Sandy West’s family bought Ossabaw Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, in 1924. For almost a century, she inhabited the “Main House,” one of the few buildings on the island, and worked to protect the island and share its beauty with others. In 2010, FAIC joined furniture conservator David Bayne in a program to bring emerging conservation students to the island to gain hands-on training in historic home housekeeping and preventive conservation. The culmination of four summer workshops on the island resulted in a 40-page guide to caring for West’s home, prepared in 2015 for the State of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, which will gain control of the house after West’s death.
As a result of West’s eventual financial instability, the 25,000-acre island was sold in 1978 to the State of Georgia for a discounted price in hopes of preserving the sacred place. As a result, Ossabaw became Georgia’s first Heritage Preserve. The deal with the state allowed for West to remain in the colonial revival mansion on the island until her death (at the time, a state-hired actuary predicted she’d live to be 78). Now at the age of 103, West recently relocated to Savannah to access more affordable full-time care.
The FAIC workshops (see the plan for the 2015 course) taught the basics of preventive conservation in the pink 1920’s Main House. Ossabaw’s remoteness and climate presented a unique medley of housekeeping problems for the groups to consider. These workshops explored the relationship between objects, their history of use, and their long-term preservation in a historic house setting.
During each day of the two-week program, participants learned about different materials and how to care for them. The activities ranged from pest management to furniture handling; textile cleaning to taxidermy examination; and maintenance of book and paper collections. Participants gained experience in assessing and prioritizing issues with limited time and resources. The site contextualized objects in poor condition with their environment and acted as a counterpoint to the experience of working in a museum lab.
FAIC’s Ossabaw Housekeeping Guide provides yearly, quarterly, monthly, and weekly care recommendations specific to the main rooms of the house based on the objects and materials in the room. Pests, light levels, temperature, and relative humidity were monitored, with recordings included in the guide. Suggestions for crisis housekeeping are also included, and may be incorporated in a full disaster plan in the future.
For several reasons, including difficulty in getting to the island, FAIC had to find a new location for the historic house training workshop. The 2016 workshop is currently taking place with eight participants and five instructors at Staatsburgh State Historic Site, a property owned by the New York State Bureau of Historic Preservation. Keep an eye out for blog posts by the participants coming soon.
As West’s time on Ossabaw Island ends and the state prepares to take over the Main House, they are equipped with a solid resource for implementing a standard of practice and recommendations to be considered for the future care of the historic home.
You can find a review of the program from a 2012 participant on the blog: http://www.conservators-converse.org/2012/10/review-of-faic-preventive-conservation-workshop-ossabaw-island-ga-january-7-20-2012/ and an article on a workshop presented as a talk at our annual meeting in San Francisco (from which the above photographs have been reposted): http://www.conservators-converse.org/2014/06/42nd-annual-meeting-collection-care-session-may-29-the-ossabaw-island-workshops-preventive-conservation-training-in-a-real-life-setting-by-david-bayne/
–Article by Sarah Saetren (FAIC Education Coordinator) with Bonnie Naugle