The Bronx, New York, USA – August 2008, August 2009, August 2012
On a sunny morning in August, 2008, more than a dozen volunteers gathered under an ancient mulberry tree in the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum garden. They were to begin galleting out in the historic terrace garden and return the garden walkways to their original beauty.
Three years later on a hot, sunny August day, a different group of volunteers completed the project. Read on to see how AiP projects demonstrate the power of volunteer hands-on preservation.
Project and Results
Volunteers play a key role in preservation work at the Bartow-Pell Museum, a National Historic Landmark. Each summer for one week a group of volunteers arrived in the garden to meet the technical expert who wouldteach them the technique of galleting and then guide their work. Andy deGruchy, a masonry conservation specialist from Quakertown, Pennsylvania, started the project with great humor and dedication. His research and close inspection of the garden itself provided evidence that Delano and Aldrich, the designers, intended that no mortar be used to hold stones together; rather, a most elegant, but now obsolete technique called galleting had been used.
Volunteers had a variety of tools at their disposal, ranging from hands tools such as mallets and chisels to Andy’s own miniature guillotine for slicing stone and pneumatic tools needed to remove the Portland cement mortar that had been used to repair the flagstone steps. Project volunteers removed layers of concrete mortar and cut stone into small gallets. They then began the exacting process of filling each joint with tightly fitting gallets, akin to putting together a complicated creative puzzle.
The work continued the second and third years under the leadership of master mason Kevin Towle. AiP and the museum staff had estimated the project, at the rate of one section per week, would take four years to complete, but we underestimated just how hard the volunteers would work. At the end of the project’s third volunteer workweek – and 855 hours of volunteer labor – they had finished all four quadrants!
The completion of this project brings a greatly improved experience to the thousands of visitors who arrive each year. Stories and photos of the volunteer weeks are used as part of the education program Bartow-Pell provides to both school groups and visitors.
Hands-On and Beyond
Each year volunteers had “behind-the-scenes” tours of the mansion, which included not only the opulent entertaining and family rooms open to the public, but also a walk up the magnificent elliptical “floating” staircase to the attic. Here, in the mansion’s heyday, an ingeniously placed horizontal band of transom windows would draw the hot summer air from the lower floors up the spiraling stairwell and out of the residence. The tour also included a glimpse of the mansion’s basement, where, having fled northward to this pastoral sanctuary in the stifling hot summer of 1936, New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia directed the affairs of the city from a phone bank, whose staff cubicles are still intact today.
Lunchtime lectures and a trip to the bluestone quarry in Kingston, New York, to get a full understanding of the material they were working with were also part of the program.
Volunteers from the US and France enjoyed the experience equally. Hänsel Hernandez, an architectural conservator from New York City was particularly enthusiastic:
You don’t know how much fun I had (we had) taking part in this project. Andy was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic leader, and the team was just as excited to be there and do a good job. I think it shows with the end result.
Isabelle Ladrat, a student from France who spent the summer working on volunteer projects in the U.S., said:
Through this experience, I was rewarded in the sense that I met so many learned and patient people who just seemed so happy to show their knowledge and passion in renovation and preservation. I hope to do it again next year, it’s not just an experience of work, but it’s also – and the most part of it – an experience of life, of discovering a country and its culture.