This lecture was part of the Divine Disorder Conference on the Conservation of Outsider Folk art that was organized and hosted by NCPTT. The conference was held February 15-16, 2012 on the campus of Northwestern University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

The Greatest Show on Earth:  the history and conservation of Jefferson Davis McKissack’s Orange Show


Cyncar:    Good morning everybody. As [ ? ] said, I’m Grace Cyncar from SWCA Environmental Consultants. I’m a historic preservation specialist with them and actually here, can we turn down the lights for a second so we can see the pictures? Here you’ll see an [ ? ] of the Orange Show which can be daunting. It seems a little chaotic at first. I know the first time I saw it, I was impressed and fell in love with it. I actually studied it in school before getting this job with Marilyn, and I was ecstatic when I found out I was going to be working on the Orange Show.

So how I became a part of this team was [ ? ] said they got an NEA grant and they hired SWCA Consultants to come in and set up a team to put together a report assessing the structural condition of the Orange Show, the condition of the artifacts in their current conservation efforts, past conservation efforts as well as putting together an overall history of the structure, talk about Jeff’s vision for it and basically put together a document they could use as a foundation to progress forward for better stewardship of it.

So I’m going to talk a little bit about our team first.  [ ? ] and my colleague Anamad from SWCA and we also had Pat Sparks from Sparks Engineering as our structural engineer and Joe Sembrat, who is going to be speaking after me, from Conservation Solutions Inc.

So a little bit about what each group did. SWCA, our historic preservation department, we coordinate with State Historic Preservation Offices. We work with owners of historic buildings, we work with historic societies, many various different groups who needed consultation about how to be better stewards of historic structures and buildings, we do a lot of National Register nominations, we do tax credits, we do histories of the buildings, so we do a lot with that.

Sparks Engineering is a structural engineering company that specializes with the consultation and rehabilitation of [ ? ] existing structures. They have worked on a lot of historic structures in Texas, throughout the United States, and even internationally. And the Conservation Solutions Inc., they work with historic and artistic artifacts and conserving them, preserving them from prehistoric artifacts all the way to space age.

We came together as a team to put together this report and obviously the specialists at Sparks and Joe Sembrat are going to do the structural assessment and conservation assessment. My role in this is really to [ ? ] all the background information and do a history of the Show and most especially it’s maintenance and preservation past.

So just to get started and to give you an idea of where the Show is in town and just the overall layout and design of it [ ? ]. So as you can see it’s just off Highway 45 in Houston, just south of [ ? ] in a residential neighborhood. It’s about, I’d say two miles southeast of downtown Houston, so it’s a fairly urban environment. It’s actually as you can see from this picture, it’s [ ? ] get off the Highway turn right on Munger Street and see a house and all of a sudden the Orange Show, it’s right there. That’s kind of special about it, you don’t expect it, it just happens and it’s great.

So here’s a plan, a ground floor plan of the Show. And just to walk you through it, you walk in and on your left you first come to the oasis, which is where Jeff used to hand out orange juice to his guests and there’s also a water fountain there which is why it’s called the oasis. Then next you get to a display area, followed by the museum and the gift shop and then after that there’s the steam engine area. Once you progress through there you get to a large open area called “the pond” and then from there you go on to the sideshow. There’s actually  some upper levels on these on top of the museum and the steamship and on the sideshow and the pond. You can see that some of these provide seating, some of these just provide a different view of Orange Show, which is very helpful because once you get in there, it’s a series of small spaces and open spaces and it’s very maze like, and it’s great but it can also be a little overwhelming.

So here’s some pictures of the main areas. At the top, you have the oasis, then the pond area and behind that, we can see the museum itself. It’s a very, very small museum, just a small plain rectangular building. And then the steam engine is actually just a shed over the steam engine which I’ve been told actually works. It’s not [ ? ] now but it does work.  [ ? ] other close up on the museum  on the bottom left and then a picture of the sideshow area which was taken from actually on the stage and Jeff [ ? ] from the sideshow is actually to have a beautiful woman in a gown come out and [ ? ] for his guests on a rotating stage and he thought it would be a great formal environment and he was very excited about this. Marilyn’s told me a whole lot about him, she knows so much and he just really wanted guests to come and have a great time and [ ? ] oranges and see his vision.

So the Orange Show itself is made up of many, many found objects. When Jeff was actually working on it, during that time in Houston, especially downtown, [ ? ]  buildings were being demolished and he would drive first in his pickup truck and [ ? ] pay a little bit of money for some of the tiles or structural materials or whatever he could get [ ? ] take it out of the buildings before demolished or [ ? ] just find things and take them. Later on he actually sold his truck but he would go out on his bicycle and still keep doing it so I think Joe said this best, “the soul of old Houston [ ? ] the Orange Show.”

So here you see some wagon wheels which are used a lot as a railings and fences especially on the upper areas. Welded sculptures, Jeff actually worked in Florida as a welder for a time and that’s [ ? ] weld and there’s some fabulous birds he does, there’s also a palm tree and many other things he’s found and done. There’s a [ ? ] mosaics throughout the Show. Some of these have pieces from Aesop’s Fables, some are just messages that Jeff wanted to tell visitors, [ ? ] bakery. There’s also tractor seats. Most of the seating is either benches just made out of bricks and concrete or tractor seats, so [ ? ] future throughout the entire Orange Show.

So I’ve known that [ ? ] took over the Orange Show. It really is in need of attention and some care. So here are some pictures of what it looked like in 1980 when they took possession of it. You can see it’s [ ? ] when they took the pictures but it’s also not looking its best. So they hired Baymore to do the first in a series of preservation work and maintenance and the first thing they did is to decide that they couldn’t at this point, because of funding and other reasons, they couldn’t actually restore it. So what they decided to do was to take a preservation philosophy and try to keep the standing. As with many folk artists and visionary artists, Jeff had no formal training in architecture or building  so they [ ? ] some issues happening already, walls were cracking, there was definitely deflection, there was no foundations, so things [ ? ] go wrong.

So the first thing, one of the first things they did, was to set-up a new support system for the south wall which you can see in this left hand picture. It’s a little difficult to see. Unfortunately, the neighbor’s property goes right up almost to the wall of the Orange Show and it’s difficult to get a good picture of these. But what he did was he put in a series of vertical I- beams next to the wall and then between the beams and the wall, he put railroad ties, to kind of soften [ ? ] for some movement on the south wall. These are still there today. The railroad ties unfortunately have pretty much rotted away. There’s not much left of them.

Some of the other things he did as you can see in this picture here, that’s the northwest corner of the Orange Show and it was pretty much falling like the other walls, so he propped it up and in an effort to differentiate between his work and Jeff’s work, he decided to paint the supporting pole orange. Another thing that they did in addition to basic maintenance, replacing rotted wood, replacing corroded metal, he also documented the original colors with color slide photography. Actually we just go these color slides from him and we’ve scanned them and will be giving copies of all the scans to the Orange Show.

Here are pictures of that post restoration Orange Show looking much better, very nice and after this the Orange Show Foundation, now the Center for Visionary Arts did yearly maintenance on the Orange Show so every year from mid-December to mid-March, the Orange Show closes down and maintenance occurs. So we were able, in my going through their records, to find records of one specific year, 1989, and just to give you an idea of what these yearly maintenances entail, obviously the usual painting, taking out rusted numbers, replacing wooden things, trying to replace tractor seats if they can find them, but in addition, this year they did work on the museum [ ? ] and they put in the new metal structure system which is still there today. It’s not painted white and that center pole has actually been taken out.

They also took out the benches for the exhibits. [ ? ] and they found out there’s no concrete poured under the brick supports. In fact, it’s just dirt and infill which was a common practice at that time. I’ve seen pictures of them pulling buckets out of there, watering cans, it looks like whatever Jeff could find to put in there and take up room, he did and obviously when that settled the bricks began to move and change and crack. So what Orange should do is they took [ ? ] pole out, they put in concrete and then they replaced the bricks and then put all exhibits back in.

So in 1999, they actually hired Bob Goldstone to do another assessment and his assessment really was pretty typical of the ones we’ve seen over the history of the Orange Show. He recommended stabilization that measures and soil testing for under the filled walls, which most of the walls are bearing. And he also recommended the application of removable sealant. Water infiltration is a huge problem throughout the Orange Show. It can rain just a little bit and everything is soaking wet and it holds water against all the metal members and the wood so just encouraging corrosion and rot.

We don’t have any record of exactly what was done, which recommendations were followed. According to the [ ? ] of the Orange Show, not many of his were followed. Some people have worked over the past and kind of handed down the preservation records through oral history. So, [ ? ] routine maintenance is what I’ve taken away from this.

Then in 2005 the Orange Show was listed on the National Register, a statewide significance for a unique piece of folkart. And then the most recent and last preservation effort was the stabilization of the east wall exterior and this kind of follows [ ? ] idea for a series of structural vertical members with, instead of this time, instead of railroad ties, they used metal banding around the edge of the wall. You can see the after picture. They actually used a series of jacks to put the wall back into place. It had deflected so badly that they were very, very concerned with it coming down. They also put in concrete settings as you can see. What was happening actually was in the “before” picture there is actually a power factory behind them and they’ve been pushing dirt and fill up against that fence. So what the Orange Show did is they came in and they removed all that dirt and fill, they removed all the vegetation that was growing there, the weeds, and then they poured in these new foundations. So that was the end of my work for this report. I basically presented all this to the consultants when they came in to give them a background [ ? ] and to bring them up to speed and then they go from there and reassess the current conditions and to speak about that, I’d like to introduce Joe Sembrat.

Sembrat:    And I’ll have the lights down also. When we were brought in, I was on vacation actually when we were contacted by Anna to see if we were interested in bidding on this project with them. I was sent a photograph which was just basically  the entrance to the Orange Show, which only showed a tile mosaic and a white wall and I was like, “Sure I think we could do this, it’s not a problem,” but when I showed up on site, it was something much more than I had ever imagined. It brought me back to Arkansas when I was brought into some barn and it was just filled with junk and I was told that that’s a cotton gin and you need to conserve it and put it back together. But I think this one’s a more interesting project than the cotton gin was.

Essentially, we were brought in, meaning Patrick Sparks as a structural engineer and Conservation Solutions as the materials conservator and art conservator, to perform a conditions assessment of the site and do documentation which Grace had done, which was the history, the past conservation, and some of the earlier preservation efforts, and then to develop an on-going maintenance program and conservation practices and basically analyze the structural stability of the artifact.

In addition to that, we were also tasked to provide budgetary cost estimates for this work and to deal with any potential life safety issues and make other recommendations. And ultimately, the goal is that this was the first step in an overall lager project which will include the creation of a conservation master plan. It’s a much larger project than just taking an object and trying to stabilize it. It’s going to require funding, it’s going to require a lot of documentation, research, and other things.

I’m going to present Patrick’s portion of the talk since he’s not here, and it’s going to be a very cursory sort of overview of some of the structural conditions and Frank did an excellent job of presenting some of the issues at Watts Tower which are very similar to the issues that we have here, which is to grade and concrete corroding rebar, lack of continuity in all of the embedded iron, which prevents the use of cathartic protection and some of the more traditional ways of dealing with concrete and so forth, so thank you Frank for covering that.

Basically, Patrick chose to divide things into different categories of masonry walls and walkways. Some of these covered areas that Grace had pointed out that all have embedded iron and steel in them, the steel frame canopies that are on top of the structure. You see flags floating off of those and where the wagon wheels are mounted and so forth, there is a network of steel stairs, many of them have ceramic tiles embedded in them. There are a whole host of issues specifically associated with those and then the concrete that was poured directly on the soil, which is a high clay content soil which expands tremendously when it gets wet and shrinks, so there’s a great deal of movement going on underneath the structure itself.

Patrick had identified that the two major things that are affecting the artifact is the soil induced foundation movement and corrosion of iron and steel elements in the structure. As we were saying, the problem with the site, the main thing is drainage. When I was working in Houston on the Saturn 5 rocket doing the conservation work, we were there and I had never seen it rain so hard. I think it was something like three inches of rain in a matter of a few hours and this site is not at all equipped to deal with drainage issues, so water is pooling in areas and in other areas it’s finding ways out and undermining the structural stability of some of these piers. So you can see it’s not clearly evident, but this is actually listing. The entire structure is leaning toward the exterior wall. It looks like it will fall over at any moment and then these walkways are also heaving, which present trip hazards and also not allowing water to drain from the site. So these things are going to have to be addressed sort of together. Anytime you want to do one thing to the structure, you have to step back five steps and deal with five other things, like deteriorated underground utilities and so forth.

The walls, as you can see in this image, were basically constructed primarily of CMU blocks, but it was also whatever else that Jeff found that had been laying around and many of the webbings in those concrete blocks are not filled nor do they have rebar in them, so basically you have a great deal of movement that’s going in the perimeter walls at the site.

As I said earlier, the soils are made predominately of clay, so in these seating areas within the amphitheatre there is nothing underneath the concrete other than rubble and the clay soils. So you can see the significant cracks that have formed all along the perimeter seating and just about everywhere in the structure.

As we said earlier, the issue with embedded iron has posed a major concern. This is just a chimney flue liner that he used as a formwork as a bench support, but all of the iron inside of it has corroded, it is jacking and bursting this area apart.

This is kind of consistent throughout the structure where you have corroding iron that’s been embedded. As a result of this, this is looking up at the ceiling, but this expensive network of steel had to be installed to help support the structure and over time the steel went from being painted black to being painted orange and when I was at the site, I had no idea that these were alterations that were done after the fact. So some of these things now are becoming part of the artifact itself. As Grace pointed out, here is some of the deteriorating timbers that line, there’s a wall behind this, so this is going to be a challenge on how to stabilize some of these perimeter walls and dealing with earlier conservation efforts. It’s very similar to Watts Tower, so we’re going back and dealing with previous treatments, deciding what can be retained and what needs to be changed and modified.

From a materials conservation standpoint, instead of just running through a list of conditions and so forth, I look at things from what makes the Orange Show work. When you first walk in there it’s completely overwhelming. You don’t know what to look at first. You have no idea what anything means. There’s these crazy sayings that are all over the place but after spending time, it kind of does have a deeper meaning to it. There is sort of some consistency in the randomness and in the materials and it basically comes through in the form of repetitiveness. There are, I think, over a hundred wagon wheels, there’s something like seventy tractor seats, and the colors, the vibrant colors, all of these sort of tie together to create a meaning, a feeling, and this ethos that Marilyn had talked about and I borrowed this from her as one of these talking points.

The randomness is basically in the materials. He went and scavenged junk from everywhere and actually did pay for a lot of these tractor tires, but you can see from the list that there’s not only a wealth of different materials that are present, but they’re also found in a variety of different things, like tractor tires and wiring and plumbing and roofing materials and bricks and tiles and windows and so forth. So trying to come to a site and doing a cursory assessment of the conditions that are there was a little overwhelming to say the least. But as you start packaging these things into categories and grouping them by materials, it’s not so overwhelming after awhile.

I think the thing that is so endearing to all of these environmental pieces is the primitiveness. It’s what makes them unique. I think it’s what gives them their charm and kind of reminds me of when I moved out to New Mexico, I came from the east coast and I couldn’t understand why the Mexican guys that were working on the house, nobody had a square or a level or anything that they were using in the house. It just drove me crazy. But I saw the things that they did and then there were certain things that I started working on and using anal retentive techniques from the east coast and things that were completely out of context. they lacked the charm, they lacked all of that beauty that makes things look unique and charming and primitive. So I think that’s the key to a lot of these things is that the artists themselves have, I don’t know if it’s intentionally but there is sort of a lack of anal retentiveness in all of this in some way.

With that said, there are things that were done that were done very precisely and this was something that came through with Marilyn. When I was there, I saw a lot of the painting that has been done has overrun onto other surfaces and you can see that there’s paint on the tower work and there’s variations in colors on individual wheels and so forth, and it didn’t seem to fit the overall theme of the artifact. So in talking to Marilyn she said, “No, no way Jeff would never have stood for something like that.” He painted within the lines, his grout lines were very tight , his mortar joints were tight. So it was these little things that I started to notice that were starting to become evident in one of the problems of interpreting site.

Here is an example of an umbrella that sits outside that Jeff had used and became damaged over time. There was some repairs that were done here fairly crudely but more importantly, you could see the repainting where there is overspray onto the white in these areas. There’s paint smears over in these areas and so forth. I mean this is looking at something in a very detailed way but it’s over a period of time that was consistent that the workmanship, and it’s one of the problems of using volunteers to maintain a site, is that you can’t maintain a level of quality or craftsmanship.

The other issue affecting the site is in permanence. Jeff was not building necessarily for the future, he was building to just basically express his ideas, so there was no real thought about, “Should I use stainless steel instead of mild steel? Should I look at using more durable stone?” It was basically whatever he had picked up during his travels and his days that he decided to use. As a result you see the deterioration of caste stone pieces. This is a seat up in the sideshow area. You also see corrosion of iron and peeling of paint and here is an area of loss of original washers off of the surface and then a repair that was done that an eyeball was glued back on but actually slid down the surface in some way. I believe  Marilyn told me that these are not the original dials on the clock and so forth. Also, as a result of water migrating through the concrete decks, all of the wood substructure is deteriorating and has termite infestation.

For the coherence of what we talked about, looking at this you would never think there is any coherence to all of this but there is repetition in form, and it becomes obvious when you are there that these wagon wheels, it’s this constant movement of things that’s kind of like the whirligigs that was presented earlier, but it’s also the use of color that unifies things and the shapes and forms and so forth that provide sort of a very fun atmosphere when you are there.  But one of the problems that becomes obvious again is that, being a conservator, I can never look at an artifact with really looking at it and it soon became obvious that you could see where this paint is peeling off of the surface. This red paint is not the same color as this red paint and nor is that red paint the same color as the original red paint. So slowly by slowly, we’re moving away from the artists original intent in one way or another. Here’s this bit of painting issue that I think would have driven him crazy. Here’s a wheel, half of it is painted red, half of it is painted white, some of the spokes are a different color in this area. So it’s poor workmanship once again that I think is detracting from the real charm of the piece itself.

The other thing that we noticed is that he actually went to the extent of pigmenting all of his concrete but what’s present now is that those pigmented concretes have been painted over and not even with the same color pallet. So you’ve altered colors and now you’ve also changed the properties of the cements. When we excavated this area, it was extremely wet inside, so a surface before that could have breathed after it was wet and dried out, is now staying constantly wet, trapping moisture, rotting the wood underneath, and corroding the embedded iron that’s in the surface.

Here’s another example of a brick that’s been painted red, again changing things just ever so slightly away from the artist’s original intent, slightly altering the site in some way.

This is another area on a fence that these are replacement wagon wheels. At first glance it doesn’t seem to be much different than any of the other wagon wheels but on closer examination, it’s significantly different. These are wooden hubs which none of the other hubs on the site are wood. Fortunately Rubin, who is the main guy there that does all the maintenance and everything else for the Orange Show saved that hub, which is critical because they can be reused in the future at some time.  All of this brings up the question of how do you maintain a site like this. None of these materials are permanent and certainly not in a heavily polluted environment like Houston that is subject to high winds, hurricanes, a lot of moisture, you’re constantly having things deteriorate, break, disintegrate, so I think what we’re trying to deal with with the client is how do you then formulate a philosophy and ethic? What gets replaced? What’s salvaged? At what extent are we trying to save things at the expense of something else. And I think this is kind of the thing that is the most challenging on a site like this. I mean we can conserve materials, but to have the client buy into a philosophy and an ethic about how they are going to go about maintaining these things and preserving these things and at what period in time are we taking this back.

Once again in talking to Marilyn she said Jeff would just replace this. Artists are always changing and replacing their own things. I think now as a steward, we have a responsibility to choose a certain period of time and decide the most ethical way of preserving the ethos or the artist’s intent. This leads to, I think this last point that we had just talked about that as individual parts, in altering these different parts and going to Home Depot to replace tiles that were unique in some way slowly by slowly, we’re taking a piece away from the artist’s intent. I think the goal of this treatment with the Orange Show is going to be bringing it back into the realm and keeping it consistent with what Jeff’s ethos was, what his vision was for it, and what the artistic intent was and what he was trying to communicate.

The next step in the process is dealing with some of these life safety issues. Some of these walls are on the verge of collapsing. Some of them are overhead from people, there’s trip hazards, there’s electrical issues, there’s a lot of things that have to be dealt with in a very immediate future.

The other thing is the digitization of the documentation that exists there. Much of this stuff is still just in paper form. It is not being stored in a fire proof facility or climate controlled in any way so, the next step is to try to get a handle on the documentation, digitize it, make it available and then establishing some guidelines.

The maintenance, although somewhat misguided, is effective. It’s prevented a lot of the metals from corroding, it’s kept water out of other structures and so forth, but I think with just some direction and guidance, they can continue on with it until the master plan is developed, a clear sort of philosophy towards things are established, and then they could be taken and maintained at that point.

Then the development of the master plan itself, which would include laser scanning, a detailed paint analysis documenting the colors and the schemes, surveys of the sites and actually development of treatment plans and actually performing mockups that then could be used as benchmarks going forward for the restoration of the project.

Thank you.

Church:    Alright. Does anyone have questions for Joe or Grace or Marilyn? I actually had one question for Joe. On something like the wagon wheel that we saw with the red and the white and the real mismatched colors, is there going to be an effort to go back and repaint that now or do you just have bigger fish to fry for now?

Sembrat:    I think it’s kind of like the Watts Tower where we’re not worrying about and painting things at this point. It’s basically triage and dealing with the major issues like the life safety issues and the drainage issues. But as I was saying, as soon as you start dealing with some of these life safety issues, it takes you back to the point then that we have no footing, no foundation under some of these things, so then you’re digging a foundation footing so when you’re in there you have to deal with drainage issues at the same time. So it’s kind of, it keeps leading you down a longer path, so to answer your question, I think they have some bigger issues. But at the same time, it’s at this point where you can change the direction because from what the discussions were with Marilyn and Rubin is that things are painted if there’s purple paint in the storage room, then that what you use to paint things. There’s been no sort of effort to try to go back and find out what the original colors were and follow that through at this point. So it’s not an easy thing in dealing with pine. It’s not easy dealing with these kinds of artifacts. You know if this was a Picasso, we would know pretty much exactly what to do with it, there would be precedence of what to do, but when you have things that are composed of found objects by an artist that is unknown, nobody’s written anything about them and you know very little information, it’s difficult to really formulate a plan, a philosophy, or an ethical approach.

[Inaudible question]

We were just having that conversation prior to this, because I mean artists do it all the time and well known artists of outdoor sculpture, you know, Oldenburg, no one ever wanted to send their sculptures back to him for repairs because he would change it so dramatically. But this was a discussion that we were having outside is that we need to choose a specific period of time of when to go back and it so happens that his death coincides with the majority of the documentation that’s available in order to bring it back to a certain period. I mean we can do physical paint analysis and so forth but you’re right, it may have been blue and then he changed it to orange at some point prior to dying, but if we’re looking at a paint analysis we’re digging down saying, “Okay here’s the earliest color,” not to mention that it had a color on its own prior to him acquiring it.

[Inaudible question]

So that is when I always say, “It’s not my issue, it’s a curators issue,” but it’s really as a group, as an organization, the Orange Show, I could provide guidance as to what can be done from a conservation standpoint but I am in no way an expert on McKissack or what his thoughts were and so forth. I think Marilyn knows probably more about him than anyone else at this point and it’s amazing just looking at one photograph, we picked five things that had changed within one figure that was in that picture since she was involved with the project. So it’s a really sort of daunting task to try to figure out when you want to nail this down and what period and whether layering is part of that overall effect and so forth, so I mean you hit the nail on the head.

That’s the hardest thing at this point of what to do and when to bring it back  to what period. And I’d be interested to know if other sites are going through the same thing. You know in Georgia and some of these other places, how are people reconciling, you know how do you create a philosophy and ethically a standard in approaching your conservation treatments. I know a lot of these places just are sort of dealt with by local volunteers and it’s basically just deal with it and not really give it a lot of thought. So I’d be curious to hear from someone else that’s doing that.

Church:    Definitely, just the limited experiences I’ve had with sites, it’s amazing how quickly they change even in the artists lifetime. You go back a week later and you know they’ve completely redone the whole area, so it’s a good question of where to go back to. Alright, thank you.


The Orange Show is a folk-art environment located in Houston’s East End and built single-handedly by Jefferson Davis McKissack, a Houston postal worker, between 1956 and 1979. Envisioned as a 3,000 sq. ft. educational environment advocating the benefits of oranges and steam power, the Orange Show includes an oasis, a wishing well, a pond, a stage, a museum, a gift shop, and several upper decks fit together to create a maze of paths and spaces. McKissack built the Orange Show of concrete, brick, steel and found objects including: gears, tiles, wagon wheels, mannequins, tractor seats, and statuettes.
The owner, The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art (OSCVA), engaged SWCA Environmental Consultants, Inc. with funds from a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant to assess the current conditions and produce a comprehensive report documenting the history, past conservation and preservation efforts, on-going maintenance and conservation practices, and structural stability of the folk art piece. SWCA assembled a team including Conservation Solutions, Inc. (CSI) as the art conservator and Sparks Engineering, Inc. as the structural engineer to consult on this endeavor.
The history, artist’s intent, treatment goals, and repair strategies developed by the team will be explained, followed by a discussion of the challenges of undertaking a lengthy and complex treatment using predominantly unskilled and semi-skilled labor.

Speakers Biography

Grace Cynkar, Historic Preservation Specialist, SWCA Environmental Consultants

Grace Cynkar is a Secretary of the Interior’s qualified historic preservation specialist and architectural historian with SWCA Environmental Consultants in Houston, Texas. She joined SWCA in May of 2011 after completing her M.S. degree in historic preservation at the University of Texas at Austin, where her thesis work focused on the use of GIS for hazard mitigation of historic resources. Grace also holds a B.A. from Rice University in English and Art History. Her projects at SWCA include Section 106 compliance, Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credits, and archival research and analysis. Grace is continuing her education in GIS and is interested in exploring how new technologies can be utilized for the documentation and advocacy of historic resources.

Joe Sembrat, President and Senior Conservator, Conservation Solutions Inc.

Joe Sembrat has been immersed in the conservation field for over 14 years providing conservation assessments, design, and implementation of conservation treatments and lecturing on relevant topics in the field. His extensive experience in the treatment of masonry and metals led to the development and creation of the unique firm, Conservation Solutions, Inc. (CSI). Joe co-founded CSI with his wife, Julya, in 1999, with a goal excelling in the treatment of historic monuments and sculpture, industrial artifacts, and buildings. High-profile projects include artifacts from the salvaged R.M.S. Titanic wreck-site, such as the “Big Piece,” the conservation of two Saturn V rockets, the treatment of 12 sets of over life-sized bronze gates at the US Commerce Department Building in Washington, DC, and a nineteenth-century Cotton Gin facility located in Scott, Arkansas. Joe achieved his professional Associate status in AIC in 1996, Fellow status in 2007, and served as the Architectural Specialty Group Coordinator and Chair from 2000 to 2002.



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