As an intern at the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum I have the rare privilege of experiencing, behind the scenes, what is entailed in operating the museum. In August 2011, I was provided with the opportunity to gain a new and different perspective of the mansion—that of a volunteer. The original interior shutters of the house were deteriorating rapidly and needed to be restored and preserved. As a result, the museum sponsored the Shutter Restoration Workshop, which granted volunteers the chance to work with professionals in the field of historic preservation, while leaving their own individual mark on history.
Volunteers came from all over the world, literally! The majority were students visiting from Paris, France. Others were native to New York and even Florida. As a whole, we possessed very little knowledge of historic preservation. Fortunately, the professionals of Fifty Three Restorations were present to lead and guide us throughout the whole process.
The first step in restoring the shutters involved the removal of existing paint and the application of paint stripper, which was messy, yet fun to work with. Once the shutters were slathered in stripper, they were carried down to the carriage house basement and allowed to dry overnight. Meanwhile, during lunch, Gerald of Fifty Three Restorations gave a PowerPoint presentation showing his company’s abilities through pictures of previously completed projects.
The next day required removing the stripper and sanding the shutters, being careful not to damage the wood. After sanding, Gerald demonstrated the proper way to use wood glue in order to resolve minor damage to the shutters. It was necessary that the surface be as smooth as possible before applying new paint.
As soon as the shutters were sanded, they were ready to be primed and painted, and a paint analysis was performed in order to determine their original color. Unfortunately, we believe that earlier paint layers had been removed at some point and never documented, and the color found in our current analysis probably dates to a 1990s restoration. After some discussion, it was eventually decided that the shutters would be painted to match our recent sample.
Today, a month after the workshop, the shutters look beautiful and are being reinstalled in the double parlors. Without a doubt, this was a great learning experience and has led me to consider a career in historic preservation in the future.