Friday, April 25, 2014

Remembering the Past, Building the Future: Our Basement Renovation

Have you ever heard of "marble floors?" The term amusingly refers to the floors of older homes where if you put a marble down at one corner of the room and let go---it rolls and picks up speed as it heads to the other side of the room. Many who own historic homes are familiar with this phenomenon.

Built in 1782, the Sargent House Museum certainly qualifies as an older home! And one could say that the first level of the house has several "marble floors." In order to stabilize the structure of the House, the Museum applied for assistance from MassDevelopment and the Massachusetts Cultural Council who generously provided a Cultural Facilities Fund grant for a basement renovation. The Museum is currently using those grant funds to repair the building’s structure, including replacing beams; repointing and repairing foundation and chimney masonry; replacing a structural pier; and rebuilding basement windows.

Glenn Batten
Glenn Batten, master carpenter and housewright, is handling the restoration of the Sargent House basement. Glenn has extensive experience working on several significant historic properties including many owned by Historic New England.

The renovation work does not include correcting the pitch of the Sargent House's floors, and for very good reason. Glenn and his crew are replacing the original structure below with the goal being to maintain the house in its exact present condition. This is because straightening the floors or attempting to bring them to anything close to level would cause extensive damage to the walls of the museum.

So far Glenn and his team have successfully installed the main beam under the dining room and rebuilt two extant piers as well as an additional supplementary pier at the stairway. The renovation is no easy task, but Glenn and his team are adept at the requisite skills of fitting beams into out of square, out of level, and out of plumb conditions. They are also practiced at assessing loads on a structure and the means of securing existing loads.

Below are some photos of the work. (More can be found on our construction Pinterest page.)

An original, unsound beam, now removed.

Inserting the new beam: testing the fit to be sure it will fit in the space 
where the old damaged section of one beam was removed.

Measuring for the new footing before pouring the concrete.

Glenn says, “One of the main concerns in replacing large timbers in an existing structure is preventing movement and/or damage to the adjoining areas and finishes. For example, preserving the walls, plaster, furnishings, etc.” The photos here (and on Pinterest) help us see what methods are being employed at Sargent House to protect the museum while significant structural repairs are in progress. We can see evidence of the crew's implementation of dust control, protection of adjoining finishes, and tracking movement, for example.  

Work began this week on beam- and joist replacement under the stairway foyer as well as excavation for footing of the (soon to be rebuilt) pier under the museum shop.

Here's a peek:

One interesting find by the crew; several old bottles and some hardware (any thoughts about what these are?) were extracted from inside one of the chimney bases.

If you're interested in learning more about our renovation, and asking Glenn about historic home preservation, please attend our upcoming Preservation Workshop on 4/30 at 5pm. Click on the link below for more details. And, hope see you next week!

By Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard, Development Associate

Members: Free. Non-Members: $10
Space is limited. Reserve in advance:

This project is supported in part by
the Cultural Facilities Fund of the Mass Cultural Council,
the Community Preservation Act,
and the Dusky Foundation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Remembering the Past, Building our Future: Dressed for Success at Sargent House

This is the second post in our series, "Remembering the Past, Building our Future." This week we're looking behind the scenes into our Collections Department.

Let's begin with some background on our incredible staff.

Mary Hurd is our resident textiles expert. Mary has been involved in theatre since high school when she did sets and lighting at Rindge. Her degree from Wesleyan is in Theatre Arts and her thesis was two part: a written thesis and design and performance piece "costumes in Tenessee Williams' plays."   She has 14 years working in costume construction, including historical costume, opera, dance and circus.   Her administrative experience is in stage management, shop management, wardrobe management and most recently Acting Costume Shop Manager and Assistant Costume Designer for "The Glass Menagerie" on Broadway in NYC (2013-14).

Mary has brought in a couple of consultants to help with her work at the House. Anita Canzian is the Head Draper at the Huntington Theatre and has done extensive research in historic costuming.  The second consultant, Jennifer Neiling, is a graduate student at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC). Jennifer is in a program for curatorial studies as it relates to fashion.

Now, we'll end with a bit about our holdings.

Sargent House has a large collection of period textiles and personal items. However, sometimes all we have to go on for context is a donor's name associated with an item. So, at intervals we will be posting images to invite comments and relevant information about our collection. Take a peek at some of these gorgeous fans, and let us know if you have something to share about them in the comments section below. For example, while we don't have much information about the feathered fan, it is interesting to note that several ancient Roman grave altars show birds chasing grasshoppers.* Perhaps this is a widow's mourning fan with a nod to classical themes?

Until next time, check out our Sargent House Museum Pinterest Boards to see more of the Museum's collections and its furnishings.


Monogrammed tortoiseshell fan.

The tassel of the tortoiseshell fan.

Delicate feathered fan with motif of swallows chasing a grasshopper.

The reverse of the "Swallow" fan.

Detail of the carved structure of the "Swallow" fan.

Detail of the chase on the "Swallow" fan.

By Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard, Development Associate

Thursday, April 3, 2014

New Blog Series: "Remembering the Past, Building the Future"

Spring is the time of new beginnings, and the Sargent House Museum is inaugurating a new blog series celebrating the conservation of our building, preservation of our collections, our community outreach and our extension of women's history in the great tradition of Judith Sargent Murray.  Each week we will share one post, rotating between Collections, Construction, Women’s History/Judith Sargent Murray, and a catch-all of Events/Volunteers/What’s New.

We're excited to share what goes on behind the scenes here at the Museum: the preservation work in our basement, the rejuvenation of our gardens, the work of our volunteers and interns, and more of our exciting upcoming initiatives.

We hope that you will come along for the journey, and contact us if you have something to share.

And now, our first stop: some antique photos of the property to remember our past.

From the late 19th-century, a photo of the neighboring "Chandler House" on Middle Street,
with Sargent House at the right.  Note the (now removed) fireplace and entry porch where visitors enter today.

Here is another view of Sargent House from the Middle Street. We can see more (now removed) additions on the rear and west side of the building. There was once a brick wall along the street as well.

Here's a better view of the Middle Street façade as it was. Again, an additional chimney,
this one to service a kitchen where our workroom now is.

Moving to the true front of the House, here's a circa 1940s postcard showing Sargent House
with a much smaller Catalpa tree, and no gardens! And, remember that fence?
It came down in the summer of 2012 to much applause.

We look forward to next week's post: an introduction to what's happening during our basement renovation. If you want to learn more about that project, be sure to sign up for our Preservation Workshop, Saving the Sargent House, and Your Own, to be held at 5pm on April 30th. Learn more at our website, just click here

By Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard, Development Associate