Farmed out for teaching

Farmed out for restoration

Preservation: A restoration workshop at Blandair in Columbia is giving builders a constructive learning experience.

October 10, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Where the untrained eye might see nothing but blight in the rotted and ruined buildings of Blandair, the 19th- century mansion and farm buildings in Columbia, the timber framers, stonemasons and blacksmiths of the Preservation Trades Network see opportunity.

The group, dedicated to educating and connecting design professionals and preservationists, considers the decaying ornamental plaster and crumbling barns of the historic site a canvas to practice their arts.

"It looked like it stopped in 1920," said Mike Logan, heritage conservation supervisor in the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks and a network board member. "It hasn't been disturbed. It hasn't been remodeled. It hasn't been developed."

This makes it an ideal site for the annual International Preservation Trades Workshop, which began yesterday.

About 350 people have registered to attend the seminars and hands-on demonstrations of faux finishes, stone and brick masonry, metal working and timber framing and repair.

The workshop continues through tomorrow, when it will be open to the public for Family Day from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Children can take part in activities such as face-painting and historic games while presenters offer demonstrations that would interest owners of historic homes, Logan said.

Howard County will reap the fruits of the labor in many ways. Several recreation and parks employees who work with historic properties will attend and learn techniques that they can use, said Gary J. Arthur, county parks director.

Although the organization, with members in the United States, Canada and several European countries, has held these workshops since 1997, this is the first year it has used a historic site for its demonstrations, Logan said.

Participants "can actually leave something on the site they're working on," he said. "We're working on the actual buildings themselves and what actual work is being done will stay."

The combined forces of weather and time have left a lot of damage. A citizens advisory group has completed its recommendations for a regional park on the property, which Howard County purchased in 1998. The master plan includes suggestions to preserve the home and farm as a demonstration center or exhibition space.

But parks officials estimate it could take six to 10 years to obtain the more than $15 million needed to fully develop it - not including the $2 million to restore the manor house.

However, rehabilitation is "going to be one of our first priorities because of the condition," Arthur said.

The greatest importance is maintaining the buildings' historic character and integrity by preventing further damage, Logan said. County workers have made emergency repairs, such as temporary roofing.

"We're mothballing the structures until we have the money to rehab them," Logan said.

But the damage at Blandair affords thousands of opportunities to demonstrate preservation and restoration techniques, said Bryan Blundell, Preservation Trades Network managing director. "This becomes the perfect lab for training," he said.

The 1847 seed barn became the focus of a pre-event timber framing workshop. Part of the roof had blown off, Logan said, which allowed water to seep into the timbers and precise joinery. Insects soon followed, leaving two severely damaged corners.

The water damage facilitated the infestation; wood, like a peanut butter sandwich, is best consumed with something wet, Blundell said. "You have to have that liquid to eat it," he said.

The network is planning more timber framing events because it did not expect to finish during the pre-event workshop that ended Wednesday.

"There's a lot of damage on this barn. We can't do it in four days," Logan said.

Beginning Sunday, timber framers Glenn James and Rudy Christian worked with two students to "discover" the building - documenting measurements and looking for clues, such as marriage marks on the timbers that provide information about the system used to construct it.

"The answers you need are right here if you take the time to look for them," Christian said Monday afternoon.

But in addition to the information, "there's really these great puzzles in this building," he added. Why did the original builder mix tulip poplar and other species of wood?

After taking measurements, the workshop participants shored up the structure temporarily so damaged beams and joints could be removed.

One way to determine which is which is that an undamaged log sounds harder, said workshop participant Russ Mendenhall. The director of the Traditional Building Skills Institute at Snow College in Utah, Mendenhall said he hoped to apply what he learns at the workshop to help establish a timber framing aspect to its program.

Using a horsehair brush, Christian swept away darkened wood debris from an exposed joint near the barn door. "As bad as this looks, this building was caught early enough," said Christian, president of the Timber Framers Guild.

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