Interviews

[Interview] Patrick Baty: Paint Detective

Posted on: September 19th, 2012 by David Garber 1 Comment

 

Patrick Baty is the world's preeminent architectural paint historian and consultant. Based in London, England -- where he runs a second-generation family shop called Papers and Paints -- Baty has consulted on a wide range of archaeological and restoration projects in both the United Kingdom and the United States. We spoke with him to hear more about historic paint colors and their significance.

Why are historic paint colors important?

Paint colors of the past are not important in themselves -- however, when one is faced with the decoration of an historic building a knowledge of what was used is important. Color was frequently used for a particular purpose. There was a strict hierarchy. The purpose of the room and the status of the owner would often be indicated by the paint color that was applied. Much of my work is carried out in buildings that were once lived in by historic figures and are now open to the public.


The interior of the George Frideric Handel house in London.

If one is going to show a house as it was when Benjamin Franklin or Handel, the composer, for example, lived in it, there is a requirement to show how it was decorated at that time. When an historic interior is painted in colors that have a precedent, it begins to make sense and reads well.

Describe a day in the life of a historic paint color consultant.

My days vary -- most of the week has been spent carrying out microscopy, writing reports and answering emails. Yesterday I was climbing a scaffolding on a large 1840s house in St James's Square. Having carried out the analysis of the external paint and supervised the color trials I was asked to check on the preparation of the surfaces. Were they clean enough? Was the right filler being used? And did the contractor seem to know what he was doing?

Today, I was at Hampton Court Palace, where I had to give a presentation to officials from English Heritage explaining how one of the 18th century staircases was to be decorated. Although I hadn't carried out the analysis I was asked to work from a report produced by someone else and to develop a decorative scheme based on it. Work on historic buildings is carefully supervised in the UK and permission must be given before it takes place -- so I frequently have to write a rationale before redecoration is allowed.

What are some of the most fascinating projects you've worked on?

The range of projects that I have carried out is wide, and they each have their fascinations. However, three memorable ones are:


A cross-section of paints applied to the Royal Albert Bridge.

  • Royal Albert Bridge -- This is a major landmark, designed by the famous Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It required me climbing the 172-foot structure in the middle of the night, when the trains were not using the bridge, and taking samples on the end of a rope. The 1850s photographs, which showed it being constructed, were very helpful in my interpretation of the paint evidence.
  • Hampton Court Palace -- One of my most interesting projects here was the recreation of a Tudor garden. My task was to identify the heraldic 'beasts' that King Henry VIII used to indicate his Royal lineage, to establish which colors were applied on which elements and to prepare a technical specification for the painters.

The most high-profile?

It's difficult to say which has been my most high-profile project. I have worked in some very well known buildings. However, I suppose the one that is most recognizable around the world would be Tower Bridge, which in many ways is the symbol of London. Once again a head for heights was required as I had to take samples from all elements of the bridge, which is 213 feet high.


The Tower Bridge.

The documentary research took even longer than the microscopic analysis. The responsibility of getting everything absolutely right on such a high-profile project is immense. You can just imagine that someone somewhere knows quite a lot about the bridge and would be very eager to point out any mistakes, so one's argument has to be water-tight.

Do you have any apprentices training under you?

Over the years I have had a few interns working with me. Several have come from the United States -- including one of the rising stars -- but I have also had a very good intern from Sweden. It is a very demanding pursuit, and I find that few are able to deal with all aspects: being comfortable at heights, able to work in archives and libraries and prepared to spend hours at the microscope, willing to give presentations and lectures -- sometimes to large or very important audiences, and also to have a genuine passion in the subject.

What would you recommend as an introduction to the field of historic paint colors?

An accessible book that introduces the subject of historic paint colors has yet to be written. Dr. Ian Bristow, who has done so much to develop the field in the UK, wrote two magnificent volumes in the 1990s, but they are very dense works and one is now out of print. I began to learn about the subject by studying early house-painting manuals and by reading up about pigments and painting materials in order to find out what was available at a particular time.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

 

I enter the [Cooper-Molera] estate and get lost in the archives for what seems to have passed in just a couple of minutes but has elapsed over hours. By midday the sun has evaporated the marine layer and the quaint recreation of a sunny Victorian garden replete with adobe horno and artesian well beckons curious glances from a few lost Japanese tourists. But the house remains locked, and the curious painted plaster volumes of various geometric shapes that together form the homes of three families over three generations remains unseen, untouched, inaccessible. I’m about the only one with a key, alone inside and left to sort through this bric-a-brac. As quiet as a tomb ...

So writes Christian Larsen, a Bard Graduate Center student who worked as the National Trust’s scholar-in-residence this summer through a partnership with the Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC). In particular, he spent time at Cooper-Molera Adobe, a National Trust Historic Site that preserves life from the era when Monterey was part of Mexico to the beginnings of California statehood.

The three-acre site in Monterey, Calif. -- which includes a house built by several generations of the Cooper and Molera families, historic barns, vegetable and flower gardens, and an extensive museum store -- tells the story of ship captain John Rogers Cooper, who immigrated to California in the early 19th century and married into a prominent Mexican family.

But equally important are the stories of his wife Encarnación Vallejo de Cooper; the Diaz family, who owned a portion of the property and had their own home and dry goods store; and the broader hybridization of families, cultures, and styles.


This showpiece saddle from Mexico (c. 1880) is decorated with silver thread embroidery, silver mounts, and intricate stamped leather designs. It was exhibited at the New Orleans World’s Fair (Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition) in 1884-5 and the Paris Exposition Universelle 1889.

Larsen’s assignment at Cooper-Molera was to help catalog the materials that have accumulated since the 1820s when Captain Cooper first moved to the property. He ended up sorting through thousands of articles in the collection. “It was a big puzzle for me to sort out what’s what, from when, and date things, identify the manufacturer, and give them more backstory,” Larsen says.

Before Larsen wrapped up his residency, we sat down with him at National Trust headquarters and asked him about his experiences, discoveries, and hopes for the site.

How did this project come about?

This project comes out of the National Trust’s attempts to uncover stories that have not been told at their sites. They realize that a lot of the sites have had a traditional and/or static story line going on, and that there are sites and objects related to Latino culture they should probably be telling. And the best way to find those story lines is through objects and collections, because they do have intimate connections to Latino story.


These manufacturer markings help identify the saddle.

What did you hope to achieve through the cataloging process?

The National Trust sent me out there to identify what objects in the collection had any relevance -- what was made locally or made in Latin American countries, as well as what materials, craftsmanship, and techniques from those areas might have contributed to the objects and been part of these people’s daily lives.

I wanted to answer: How did the families express their Latino identity through the things they owned? What kinds of things would speak to that relationship of a hybrid family? And you see it in the collection itself -- Victorian-looking East Coast furniture, right next to stuff from China, right next to stuff from Mexico.

It’s a very cosmopolitan, global perspective … and this is in 1820s California. Most Americans think of California at that time as a western backwater, but it wasn’t at all. Even at that time, they were globally connected. This house reflects the glory days of Monterey.

Where do you even start on a project of this scale? Who helped you ‘crack the case,’ so to speak?

I worked with a number of different people, but two groups stand out. I talked to many of the volunteers; they’re the nice little old ladies from the community who sell items at the gift shop. But they have heard many stories over the years and become repositories of the history of the place. Some of it is accurate, some of it is totally mythologized, but it’s interesting to get their perspective, and their thoughts, ideas, and stories gave me leads on where I should be looking.

I also worked with California State Parks, who is the state steward and operator of the site. The rangers have been working with the collection for decades. They don’t necessarily know all the objects’ histories, but they know the conservation history and they have inklings about where to start.


The biombo folding screen is an artistic and decorative form that originated in Japan but took root in Latin America. That the Cooper or Molera families would have such a screen in their collection speaks of continued cultural ties to Mexican traditions and a much more marked taste for oriental wares in California than seen in other regional American households at the time.

You focus mainly on objects and material cultures. How do objects relate to the places they reside?

While we occupy houses, they’re more the repository for our experiences and the things that we live with. But they’re all part and parcel. I don’t distinguish that much between the building and the things in it; I think the building is equally important, and I look at it as a whole, as a complete experience. They all reflect changing tastes and styles change over time.

What do you hope visitors to Cooper-Molera will learn?

I would love visitors to understand the history of 19th century California -- this really crazy time when there are a few different sets of governments, who’s in power, what’s going on, and what daily life was like. It was really different.

You have to make history come alive. You can intellectualize it all you want, but the best way to reach people is through visceral sense. And that’s what sites do for you: You’re in the space, encountering it visually and through all your other senses. How can we give them the smells, the music, the dances? A place should evoke that feeling and give the visitor an intuitive sense of what it was like to live there.

Now the National Trust is re-imagining how to make the site more vibrant and more of a living place with better access to visitors and programming that keeps people coming back. If they can convey a sense of what daily life at that time was like, that would be the biggest takeaway.

Read more about Larsen's work on NBC Latino.


The archeological dig in the Diaz privy/trash pit uncovered shards of this British transfer-printed earthenware. This English Staffordshire ceramic pattern was produced between 1845-51 by Thomas Walker at the Lion Works in Tunstall.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

[Video] Miami Marine Stadium Becomes a Parkour Playhouse

Posted on: July 25th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

See the guy in the blue shorts in the video? That's Ben Jenkin (aka Jenx). He's 21 years old and one of the founding athletes for the World Freerunning Parkour Federation (WFPF). For those unfamiliar, Parkour is a physical activity and mental discipline that focuses on efficient movement around obstacles (with strong dashes of self-expression and personal philosophy mixed in).

Now see the building he's running through? That's Miami Marine Stadium, a Modernist icon and one of our National Treasures. Closed after Hurricane Andrew swept through the region, the Stadium once played host to boat races, concerts, and even Easter services. Its crowning feature (literally) is its 326-foot-long, fold-plate roof, the longest span of cantilevered concrete in the world when it was poured in 1963.

So what do these two have in common (besides this beautiful "urban ballet," as one poetic National Trust colleague put it)? Well, we decided to put that question directly to Ben -- and learned that Parkour's focus on overcoming obstacles is a perfect match for people who want to save places.

How did you get involved with Parkour? What about the sport appeals to you?

It all started for me at the park after seeing some older guys flipping off the roof in the playground. From then on I was drawn in. I could already do some basic flips, which my dad had taught me. We started traveling around England meeting up with other people who also did Parkour to see what other locations England had to offer. The thing that appeals to me the most about Parkour is the ability it gives you to overcome fears, unlike other sports.

What are your favorite types of places to do Parkour? What have been some of your favorite locations?

My favorite types of places to do parkour are places with a lot of risk involved -- for example, on top of a building, over a bridge, or just anywhere that gives me no other option to succeed or I will get hurt. I like the element of fear, and I feel that being scared is the best way to progress.

What were your first thoughts when you showed up at Miami Marine Stadium to shoot the video?

When I showed up to the Marine Stadium, my first thoughts were, "WOW, what an incredible building with a lot of potential." I couldn’t wait to explore it and see what it had to offer.

What was it like to do Parkour there? What was your favorite part of the Stadium, and why?

One thing that was really good about training at the Marine Stadium was the fact it’s like a little town with multiple training spots inside. It’s pretty hard to pick a favorite part of the stadium when they are all so different and equally as good. However, I did like the roof; it’s always nice to have such an incredible view whilst training.

In one of the closing shots, the camera is at your back as you look at the Miami skyline from the Stadium's roof. What was going through your head in that moment?

When I’m doing Parkour nothing really goes through my mind. I’m so focused on what I am doing at the time that all my attention is on the move itself. When I am looking into the distance for the camera shot, I am just simply admiring the incredible view.

What do you hope this video will teach people about a) Parkour and b) special places like Miami Marine Stadium?

[I hope it will] not so much teach, but [rather] inspire the people watching to go out and do Parkour. I [also] hope this video will help people become more aware of this amazing place and ultimately save it from being destroyed. Why would anybody want to destroy such a beautiful building with so much character?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

[Interview] Dave McNally, Restorer (and Resident) of Smith Point Lighthouse

Posted on: July 19th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Laura Wainman, Preservation Magazine intern

As a young boy, Dave McNally dreamed of living in a lighthouse. He wanted to wake up to the sunrise over the water every morning and watch it set in the evenings from the comfort of his home. And in October 2005, his wish came true, with $185,000 -- and a little help from Google.

After scouring eBay for lighthouses to purchase and coming up empty-handed, McNally Googled "lighthouses for sale."

"Right away, four popped up. They were the first four under the [National Historic Lighthouse] Preservation Act, and I bought mine in an online auction, sight unseen," says McNally.

McNally purchased Smith Point Lighthouse, a 60-foot structure made of cast iron and brick three miles off the Virginia shore on the Chesapeake Bay. Built in 1897, the current caisson structure was preceded by four lighthouses and several floating lightships, dating back to an 1802 version of an iron frame tower.

Though the Coast Guard still maintains access to the lantern room on the fourth floor, McNally was an early pioneer of renovating historic lighthouses and turning them into residential dwellings.

At the time he was one of only a handful people to privately own a lighthouse, and his plan was to turn Smith Point into a family getaway. Smith Point is now a four-bedroom, one-bath home that is currently on the market for $600,000.

We recently caught up with McNally to learn what life at a lighthouse is like, how he went about renovating Smith Point, and why he put his dream house on the market.

What restoration work was needed when you bought Smith Point?

Everything. The entire interior needed to be re-done and everything, except the brick and cast iron casing, on the exterior needed to be replaced.

Was this your first historical restoration?

No. As a contractor in Minnesota, I have restored five or six historical buildings, but this was the first time I worked with the historical preservation folks myself. Usually someone does that for me.

What is the difference between renovating a historical property versus any other building?

On regular projects, there is no one telling me what I can and can't do. I had to submit my plans three times before they were accepted, and I think they were each about 30 pages. It was a process. But I take great pride in restoring old buildings. The first thing I do on any historical project is visit the local preservation society to see if I can get a photo of the original structure. Then I do my best to get it looking like itself again using modern materials.

What were the issues with your proposals?

The windows were the big hold-up. They wanted the originals to be kept, but once I detailed each window they realized that it was impossible. They eventually let me hurricane-proof them. The front door was another gray area, because they thought it was an original and we knew it wasn't. It was just a big, rusty steel door that needed to be replaced. I went all the way to Chicago to make an exact replica of the original, three and half inches thick. It cost me $6,000 just for the front door.

What was the biggest challenge in renovating Smith Point?

It was really just the logistics of getting materials to Virginia when I was in Minnesota. We got out there about five or six times a year, and some days it would just be too rough to do any work. Being a Minnesota boy, the roughest waters I was used to were a little Mississippi River chops, and here I was facing 4-foot swells in the Chesapeake. The worst I dealt with was a 28-foot wave hitting a window on the first floor while I was in the lighthouse. You get braver as time goes on, though.

Why are you selling the lighthouse now?

Grandbabies. My oldest daughter just has her first child, and I'm hoping for more. She notified me that there was no chance she would bring the baby there until he was much older. So I need a family getaway that is safe for my family.

If you had to do the whole thing again, would you?

Absolutely, yes. I had a blast.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

 

Allison Wottawa is exactly the kind of person you want telling you about interesting places and the histories and stories that made them that way. She's energetic, smart, and glows on camera. As you'll read in our interview below and see in the below videos, Allison is the creator and host of an online travel series called Ally Quest.

Her show, which is produced to accommodate a future on television but is broken into easily digestible YouTube segments, is described on her website as "the ultimate show for anyone who has ever wanted to travel in time." Which is, for me at least, the ultimate dream. (And probably why I enjoy watching her show so much.)

I had a chance to talk with Allison about her background, her inspiration, and where the show is headed. And judging by her groundedness, passion, and quality of product, it's easy to see that Allison's star is on its way up.

Tell me a little about your background leading up to this series.

My college adviser said to me, "Allison, do you know the secret of happiness?"  Of course, I didn't.

"The secret of happiness," he continued, " is doing what you love and getting someone to pay you for it."  This is how I live my life.

I've been an actor and a producer for as long as I can remember, starting in theatre when I was six, coupled with a tremendous fascination for history.  History is, after all, a story that examines who we are, where we came from, how we got here.

I graduated from The George Washington University with a major in Political Communications and minors in Theatre and History, then followed my passion across the Atlantic and attended graduate school at Drama Studio London, receiving the English equivalent of an MFA.

What inspired you to create this series?

After graduation, I promptly moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career in acting.  Los Angeles is a great city with so much opportunity and fabulous weather.  But I felt that something was lacking.  I wasn't feeling the "passion" and my career seemed somewhat empty.  I couldn't figure out how my career in acting was helping anyone.

I thought of my college adviser.  What do I love?  Easy.  Travel, history, communicating to an audience.  That's when Ally Quest was born.


Allison filming a golf cart driving segment on Catalina Island.

I know this sounds cliche, but I have always wanted to make a difference in a positive way. Of course, I am also completely selfish and want to travel the world.  I have a yearning to learn as much as I can about places and the people that live there.  My natural gift is communication.

So, traveling the world while researching a point in history, and relaying that information through the lens of the camera -- well, that's just me.  If I can do anything in the world, I'm going to do that! My Mom always said, "You can do anything you put your mind to."  And I believe her. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.