Remarks from Knox Mellon and Paula Wallace: 2016 Louise du Pont Crowninshield Recipient

By Forum Online posted 11-18-2016 15:35


Remarks from Knox Mellon: 2016 Louise du Pont Crowninshield Recipient

As everyone who has ever been involved with saving historic sites and structures knows, historic preservation is first and foremost a group effort. Any recognition of my personal involvement could not have occurred without assistance. In accepting this wonderful Crowninshield Award I do so with thanks to the dedicated associates who participated in all my varied projects over almost 41 years.

When I became California’s first professional SHPO [state historic preservation officer] and began work, people would often ask, “What do you do?” When I replied I worked in historic preservation, the answer was almost always, “What is that?” I doubt if there are any new SHPOs today who would receive that answer—certainly not in California.

How exciting it has been for me to make a career out of helping to save historic buildings and structures—and even more significant to witness whole populations across the country learning over time about that exciting new movement, historic preservation. How lucky I have been to venture throughout the great state of California, from Redding in the north to San Diego in the south, helping to restore and rebuild its historic fabric. All across the United States, historic preservation is both known and appreciated. And finally, what a blessing it is to have the leadership of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Remarks from Paula Wallace: 2016 Louise du Pont Crowninshield Recipient

What an unforgettable honor to stand here tonight among the legends of historic preservation: Lee Adler, Richard Moe, Robert Silman, Henry Francis du Pont, Marguerite Neel Williams, so many others. What giants! My goodness, I am no giant. What I am is humbled, yes, and grateful to accept this highest of honors in our profession. When I founded SCAD four decades ago, I never dreamed I’d become the first university president to receive this award. I am in awe.

To all the honorees, congratulations! Tonight we’ve seen a glimpse into the vibrant future of our profession. For make no mistake, that is the province of historic preservation: in the future and our fearless remaking of yesterday into tomorrow.

How did I get here? Before I created SCAD, I was a schoolteacher. Up to that point, all I’d historically preserved were the blackberries I picked at my grandmother’s farm. In 1978, the year we founded our then-tiny college, I was 28 years old and new to Savannah. I knew nobody, and worse, I was from up North … by which I mean Atlanta. I was a girl with a dream: to create a university with the same magic I’d made in my elementary school classrooms, where I showed my students what the past longed to teach us and then how to use this knowledge to write songs, make film strips, stage musicals. In short, to use the lessons of history to make something new. The act of creation breathed life into those students.

When I saw the old Armory on Bull Street—SCAD’s very first building—I fell in love. I longed to breathe life into this dignified old building, creating anew just as I had with my young students. I threw open those doors with no idea what lay in store. The moment I first touched those century-old, soot-stained walls of the Armory, I believed we could transform that dilapidated structure into a thriving home for higher education … where the mind longs to know, the hands long to make, the heart longs to love. This was the first lesson in my 40-year preservation education: that buildings are made by people for people, and that preservation is more than a restorative act. It is a creative act. My understanding of historic preservation evolved at a pace that would have astounded Darwin himself.

My parents and I poured our very lives into the Armory. My mother said we worked half-days … twelve hours a day. She and my father were children of the Great Depression, so everything was repurposed. In our family, old canning jars held straightened nails. Socks got darned. Every inch of typewriter ribbon lived many lives. Maybe that’s why I loved that old Armory. With creativity and countless coats of Vernax Furniture Polish, this glorious old building with its martial history was repurposed into a home dedicated to the creative act of adaptive new use.

Forty years later, SCAD is proud to have redeemed and rehabilitated more than 100 buildings on three continents. In Savannah, SCAD's Norris Hall, a former 19th-century refuge for women—spinsters and widows—in need, is now a refuge of academic reflection for SCAD international students from every corner of the globe. In Atlanta, SCAD's Ivy Hall, a premier example of Queen Anne Victorian architecture in the New South, now houses the most professionally oriented B.F.A. and M.F.A. writing programs in higher education. At SCAD Hong Kong, the courtroom and jail cells of the North Kowloon Magistracy Building stand witness and testify to the value of creative education in Asia's World City. At SCAD Lacoste in France, the centuries-old former stables of the Marquis de Sade have been transformed into the most awe-inspiring college residence hall the world has ever seen, with unbelievable views of the Provencal landscape. (By the way, if you ever find yourself working on the upcycling of medieval caves in Provence, I have one piece of advice: mind the scorpions!)

We engage our students in lively SCAD conservation and repurposing on three continents. Students inhabit SCAD buildings, write about them, photograph and draw them—students from every discipline: fashion to furniture design to visual effects. At SCAD, we don't merely teach preservation. Preservation teaches us.

When I wrote the first SCAD catalog in 1979, I knew that among the eight original degree programs we absolutely must include historic preservation. And today the B.F.A., M.A., and M.F.A. degree programs in the SCAD preservation design department continue to prepare graduates for influential work around the globe, where alumni have taken leadership roles at the National Trust, of course, as well as the National Park Service, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, and elsewhere. More than 45,000 alumni in all. And to think, it all started with one young woman and one old building.

I could never have known my life's work would take me where it has and would lead here, tonight, to this stage. I want to thank the National Trust. Where would any of us be without you? I want to thank my husband, Glenn, the genius behind all SCAD design. I must also thank my parents, who taught me to love and care for the past. And especially, I thank our SCAD family around the world. This honor is for them. It's for all the students out there. It's for a young woman, standing on Bull Street in Savannah, Georgia, 40 years ago, looking up at an old building that needed a lot of love, marching into those front doors, and never looking back. Thank you all.

#Houston2016 #PastForward #NationalPreservationAwards

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