Friday, February 29, 2008

Neither Batty nor Swan!

This is a photo of the mouldings in my house, which look so much like the ones used in the Robert E. Lee house, in Arlington VA. I thought it would be an easy matter to matching this moulding pattern to an illustration in a pattern book - I assumed that I'd simply look in the books that the American builders (joiners) were using in about 1800, find the right page, and there it would be.


The door casings here at the farm and at Lee's house have a simple 1/4 circle curve, as part of a sequence of square edges, beads and flat sections (although not in that order!). But the mouldings in Batty Langley's 'The Builder's Director or Bench-Mate', 1751, and in Abraham Swan's 'The British Architect', 1758, both published in London, are more complicated. Both show reverse curves: Cimarecta, which first curves in before it curves out, and Ogee, which starts the other way, convex before it is concave. But the American casings use 1/4 round or a Scotia, which is a 1/4 round that curves in, not out.

However, Asher Benjamin, in his book 'The Country Builder's Assistant,' published in 1795 while he still was practicing in various towns on the Connecticut River, show an 'architrave' similar to the ones I know. So, was Benjamin inventing? If he was copying, who was his inspiration? Was his book well enough distributed that carpenters 500 miles away from each other would have seen it? Is this an example of different 'styles' (preferring one shape over another), or is a reverse curve moulding harder to make? Or is this something about the tools - the planes, the knives or blades which were available to the builders?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunday Drives

I just created a sub-blog, to archive my old columns for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune. These received a Massachusetts Historic Preservation Award in 1995. I have had them in hard-copy only, in a binder in a file cabinet, for the last 10 years or so, but recently my daughter has been typing them up, and editing the newspaper's typographical errors, and trying to piece them together where the original newsprint (or xerox copy) has fallen apart. So now we are making them available in electronic form, and I added a link here to the sub-blog. So far, there's only one posted, but we will add more as they become available.

Thinking about old house tours

This is a photo of the Park-McCullough House, in Bennington VT, where I volunteer as a docent. I took the photo from their website. I'm currently designing a walking tour of the grounds, for people who just drop in - when it's done, it will be available on the website.

Just this weekend, I took a tour with my family of Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. We had a great time, especially since I discovered that the molding in the oldest section of the house (1805) is almost an exact match to the molding in my own (1815) farmhouse, in Vermont. (Now I have to go back to my library, and figure out what designer they were both pulling from. I think it's either Swan or Batty Langly.) The tour was also fun because the two young guides took us on an extended tour after everyone else moved on, and we got to see and talk about all the fun details of the house. There are doors between the old and newer sections which do not line up, and a hobbit door in the basement, leading to a tunnel under the house. But the slave quarters, which are undergoing renovation, were the most interesting of all, because all the layers of brick, plaster and framing are visible.