Let's Talk About It

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Mike Fortin claims he gave me my first lesson in preservation; he did. It was the summer of 1978 and I was working as an interpreter at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. Mike was an exhibit specialist, code for preservation craftsman in the National Park Service. I set a coffee cup on a newly restored kitchen cabinet in the kitchen at Aspet, Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ kitchen that is!

Mike chewed me out for my careless disregard for historic fabric. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and a career that is more of a calling for me than job. Before the summer’s end, Mike taught me how to read historic photos for clues about architectural detailing and how to read blue prints. I learned about long-forgotten tools and that buildings revealed stories like people and books. I was hooked.

When I started working on preservation trades training for Historic Windsor, early in my career, I met Hugh Miller, chief preservation architect for the National Park Service. Hugh’s mantra was and probably still is, “Maintenance is Preservation.” Today, he serves as a professor at Goucher College in the graduate program in historic preservation, continuing the tradition of training and education. His declaration means two things to me: keeping building materials in good repair is the best way to preserve historic fabric and the people on the front line who do maintenance are as integral to historic preservation as architects, conservators, owners and anyone else in the line-up on projects at historic sites and in homes and commercial buildings everywhere.

In my work with the Traditional Building Conference, I met architect Steve Mouzon and have had the privilege of working with Steve to present several educational programs that address both historic preservation and traditionally inspired new construction. In his most recent series of talks for the conference, he recounted a clause he learned from practitioners of traditional building, “We do this because…” That preface is the beginning of many a statement about how civilization has passed on the wisdom of traditional building.

Three men, different practitioners in historic preservation and traditional building, and they have all helped me learn and in turn, teach.

I have been asked to blog for Clem Labine’sTraditional Building over the next year. My blog is titled, Traditional Talk. I hope to have a conversation with you about lessons I have learned in historic preservation, traditional building craft practice. I believe saving historic buildings and building anew in traditional ways saves and develops communities on many levels. It is the people whom I have worked with that have made my work better and my life’s work worthwhile. I believe the heritage we preserve leaves our world a little better off than we found it. So, let’s talk about it!

Feel free to send me ideas, questions, and projects of interest. Please comment on the blog. I will record an audio version of the blog and it will be available at www.traditional-building.com and through the Facebook pages of the magazine and conference website. Email is the best way to reach me: jhayward@aimmedia.com