Friday, April 24, 2009

PCLS Interview: Ilene Rogers Tyler

If you wander around in the histo presto universe it is difficult not to get to know Ilene Rogers Tyler and in time become infected with her overwhelmingly generous spirit of curiosity to explore old buildings and share with her peers, whoever they may be on any particular adventure. At the risk giving everyone the impression that a qualification for a PCLS interview is having written a book (which is not the case), Ilene is a co-author of Historic Preservation: An Introduction to Its History, Principles, and Practice (Second Edition). Google preview here. Amazon here.

Do you have a name? What is it today?

Hmmmm, still going by “Ilene Rogers Tyler,” last I looked. I like using my middle/maiden name, Rogers, because the moniker shortens to IRT, and not IT. IRT feels strong, whereas IT carries someone else’s baggage.

Where do you live these days?

Downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan -- and I do mean downtown. Sold the suburban bungalow seven years ago to really live in, and appreciate, our mid-sized city. Turns out it is the “green” thing to do, ahead of the trend.

What is it that you tell people that you do for a living?

I always say, first, that I am an architect. Then, I might go on to say I work on old buildings, figuring them out and describing what needs to be done to preserve them. I created a book in Shutterfly for my new grandson, and the funniest section is about what I do for a living. Photos of his grandmother climbing on roofs makes everyone laugh, but of course I’m serious about loving to do it and be involved in these projects.

What is it that your peers think that you do every day?

First, one must consider who are my peers? Other architects? Other preservationists? Most, I think, know I’m into old buildings, figuring them out and documenting the work to keep them whole.

Tell us something we do not know.

For three years my husband and I owned a fast food, or short order, restaurant in rural Pennsylvania. We made all our own stuff, nothing pre-packaged, and it was hard work. Been there, done that, and never again. While in PA, we also built our own “experimental” house and had a thriving small practice designing solar homes.

How did you get into doing what you do?

I joined Quinn Evans Architects in 1986, when I needed a job, and the firm needed a project architect to assist with documenting restoration of the Wayne County Courthouse.

How did you first become interested in your career?

High-school Career Day. “Architect” was one of three careers I chose to consider, and I talked to the local visiting architect. Next day, I convinced the high school shop teacher to let me join the mechanical drafting class.

Of what projects are you particularly proud?

Parthenon restoration in Nashville, TN

U of M Detroit Observatory, Ann Arbor, MI

Pere Marquette Depot restoration in Bay City, MI

What was the most interesting project that you worked on? Why was it interesting?

Parthenon, for sure, because I learned so much as part of the team charged with restoring the structure - Greek building terminology, John J. Earley concrete design, classical architecture, museum operations, teamwork.

What is your favorite part?

Inspection and quality assurance. Each month during construction, the project team reviewed finished pieces as they were delivered to the job site. As a unified voice, we assessed their overall design, colors, and mating to the existing structure.

What is your least favorite part?

Flying between Detroit and Nashville was relatively convenient for the job, but never fun.

What happened on the best day?

Flying in the gryphons as part of the completion celebration on December 31, 2000 was a thrill, capping the successful project. Fireworks and country music made it a memorable event.

What happened, if you can handle it, on the worst day?

David Evans died in the middle of the project. This loss had a tremendous impact on the project team. Having to step into the project as Principal, and getting the team to accept me, at the same time as coping with my personal loss, was the hardest thing (and worst day) of the entire project.

Who has been your biggest influence?

David Evans

Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist? Or just plain worn out?

Optimist. If you can find something good to say, you just might find yourself believing it. If you say it, then you might affect others in a similarly positive way. Can’t always do it, though…

As a child what career did you want as an adult?

Teacher, 3rd grade, because that was my favorite year. Memorable from that year was the beginning of a six-year process to build our new school. I still have my 3rd grade essay on “The Day They Moved the House” to make way for the expanded site of the new school. This culminated in our 8th grade move-in, with many stories along the way.

As a child what career did you not want as an adult?

Auto parts sales manager. Family business that seemed decidedly unfriendly to women. When I worked there as a child doing inventory, I viewed the work as fun. As a career, though, it did not seem to offer much for me personally. I needed to do something as different from auto parts sales as I could imagine… hence architecture.

Who said that you are an adult now?

I don’t remember…

Did your parents influence you in a positive or negative way?

Positive. Good people and loving parents, but they didn’t understand my need to strike out on my own.

What advice would you give to a young person starting out?

Have a dream.

Do you enjoy travel, or staying in one place?

Travel, but from a home base I really like (i.e. Ann Arbor).

If you had a choice to do something else, what would it be?

More hands-on investigation and restoration of the projects I inspect. Of course, living in a historic house satisfies much of that.

Do you have any pets? If so, can you tell us about them? Spiders and pet snails count.

None currently. By association, I enjoy my husband’s reef tank. Georgie, the Jawfish, has personality. Our two sons have a dog and a cat, respectively.

Is there any extra special historic site that you want to visit, and if so, why?

The Acropolis. Seems logical to see the real Parthenon before I die.

Education… what one thing do you think was the most interesting part of your education? Where?

U of M Architecture School had it’s moments of sheer joy amidst the pain. I always loved our studio classes in Lorch Hall. I made great friends in studio, even married one, and have fond memories of everything but architecture happening there. I guess it’s where I learned about life in my microcosm of college. Sophomore year was the highlight, many stories, no worries.

Please tell us about a few of the people that you like. But not if you really don’t like them.

I like Norm, my husband etc. He challenges me and he supports me; he’s my biggest fan and my worst critic. He’s reliable and he’s annoying. Etc. I like a lot of other people, too, but I’m reluctant to single them out for this survey.

What one book have you read that you would recommend?

I read a wide variety of stuff, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. I suppose it’d be cheating to recommend my own book, but it’s so new that I’m still getting used to the idea of being an author. Co-author, really, but my name is on the cover! So, Historic Preservation: An Introduction to Its History, Principles, and Practice, 2nd Edition. W.W. Norton, 2009.

Beyond the self-serving nature of the above, I really liked Pillars of the Earth, and, more recently, Loving Frank, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Three Cups of Tea.

What one book would you tell everyone to ignore?

Telling everyone to ignore a book is another form of recommending it, since you have to tell people what to ignore, and that mentions the name more often than it might deserve.

How many books do you think that you own?

A thousand, plus or minus a few.

Are they on shelves or in boxes?

We love our bookshelves, and almost all our books are out somewhere. We have built-in bookshelves in the library and dining room, and bought shelving units in our office. But then I have another couple hundred books in my office at work. I also feel personally connected to the library at work, since I purchased many of them for shared use at the office. These must number into a couple thousand, unless I overrate the collection in my mind.

Do you prefer artwork or music to books?

Books are the best, sometimes with a concurrent dose of music, and perhaps complemented by 2D art. There is nothing I like better than curling up in a cozy chair with a good book. It’s nice when the sun reaches this perfect reading spot, and great if the chair is comfortable enough in which to take a nap.

Do you mind telling us a bit about how your family puts up with your career and deviant interests?

There is a lot of teasing about when I’m really going to set aside my work, or give them more time, take more time off. I’ve even been recorded at four-year intervals repeatedly promising to cut back. My husband and sons always knew they could count on me in an emergency. However, they knew and expected that I would always be working overtime or on projects that looked a lot like work.

What do you like to do when you are not doing this?

For starters, reading a book. When available, walking a beach. Sometimes cooking will satisfy me, with the reward of good food that can be shared. Gardening is a great pastime, but only for half the year. Writing is becoming increasingly important. I have stories to tell, but I need to work on getting them out in a way that is interesting to read. Redoing our kitchen has opened up new avenues of entertainment and dining. Group cooking, like pizza-making or salads or latkes, is not only possible in our new kitchen, it’s fun and safe and satisfying. Gardening is an escape. I like the dirt and having a reason to be outside without too much thinking. It’s a great way to appreciate being at home in the city.

What is your favorite music? Do you play any instruments? Can you hum?

Folk music is my favorite. I can dabble at the piano, but not good enough to sing along with my playing. I like to sing along to my husband’s or sons’s playing, but mostly show tunes or old pop stuff.

Do you like to paint or draw? Or would you rather be carving? Do you like to write?

I took a watercolor class last winter with hopes of doing more on my own. I love the medium, but haven’t dedicated the time to be good…yet. Yes, I do like to write.

If we left you alone what would you do next?

Pick up a book and read until something else happened, most likely sleep.

How about e-mail?

Remember Pine? When email first came out, we had access using Pine through Norm’s teaching at EMU, and I remember the first days of Bullamanka-Pinheads email. Norm hated sharing what he considered spam, and I didn’t know how to get my own address until I had it at work. It’s hard to reconstruct how it all started, and gradually took over my life.

What is your favorite tool?

Camera, if I may be allowed to call the camera my tool. I use it often enough. If you mean hammers, and stuff, I’m not sure if I have a favorite.

What is your favorite material to work with?

Pictures, I guess digital, to create photo books, newsletters, cards, and posters. Does that count?

Do you have any friends or family that you want mentioned?

Husband, Norm. No pets. Sons Joshua (and daughter-in-law Gesara) and Joseph. Grandson Remy Jeht Tyler, born this year.

How do you come at teaching others, at passing on your experience and knowledge?

I love teaching my class at EMU, which transfers to informally mentoring younger staff at work. I love writing about it and presenting at conferences, because the process challenges me to learn new stuff. I love to facilitate the learning process, engaging with those who want to learn, not lecturing at them.

"Life is short, no complaints."

Friday, April 10, 2009

PCLS Interview: John Leeke

John Leeke, based in his woodwork shop in Portland, Maine, has made a career not only as a woodworker but as a writer, with several how-to publications, as an internet videographer, and as a workshop instructor who draws on his extensive knowledge and experience to assist property owners throughout the small towns of America.

His website can be found at Historic HomeWorks.

John recently released a new book, Save America's Windows. It includes a section on how to avoid falling under the spell of the window replacement salesman.

Do you have a name? What is it today?

John Leeke

by hammer and hand great works do stand

by pen and thought best words are wrought

by mind and heart we share the art

My dad said I could be anything I want except two things, a roofer and a cooper. (His joke was, Who would buy a bucket or a roof from a guy named “Leaky”?) In reality an important part of my building conditions assessment and investigation work is tracking down moisture in buildings and discovering the water leaks. When I sit down to talk with a building committee about their roof leaks I overhear the whispered comment about my name, so I crack a joke about it and everyone laughs.

How did you first become interested in your career?

When I was two years old in 1951 my dad built the house where I grew up. In a recurring dream throughout my life I’m about ten years old in this house. If I lean on an interior wall just right I slip into a room that does not seem to exist in the real house. It’s sort of like the stud-space within the wall expands to become an entire room. My vision in there is bluish and a little fuzzy. There are many vertical posts and I can float around through other rooms, it’s like a maze that I can figure out if I don’t wake up too soon. Eventually I find my way out via the furnace room. Back in real life, as an adult, I told my dad about this dream. He grinned and said I was just two years old when he brought me to the house during construction and carried me around through the rooms after the stud walls and were up, but before the plasterers came. That was my introduction to modern building practice. I believe this dream is a memory. It is still a ready reference to that early experience.

Our family spent many vacations visiting my grandma Julia, who lived in a little Queen Anne house built in the 1890s. One Christmas when I was eight we had a big family reunion there. The house was packed full of uncles, aunts and cousins. My dad and I ended up sleeping in the attic. We went up the steep stairs with arms full of blankets, quilts and a candle. It was freezing cold up there. He spread out the quilts on the floorboards from the chimney over under the eaves, then we both crawled back under the eaves and rolled up in the quilts together, rolling toward the chimney, ending up with me between my dad and the warm chimney where it was nice and cozy. The first night we fell asleep counting the rafters up above. The second night we ran out of rafters, so we counted the shingle nails poking down through the roofer boards. They were easy to see and count in the dim candlelight because each one had a little tuft of white frost on it. That was my introduction to traditional building practice. We returned many times to fix the porch posts, mend the screen door, explore the cellar ….

As I grew up the comparison and contrast of those two houses and an early start in my dad’s woodworking shop led to my career as an historic building specialist.

If there is one thing that you can say is important, what is it and why is it important? Who cares?

It is the people who are important. The people who live and work in the buildings, and who work on the buildings now. The people who built them and lived in them in the past. After you understand and take care of the people, then the building becomes important.

Is there any extra-special historic site that you want to visit, and if so, why?

My 8th-great grandfather wrote and published the first English translation of Vignola’s Five Orders of Architecture, titled “The Regular Architect.” It was used by those ingenious tradespeople to rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666. I would like to visit some of those classically styled structures to see if I can catch their vibes.

Education… what one thing do you think was the most interesting part of your education? Where?

When I was a kid I thought my dad was teaching me about working with wood. As an adult I talked with him about this. He said, “Oh no, I was teaching you about working with people. We just happen to know about woodwork so the people who need woodworking are the ones we can best help… I was teaching you how to use and make tools, so you can do any kind of work… I was teaching you about connecting with the real world…”

I went to public school to learn the basics, but my real education was when my dad sent me around town to sketch and draw the important buildings. When we meet up, ask me to tell the story about sketching the balustrade at the Nebraska State Capitol Building.


I have hundreds, perhaps over a thousand books. My high school physics and chemistry books are definitely on the shelves. I can’t possibly keep all that good info in my head. So my shelves of books seem like a kind of memory.

I think first books are important. My first trades-related book was Audel’s Carpenters and Builders Guide. My dad had bought the 4-volume set when it first came out in 1923, when he was 17. When I was 17 my dad handed them to me to keep at my own bench.

I grew up in my father's woodworking shop and had my own bench by the time I was ten years old. Occasionally I had questions he could not answer right off. I can picture it in my mind, as I stood at his bench he would reach up to the bookshelf above the bench saying, "Let's just ask Theo. Audel about that." When he bought his Audel's he was just starting in the trades. The small toolbox-sized volumes had a weighty heft that suggested the extensive woodworking information compacted on their thin pages. Gold embossed subtitles like “Cornice Work,” “Saw Troubles” and “Piazza Details” sparkled on the spines like gems--just a hint of the treasury in woodworking knowledge to be discovered within.

On the black leather cover was embossed an emblem, not in gold, but very subtle, barely noticeable: a hammer floating over the sunrise. My dad would take my hand in his and guide my fingers to touch and slide over the emblem and ask, "Where do we seek knowledge?" I respond, "In the east." He asks "What is the carpenter's tool?" I respond, "The hammer." --all mysterious to me, I didn't get it right away, thinking "let's just look up the answer, here's the index right here." Then he would say, "Yes, in the east, at the beginning," as he opened Audel’s up to the title page. At the top of the title page was printed:

"by hammer and hand all things do stand"

So, every time we looked up in Audels, my dad would begin by reading the motto there, "by hammer and hand all things do stand." Well, after a couple years I knew the ritual by heart and by the time his hand was up to the book on the shelf I could cut to the quick with: "begin in the east, by hammer and hand all things to stand." When I was thirteen I had arrived at that place in the east where the sun begins to rise, and I began making rather realistic pencil drawings and my dad said, "Anyone who can draw like that becomes the woodcarver of the shop." I was used to doing what my dad said, so I did become the woodcarver and when I was fifteen I carved a crest out of white oak for a fraternity down at the university. It was acclaimed by the client and by my dad as a "great work." I adapted and adopted the Audels motto as my own:

"By Hammer and Hand Great Works Do Stand"

which has been my motto ever since. So, it’s hard to tell what you will get from a book. Information for sure, but sometimes true guidance.

Do you garden?

One other thing I wanted to be, but did not become, was a farmer. Many of my early grade school friends’ dads were farmers. My own dad picked up on this interest real quick and we began planting trees as a hobby. No, “hobby” is not the right word. It was not an “escape” it was an extension of our shop work that transcended current time and place. The wood we used had started growing a century before us. Our goal was to replace all the trees we used in our shop, twofold, so there would be enough trees and wood for future woodworkers. This was an important part of our real work in this world. Arbor Day was more fun than my birthday and it came two weeks sooner. Over the years we planted two or three thousand trees. I forget the exact numbers—they are marked on a post beside the door of our shop.

I like to plant trees. I have always kept an acorn or buckeye in my pocket every day, so when I find a likely spot I can stick it in the earth. Last year I got back to Wabash, Nebraska, where, 47 years ago, my dad and I stopped by to talk with Wayne Robertson about his walnut trees down along Weeping Water Crick. I had stuck a buckeye in the ground at the edge of the lawn in front his old farmhouse. Wayne has passed away, but I was there with his son who had his little boy along. When I reached around that tree my fingers did not touch on the other side. We stood there talking about how old the tree is and how big it is. We all bent over to pick up a buckeye and put it in our pocket. He said his dad reminded him every summer to not mow down John’s horse chestnut tree. I said the tree didn’t belong to me, it must belong to him since he took care of it all those years. He looked at me, then at his own son and said, “Looks like I’m giving this tree to you.” His boy glanced at me, his eyes widened, bugging out. As he leaned back his gaze scanned up the trunk high into the tree and he fell over on the grass grinning then laughing.

Playing with Faux Doors

This is a steel framed door in a church on 5th Ave., NYC, with a plaster inset panel made with an idea to blend into the limestone wall. The photo does not do full justice to our attempt to get the door in the ambient light of the church setting to become invisible into the wall. We did not make the door, our task was to clean up the existing for Easter 2009.

It still looks good and blends in now that it has had a bit of time to dry out.

Our friend Nick Micros was the last one, pre 2001, to work on cleaning up the door. Since he moved with his family off to Switzerland we get the fun of working in the path behind him.

The plaster takes a good deal of abuse and needs a spruce up on occasion.