Connected \\ August 5, 2020
Artisan touches across PEM’s campus
Claude Barnes climbs down from the high rung of a ladder, stepping back to survey his work. “The rule of thumb is 10 feet,” he says. “If I back up, I can make sure that I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing … it’s coming along.”
Photography by Dinah Cardin.
Working in rising summer temperatures, trying to beat the windy and rainy after-effects of a hurricane, Barnes and his partner worked quickly to stain the brick facade built in 2020 to bridge PEM’s Daland House (1852) with Plummer Hall (1856).
This is why taking care of the brick is so important. Barnes and Aljernon (AJ) Smith drove up from New Jersey with the company Nawkaw, who specialize in architectural finishes. Before starting the job, the experienced artisan technicians mixed four colors of acrylic-based custom stain. Barnes says he’s been experimenting with color since he was 5 years old and now creates abstract paintings as well as portraits of some of his favorite musicians like Miles Davis and Josephine Baker. After working other construction jobs, Barnes was thrilled to find something that uses his artistic talents.
Meanwhile, Smith, a poet and musician, begins to tint the brick a rusty clay color with a delicate sponge, leaving several bricks alone.
Artisan technician Aljernon Smith colors each brick by hand. Photography by Dinah Cardin.
The two men free-hand the design, deciding which bricks receive which color in order to match the brick added to the first level of the building in 1912. When PEM worked over the facade of the building this spring, they ran into the problem of finding brick to match the texture and color of the building’s first level, which was made 150 years ago.
That’s where these artisan techniques come in as handy solutions when constantly maintaining 24 noted historic properties, says Steven Mallory, Manager of PEM’s Historic Structures and Landscape. PEM’s architecture collection, the largest of any American art museum, includes seven properties designated as National Historic Landmarks and all but four are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, creating a whole lot of upkeep. Think of these buildings like a fuzzy photograph, versus a sharp high-res photo, describes Mallory. “We’re always trying to get that resolution higher and higher. We’re looking for the latest scholarship and science to make it even sharper,” he adds.
PEM’s Manager of Historic Structures and Landscape Steven Mallory reveals some of the discoveries found in the John Ward House. Photography by Allison White/PEM.
PEM’s Crowninshield-Bentley House has created one of these scientific conundrums. Mallory is trying to match the paint on an interior door to the original color. Complicated scientific analysis through hundreds of samples has shown that the grain painting on the woodwork was finished around 1960, right around the time the Georgian-style home was moved to its current spot on the museum’s campus.
Photography by Dinah Cardin
Since the parlor door was grained multiple times, we have contracted with nationally-known conservators specializing in scientific paint analysis. Mallory and his hired researchers are trying to figure out which generation matches with the time the quirky Reverend William Bentley rented two rooms on the second floor and packed in his 4,000-volume library.