language), take a preservation-themed tour of New York City over spring break, and receive a behind-the-scenes tour of the beautiful Crabtree Jones House from preservation specialist and tradesman Dean Ruedrich (who also led a portion of our Field School) and Myrick Howard, director of Preservation North Carolina. All of that plus a class with one of the most challenging (the good kind) professor’s I’ve ever had left me pretty overwhelmed (again, the good kind) and thankful for my Prius! 🙂

With each of these experiences, I have had the opportunity to meet a group of amazing professionals, many of whom have probably forgotten more about preservation that most people learn in a lifetime! Their work is truly inspiring and I am lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from them.

My (revised) plan for the blog now is to upload some photos from these experiences and try again to reflect on them as I can (since my last attempt failed fizzled after one post). Summer is a bit less psychotic than the fall and spring were, though only just. I have some exciting projects I’m working on but I am MOST excited about our trip to the UK for a much-delayed honeymoon of sorts in July! I have never travelled off of the continent before, and I can’t wait! I have lots of nerdy historic tours and side trips lined up, so I’ll post pictures of those too.

*Note to self: Remember to schedule some down time during “summer.”