Preserving the preservation trades

Now at Kump Education Center we have the “Plaster Master,” Mr. Brian “Buggs” Shourds of Creative Construction teaching 4 AmeriCorps members how to do expert plaster restoration work. Reid Saunders is the leader of the AmeriCorps Hands on Team [HOT] including Meredith Dreistadt, Owen Peet, and Andrew Waddell. They are learning the fine art of plaster repair.

To fix 95 plaster holes made by our expert electrical crew, the AmeriCorps HOT team must follow complex procedures. First they rebuild wooden lath behind plaster by drilling into existing lath and attaching new pieces of wood to old ones. Next, they squirt on a glue conditioner and press in Plaster Magic repair compound. Then they sand and smooth the surface, add Plaster of Paris, smooth again, and finally use Vinyl Spackling before painting.

The Kump House restoration project is a poster child for all the reasons why we need to develop educational facilities for teaching traditional construction skills. Modern prefabricated materials make it easier to build new structures quickly. However, these paper and plastic building products are not as longlasting nor as aesthetically pleasing as authentic brick, metal, plaster, and wood products that were used in construction even 50 years ago.

In 1924 when Mr. T. R. Whiteman made baseboards, bookshelves, doors, fireplaces, stairways, and windows in his South Elkins woodworking shop, he took responsibility for the quality of his work.

Mr. Boyd Simpson put seven coats of varnish on all that woodwork with similar pride in the final products that still exist in the Kump House 94 years later.

Over the last few years we have found a few good local builders, electricians, and plumbers who recognize the quality of older construction materials and know how to work with them. Most of these people are over fifty and some are over seventy. Few people have the skills to repair metal pipes or update electrical wiring now. Most builders lack the sense of joy that motivated those who loved to make local hardwood products, and such products are not widely available now.

Real natural products are almost gone, along with the idea of taking pride in doing excellent manual work that motivated earlier skilled builders in West Virginia.