Preservation Carpentry Travels to Nantucket

May 24, 2021
Sophie Linnell PC '21

In May 2021, second-year Preservation Carpentry students took a week-long field trip to the island of Nantucket. It was a great skill builder for the students, who saw buildings in all states of repair, from derelict to finished space. One of the students, Sophie Linnell PC ’21, wrote a brief overview of their trip.

From about 1700 to the 1840s Nantucket was considered the whaling capital of the world. This “gray lady of the sea” was also notably referenced in Melville’s Moby Dick. However, it was neither the promise of whale oil nor Melville’s nod that drew our class to its shores recently. Nantucket is also known to have the finest surviving architectural examples of late 18th century American architecture. We went to learn and work on these historic structures using the traditional masonry techniques that were employed at their inception.

Our trip included many in depth architectural tours of historic residences, commercial buildings, and churches. These tours were led by Mary Bergman, the director of the Nantucket Preservation Trust; Pen Austin, master decorative plasterer, mason, and grain painter; Chris O’Reilly PC ’16 and Hollis Webb PC ’18, preservation carpenters and NBSS alumni; as well our instructor Michael Burrey. Many of the residential buildings were previously listed for demolition, but then saved to be restored and transformed to their prior vitality. One of these buildings most recently had the sills repaired, so we worked on reinstating the fieldstone foundation while also learning how to jack up and level the building.

In addition to the tours and masonry work, we also engaged in multiple hands-on workshops led by Pen Austin learning about historic lime, gesso, compo, gilding, burnishing, mould making, and grain painting. In the coming weeks, as part of our curriculum, we will continue learning about lime and traditional masonry techniques, with an emphasis on plaster and lath and lime renders.