Carving and Ceilidh: Vermilionville’s Restoration Specialist goes to Scotland

Thursday, October 10, 2019

In September 2019, the Preservation Trades Network awarded Vermilionville’s Restoration Specialist a professional training opportunity…in Scotland!

Here is her experience in her own words.


"It was mindblowing to stand in the presence of stone buildings that dated back to the 1400s. These are the oldest buildings I have ever seen. My favorite was Doune Castle (top). Visiting this enormous structure truly felt like time travel. This castle was so well preserved. I felt like I would see the queen sweeping around the corner at any moment or smell a feast being prepared in the kitchen. This space was unbelievable. Reading about castles is one thing but walking through their halls and up their spiraling stone staircases is quite another thing entirely. Because we were guests of the Historic Environment Scotland organization, which manages this castle, we were able to climb the scaffolding and look at the restoration work being done.

The way they talked about how difficult it is to find the right mixture of mortar to hold the stones together reminded me of the mystery that is our bousillage. It seems that some have found the magic ingredients and some have believed they did, only to see it fail and crumble in 10 to 20 years. Through hard work and many failed attempts, they seem to have gotten much closer to finding the right mixture. After looking at the repairs of the outside of the wall, we climbed to the very top to see the most beautiful view I have ever witnessed (below). I am so incredibly thankful for the work that the preservation industry puts into maintaining these historic places.




At the workshop we had demonstrators from all over the world show us their chosen trade. Some of these people have spent a lifetime honing their craft. I got to see how "cob" is made, which is very similar to bousillage. Soil, clay, and straw are mixed together to create earthen walls. Instead of having a timber frame with bousillage as a filler and insulator, the cob does not need a timber skeleton. The mixture is strong enough to stand alone. It does, however, need a solid stone base to build upon.

One of the most personally useful demonstrations was how to create historic moldings by using a table saw and finishing with a few specific hand tools (below). There are many times where preservation carpenters need to make a short section of replacement molding. It is extremely useful to know how to do this with just a few tools. If you had a large amount to manufacture, you would choose a profile and let a millwork shop create an abundance of long pieces for you. Most of the cost comes from the setup and fabricating specific knives to cut the profile. If you only need a few feet of the molding it is much more time and cost efficient to know how to do it yourself. I will be trying out this technique when making a few replacement moldings for Vermilionville.



A few of the other demonstrations that I really enjoyed were Thatch roofs, timber framing, mosaic tile, and cruck frame structures (below).



The culture there was overwhelmingly friendly. They seemed similar to us in the way we love to eat, drink, and have a great time. With there being such an abundance of historical structures, it seems like the whole town is involved in some type of way. Some referred me to a cool site to visit, and some have actually helped restore or repair something of historical significance. I met many locals who were enthusiastic about their history. My favorite local that I met during my trip was a woman named Mandy. She was the owner and operator of a tiny whiskey bar. When I say tiny, I mean the space itself, not its selection of whiskey! Mandy is kind of like the Scottish version of a sassy old Cajun woman. She is pretty tiny herself, but boy does she run a tight ship.

My favorite moment was when this rowdy group of guys came in after watching a rugby game. They started loudly singing some chat or song, and she slaps the bar and says, "No! We are not doing that tonight!" And they instantly quieted down with no hard feelings. She is a well-respected woman and a pleasure to chat with.

From spending time talking to her, I learned that she is also a woodcarver! She has done commissioned work for some of the city's historical interiors (below) and also carves her own designs to sell. Mandy told me that when she first started out, she only had enough money to buy 4 bottles of whiskey for her bar. Every time she had a little extra cash to spare she would buy another bottle. She now has over 130 types to choose from! She was so friendly to us, and I hope to visit her again someday!



I had such a wonderful time visiting Scotland. In addition to the magical setting of the workshop, I got to meet some truly amazing craftspeople. This group of people really feels like a family, and I have absolutely been roped in for the long haul. It is an important organization, and I feel so privileged to be a part of it."




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