Where It All Began

What was your “aha” moment?

Historic Preservation is one of those fields where there is not necessarily a direct correlation between your favorite class in school and how you ended up becoming involved with historic preservation.  The same can be said for those who go into museums, but many describe their “aha” moment as happening when they were in a museum.  “Aha” moments for historic preservation vary greatly, and even after they happen, the route to the study or the field itself is often circuitous.

Here’s my story: I watched the Discovery Channel as much as I did the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon growing up.  I was fascinated with Mayans and the Ancient Egyptians as, I’ll admit, many are.  I did well in school overall, but thinking back on it I may have liked math more than I did the history I was taught in class (Gasp!). I had no idea what I was going to do in college, but an Open House introduced me to Anthropology.  (You mean you can really do that for a living?!?) After two years in a tiny college in Vermont studying primarily Cultural Anthropology, I transferred to a larger (but still small) college in Rhode Island, where I’m from, to study Cultural and Historic Preservation.  It blew my mind because in one place I could study architecture and archaeology.  Archaeology brought me to archaeological collections, which brought me to museum collections and from there to History Museum Studies, then a year with AmeriCorps surveying historic properties after getting my MA threw me back into historic preservation as if I never really left.  Maybe I hadn’t.  There is plenty of overlap between the fields, and throughout my studies I’d walk around the village I lived in staring at the architecture and photographing the really neat cemetery stones.

But back to my “aha” moment.  It didn’t come in school, and it didn’t take walking around a village while stuck in a thesis-related writer’s block to strike. My “aha” moment was more subtle and happened early on.  I remember it vividly, but it’s only looking back that I see that it was my “aha” moment.  My mom, if you asked her, would have called my path way back when it happened.

There was this house that I loved, when is there not a house that one in this field falls in love with?  If I close my eyes I can still see it. Two and one-half stories tall, with a side-facing gable roof, clapboard siding, and a full-width front porch.  It had Queen Anne elements, but overall was rather vernacular and plain. It was white, and stood not even 50 feet away from a family graveyard.  It was on a main road, right on the edge of sprawl.  My mom and I would drive by it regularly.  The complete picture appealed to me: the house, the wide back yard, and the small graveyard with its slate stones and field stone wall.  I loved that house.  When the demolition notice went up on the front door, I cried.  Every time we drove by it, the demolition just felt wrong.  The house lived in by the people buried nearby would soon be gone.  I didn’t like it then, I couldn’t have been more than 11 years old, and I don’t like it now.

The house is long gone, up in its place is I think a coffee shop. It’s partly brick veneer, and partly vinyl clad. It doesn’t fit with its surroundings. Beyond the graveyard, there is still nothing else around it, just like with the house. Grass grows tall around the gravestones, which are sinking into the ground, but the stone wall remains prominent.  I’m still quite fond of the little graveyard.  I just wish the house was still there.

So I shall close as I opened: What was your “aha” moment?

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4 Responses to Where It All Began

  1. stefla says:

    I was a lot like you growing up: I watched equal parts Discovery and Nickelodeon (whenever I had access to cable TV). My mom was a librarian, and I learned the Dewey decimal system when I was 6 or 7. She also is a little OCD about keeping things clean and well-cared for, and as a result, I too take unusually good care of my stuff (I have countless books from when I was a kid that look like they’ve never been read, even though they have). I used to get so upset if things went missing or got damaged. For a long time I wanted to go into art conservation, which made a lot of sense because I like the arts and am fairly good with my hands, plus I am anal about keeping things in good shape. However, the Recession put a strain on my budding career and I ended up switching to collections management and registration (that may be where the Dewey decimal system started factoring in, since I like lists, numbers, and keeping track of things, haha). But my biggest “aha!” moment came when I was studying in Italy. One of my classmates, an art history and archaeology person, was talking about the graffiti on the Florence Cathedral and how it keeps being cleaned off, which she didn’t agree with. She was of the opinion that things– art, architecture, utilitarian objects– are meant to be used and then disposed of when they are done fulfilling their purpose, and that the graffiti on the Cathedral was a testament to its purpose. I did not agree with her. That is when I realized that I am a preservationist. I am now working on my Master’s in Art History and Professional Certificate in Museum Studies so that I can continue my work with art objects in a wider registration/collections management-based capacity than a BFA in Pre-Art Conservation allowed me.

  2. I also was an early start-up in the Preservation world. I was 9 when I visited the local historical society owned mansion in my home town of Kennebunkport Maine… (which also helped I think) The house is known as the Nott house…I have mentioned it on my blog a few times.. Anyway. I went home and told my mom that I loved the Nott House and I wanted to work there. So together we contacted the Historical Society and I started a Junior Docent program there, where I worked through-out Middle and High School. That lead me to Rhode Island where I got a BS in Historic Preservation and Art and Architectural History, then to Vermont where I got my MS in historic Preservation.

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