Housebuilding at Plimoth Plantation
Deep down in the annex of Plimoth Plantation’s Visual Arts Department, there’s a small, fluorescent-saturated room, buzzing with climate control and filled with negatives, slides, and prints. The visual archives at Plimoth Plantation reveal a rich history of our 65-yr-old institution. There you will find old friends, legends you have never met, and younger versions of one’s own self. There are slides and negatives recording construction techniques and methods used at the very inception of our museum. It’s humbling, daunting, and energizing–all at once–to have a look through all those folders and file cabinets: Where did we come from? How did we get here? My god, what have I done!
After 65 years it’s acceptable to contemplate one’s own institutional navel. The key is to look at the records without passing judgement and to consider that what may initially seem quaint or inefficient or historically inaccurate, was once a first, and was part of a pioneering way of seeing history. There are many “firsts” recorded on film in our archives, and for that alone we are grateful. Humility goes a long way down here, knowing that one day our work and methods and hairstyles will look just as dated to someone looking back at the records we leave behind in some future annex.
As a primer to our forthcoming posts on house-frame construction,The Riven Word takes a little journey in the way-back machine to better understand our own museum’s history of colonial-house construction, even as we try to rediscover the 17th-century while moving into the 21st.
Well, how did I get here?
Processing timber for a frame has always involved hand-work. Once it was common to surface squared mill-sawn stock, to give it a hand-wrought appearance.
We still work the house timbers, though our methods have changed.
Sometimes the work seeems strangely familiar…
…even if the faces are different…
…and the techniques have changed. Standing on the shoulders of giants, we’d like to think that we are that much closer to discovering historical truths.
We used to do much good work behind the scenes, out of view of our guests…
…and that had a purpose in allowing us the time and concentration necessary to re-discover ancient techniques.
As we laid the groundwork of understanding and appropriate methods, we became more confident in sharing our labors with museum guests.
Methods of construction once involved a hybrid of modern materials and historic interpretations.
These days, it’s off to the marshes–
And into the sawpit–
…to gather and to make our building materials.
Specific details come and go–water dissolving and water removing…
…but from space, or from the bottom of the ocean, it all looks about the same.
Through the decades, work here has always been done in earnest, taking advantage of the latest research and understanding.
Tweaking the methods, though, will sometimes turn things on their head. This is to be expected.
Time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us.
Fashion is a fickle mistress.
But work and discovery remain a constant–water flowing underground…
This post is made possible by the institutional memories and sublime photographry of great people like:
Marie “pour les oiseaux” Pelletier
Al “fantasy baseball” Solomon
Ted “beret-wearin” Avery
Ted “where’s my hammer” Curtin
Gary “Indiana Jones”Andrasko
Jerel “size 13″ Dye
Thanks for your part in keeping history alive and relevant.