The Devil is in the (Architectural) Details

I find historic houses visually striking for many reasons, but primarily because of the detail they contain. A nice set of dentils along a cornice line, complex window and door surrounds, and shutters all add a sense of solidity to a house. In comparison, most new tract houses don’t have those details and, to my eye, always seem to be missing a little something.

Parlor of the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Parlor of the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Of course maintaining these details – which are often wood and therefore need to be painted regularly – is an unending chore and needless to say, an act of love . There’s a reason why aluminum siding is laid right over exterior detailing!

Maintaining interior architectural details takes just as much effort, and after a hundred years or so, layers of paint can build up and some of the finer detail can get lost. Then it’s dilemma time for the preservationist. Do you want to strip the paint completely and repaint to end up with a nice crisp finish, or merely remove loose and failed paint, leaving a patina – a trail of history – as you apply the newest coat of paint?

This issue is one of several being addressed at Adventures in Preservation’s latest project at the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum in the Bronx, New York. (Previous projects at the site have focused on restoring garden walkways.) Volunteers will be working with an architectural conservator to undertake a historically sensitive restoration of the house’s interior shutters. They will also receive instruction and guidance in removing lead paint and discuss other relevant curatorial, preservation, and environmental issues.

The Bartow-Pell Mansion and Garden

The Bartow-Pell Mansion

The Greek Revival Bartow-Pell Mansion, a National Historic Landmark owned by the City of New York and operated by the Bartow-Pell Conservancy, dates from approximately 1842. Designed by an unknown architect, it graces the shores of Pelham Bay, the last of the country houses in the area.

Learn more:

Shutter Shop on Shore Road – An Adventure in Preservation

Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

How to Spend a Summer Becoming a Preservationist

Summer is just around the corner and with it opportunities for students to gain some professional experience in their chosen field. If your field is historic preservation, heritage conservation or some other related aspect, there are plenty of organizations that could use your help –  and help you kick-start your preservation career.

Preservation can be a particularly challenging field to enter. Given the small size and specialized nature of the field, it’s often difficult to get a job without experience and it’s hard to get experience without finding a job. For that reason, internships have been a mainstay of preservation training for years. Internships provide a boost to non-profit organizations that can use the staffing and energy young preservationists provide, and sometimes turn into permanent positions.

If you’re casting about for ways to gain some preservation experience, here are a few pointers. Of course, there’s plenty of opportunity for hands-on preservation work with Adventures in Preservation!

The National Park Service’s Heritage Documentation Program is  the granddaddy of them all. Begun with the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Survey (HAER), it has expanded to include to include the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) and Cultural Resources Geographic Information Systems (CRGIS). Their mission is preservation through documentation, and each summer, they hire research and documentation teams. The programs last 12 weeks, beginning in May or June. The resulting documentation is placed in the Library of Congress. Employment is limited to US citizens; the application deadline is generally early February.

International opportunities are available via the US/ICOMOS international exchange program, which provides opportunities for young preservationists to work with international organizations. The program has been running for 25 years and has placed 600 professionals in preservation organizations. US volunteers have worked in Australia, Italy, Lithuania, Pakistan, Slovakia and the United Kingdom, among many others. Interns from outside the US often work at or with units of the National Park Service.

The program is very competitive. At a minimum, applicants must have an undergraduate degree in a preservation-related field. While there are no age restrictions, the program is designed for those nearing the end of their graduate programs (usually second year students) or those who have been working professionally for 1-3 years.

Good online sources for internship opportunities – and jobs – include and PreserveNet. Recent postings there included a Building Preservation/Restoration Intern, Stratford Hall, in Stratford, Virginia, and Historic Preservation Intern, Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Check with your local or statewide preservation organization and see if they would welcome an intern. The advantage of this approach is the ability to define your own project. Initiative could lead to some very interesting projects.

Whatever you decide to do with your summer this year or next, I hope it’s a good one!