Archive for July, 2010

July 6 – I started my official plaster internship with John Canning Painting & Conservation Studios on a preservation/conservation project involving a McKim Mead & White building on the campus of the University of Virginia. Below are pictures of the ornamental ceiling we are charged with conserving. More information to come…

UVa Garrett Hall Great Hall ceiling

The Great Hall ceiling located in UVa's Garrett Hall.

UVa's Garrett Hall ceiling

One of two ceilings adjacent to the Great Hall ceiling in UVa's Garrett Hall.


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UVa – Weeks 1 and 2

As previously mentioned, I was able to work for the University of Virginia while I waited for my official internship to start. During these two weeks I was busy repairing fireplace surrounds as well as wall and ceiling damage. I attempted to help the Facilities team skim coat the plaster walls with sheetrock mud, but quickly realized that my skills with plaster didn’t readily transfer to sheetrock mud. Though not surprised  by the difference in tactile quality, I was shocked at the difference in its application. I knew that if I continued to work the way I had, my team members would have to follow behind me and repair my attempts, so I found other ways I could help the team. This technique needs to be revisited, for I know I will be encountering something similar in the future.

UVa fireplace surround repair

This is an example of how one of the nine fireplace surrounds looked prior to repair. The historic fire brick was taped for protection and a bonding agent was applied to the existing brick. Structolite was used where major repair was needed, followed by a finish coat.

UVa fireplace surround repair

This is one of the completed fireplace surround repairs. All of the straightedge work was done freehand. Repairing these wasn’t a complicated project, but I enjoyed completing them. Unfortunately, due to the location of the repairs, damage will continue to haunt these surrounds from normal wear and tear. I was surprised that these student dormitories still had working fireplaces and that the students were encouraged to use them.

UVa ceiling repair

This image shows the largest repair I needed to make to the dormitory ceiling. The failing of the plaster keys was likely due to water infiltration. A three coat plaster system was used to make the repair. An image of the completed repair is not included because… well, it looks like a flat ceiling—nothing extravagant or interesting. It was successful.

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A portion of my 2010 summer break was spent working at the University of Virginia. Originally, I was scheduled to start an internship with Connecticut-based John Canning Painting & Conservation Studios at the University starting mid-June; however, true to typical construction projects (in my limited experience), this was pushed back several weeks. While I waited for this internship to start, I was given the opportunity to work with the Facilities team at UVa repairing and prepping dorm rooms for the fall semester incoming honor students.

The honor dorm rooms are located off the east and west sides of the Lawn, a large field in the middle of was is known as the Academical Village. Each suite of dorms is connected to a Pavilion, a residence for a tenured professor where he/she invites students for lectures, discussion or dinner. The honor student must apply for the dorm room, submit an essay, be actively involved with the University and community and be of high academic standing. Only one of every 20 applicants is accepted to reside in the dorms, so it is an honor to live in these tiny rooms without bathroom facilities. One must use a community bathroom located in a separate building to shower and use the bathroom.

Much of the work completed during this two week stretch of time was cosmetic. I had a hard time accepting the team’s use of sheetrock mud skimmed over the original plasterwork. This just did not make much sense to a plaster student who has been taught to be a “purest” when it comes to plaster. I found out weeks afterward that this method is widely used; however, hydraulic lime is normally added to the mud to give it a more plaster-like look, feel and durability. My role in the cosmetic work was to repair large holes and loose plaster within the rooms and repair the fireplace surrounds which were made of plaster. This work was rather straight forward.

An observation I found troubling was the apparent lack of use of the original picture railing in each of these rooms. We were skim coating these rooms and repairing blemishes caused by students hammering, drilling and prodding walls with all types of hanging devises. If the use of the picture rails was enforced, the Facilities team could prolong this work by many years, saving the University a lot of money.

Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda at UVa.

Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, believed that the focal point of a university should be a library instead of a church, which was the focal point of universities at the time. The Rotunda was originally UVa's library and is situated at the apex of the Lawn and between the east and west dormitories and Pavilions.

West Lawn dorms flanking Pavilion VII.

These dormitories are attached to Pavilion VII, also called the Colonnade Club. Two weeks of my summer were spent repairing the fireplace surrounds and assisting the Facilities team in cosmetic repairs.

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