What do you do when a dining room is not a dining room anymore? What do you do when the entire interpretation of a room changes, new information is being discovered, and the room looks different almost every day? That is one of the challenges of giving tours of a room that in undergoing investigation/restoration. It is also incredibly fun. Rather than keep what we are doing behind closed doors or barriers, we are inviting the public to explore and discover new information with the staff. I have been working at Stratford Hall for three years and this is the first time we have been able to walk all the way into the Dining Room.
Our visitors today are seeing the space a whole new perspective (both in the physical space and the information covered). You can lean in and see the grounds where the wood paneling was attached or the spot where historic paint samples were taken for analysis. You see the difference between the original and modern (1930s) plaster work. You can see the architectural ghost of the partition wall. We are now seeing things that had been covered for almost 80 years. When the project is completed it will all be covered again. Now is a small window in time to visit Stratford Hall and see behind the walls.
Stratford Hall is also very lucky that the individuals working on the investigation/restoration projects enjoy interacting with the public. Director of Preservation Phil Mark often contributes to the tours when he is working in the Dining Room. I remember one of the workmen in Parlor helping me out with vocabulary last year. I would always use the term cornice, but not everyone was familiar with the term. I was in the passageway struggling to remember another term when I heard one of the guys working on the woodwork yell out: “crown molding!”
A new element added to this project is the time lapse camera. The camera is mounted in the northwest corner of the room and is taking photographs at set intervals (changed depending on the nature of the work). The final product will be a time lapse video of the entire project, furniture out to furniture in. When we tell visitors, suddenly they will stand taller and smooth their clothes just in case. As of this week we have about 14,000 images, so the project is well documented.
If you cannot visit us in person, make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr. You can also subscribe to the e-newsletter (https://www.stratfordhall.org/more/newsletter/). We will continue to share updates on the project and cool new findings. If you cannot tell, we are really excited about the project!
-Abigail Newkirk, Director of Education