Restoring gravestones in an old fishing village on the Outer Banks of North Carolina – it’s not your typical classroom experience. But for 10 students in UNC Greensboro’s IAR 555 (Field Methods in Preservation Technology), the three-week field school was transformative.
“The skills gained from field school are immediately applicable to my life, and I have already put some of them to use only four days after leaving,” said Morgan Duhan, who is working on a post-baccalaureate certificate in historic preservation. “This experience has created a solid toolkit of skills that have boosted my confidence in being able to enter the historic preservation field.”
Duhan was one of six graduate and four undergraduate students who traveled with interior architecture (IARc) professor Jo Leimenstoll to the remote Portsmouth Island – part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, just south of Ocracoke Island – to work with restoration craftspeople on restoring historic properties. The project was in partnership with the National Park Service, which covered the cost of building materials, supplies and honorariums.
The course was first offered in 2001 and continues to build on the partnerships it has cultivated with Old Salem Museums and Gardens and Historic Bethabara Park in Winston-Salem, the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office in Raleigh and various local preservation groups.
While each year reflects changes in the specifics of the field school, the core experience remains one of immersion in the craft of preservation as students engage in hewing logs, splitting shingles, planing moldings, repointing brick, plastering walls, cutting slate, installing wood shingle roofs, consolidating deteriorated wood, reglazing windows, forging iron and analyzing paint finishes.
Students spent the first week at Old Salem and Historic Bethabara working with skilled tradesmen to gain a hands-on understanding of traditional technologies for woodworking, blacksmithing, and masonry and plastering techniques. The second and third week built on the first as students moved from traditional technologies to current best practices for restoration work on actual projects in need of stabilization and repair.
“After a week in Bethabara Park in Winston-Salem and two weeks in Ocracoke working on Portsmouth Island, I have experienced the spark of passion and overall excitement for my future that originally led me to the interior architecture program at UNCG two years ago,” said IARc BFA student Melissa Sokol.
Past projects include the restoration of the Barker House, a modest 1770s farmhouse in rural Vance County in 2014; the historic Ward-Hancock House, in Beaufort in 2015; and the Pauli Murray House in Durham in 2016.
“The intent is one of looking back but thinking forward when dealing with the historic-built environment,” Leimenstoll said. “Students find the hands-on projects particularly rewarding because the results of their labor are so tangible, and they know they have made a dramatic difference in the ongoing life of the historic property.”
Immersive experience with historic buildings is an essential part of preparing IARc students interested in the fields of historic preservation and community revitalization, Leimenstoll believes.
“Participating in field school was rewarding in so many ways,” said Chelsea Ferguson, also completing a BFA in IARc. “It was history, memory, community and power tools. And now that it’s done, I feel like a boss.”
Story by Elizabeth L. Harrison, University Communications
Photography courtesy of Jo Leimenstoll, UNCG Interior Architecture