Statement by John Griswold, Griswold Conservation Associates, LLC
As the Architectural Materials Conservator to the team, both in the design and construction phases, it has been extremely gratifying to watch the project develop. From the initial scientific investigations that led to a new theory of how to preserve the delicate exterior finishes, to the final removal of the scaffolding to show the re-invigorated Gamble House, the team effort has been illuminated by an ever sharpening vision of the past, as well as the future. Our goal was to treat the house as an art conservator would approach the delicate restoration and conservation of a museum artifact. This was achieved, thanks to everyone’s acceptance of a unique creative approach. Such openness between all team members led to innovative re-interpretation of rigid construction attitudes and protocols. This entailed a steep learning curve, extending in multiple directions between the contractor, owner, historic preservation architects and conservator. Most of all, our success depended on the highly informed trust given all of us by the owner.
Possibly my most satisfying contribution was to help the artisans working for key subcontractors realize the value and significance of their work, often translating the scientific data gleaned from microscopic examinations and tests to explain the reasons behind the specified procedures. Such a fundamental understanding allowed for creative expression and problem solving by all team members as actual conditions were uncovered. I remember standing on the roof, sketching diagrams on scraps of cardboard, showing typical tree growth rings and grain patterns seen on milled timbers, and talking to the workers about making a realistic “portrait” of the missing, rotted-out sections of the rafter tails and beam ends. We had a full complement of recycled dental tools at our disposal for sculpting the grain profile of the weathered wood in the patching material. After almost 300 damaged rafter tails were restored without replacing any original wood, they truly were masters at interpreting the remaining evidence of deteriorated wood and bringing it back to life.
I hope this project can serve as one of the success stories that will inform future efforts to preserve our nation’s architectural heritage, particularly those rare structures that preserve original evidence of the delicate and ephemeral touch of the artists involved with their creation.