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Posts Tagged ‘restoration’

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Photo: Virginia Arts Festival
The original fire curtain of the Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, Virginia, depicts the Boston Massacre and the death of Crispus Attucks, the first to die in the Revolutionary War. Attucks was part African American and part Native American.

Don’t you love seeing old things restored and given new purpose? It’s not just the sight of a lovingly renewed object or building that’s inspiring, but the sense that anything that once had value can be brought back after years of abandonment.

Nicholas Som writes at CityLab, “Behind the modern walls of the Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, Virginia, century-old murals hide in darkness. Three pastoral scenes, created on the theater’s original 1919 walls, were uncovered in 2004 during the restoration that brought the theater back to life. But because of their age, exposing them to light and air could ruin them.

“ ‘Trying to find ways to create access to them without damaging them has been challenging,’ says Anthony Stockard, artistic director at Norfolk State University. So they’ll remain out of sight, sealed and preserved until a plan to display them safely can be established.

“Much like the murals, the history behind the Attucks itself is not immediately apparent from the brick and white terracotta that form the theater’s facade. But ask around Norfolk, and it won’t be too long before you find a city native with some kind of connection to the building. The place the Attucks holds in the collective memory of Norfolk’s African American community has not disappeared, even after years of vacancy, name changes, and collapsing ceilings.

“Appreciation for the Attucks is especially perceptible this year, the centennial of the theater’s construction. A steady stream of stars — from Leslie Jones of Saturday Night Live to basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — is lined up to speak or perform, complementing the typical artists the Attucks welcomes every year. Ticket sales have accordingly skyrocketed. …

“ ‘The Apollo of the South.’ That was the nickname the Attucks garnered, referencing the famed Big Apple music hall. With national sensations like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and Ella Fitzgerald frequenting the stage, the Attucks was more than worthy of the designation. …

“Perhaps the Apollo Theater should be known as ‘The Attucks of the North.’ Because unlike the Apollo, the Attucks was funded and designed exclusively by African Americans, an extremely rare occurrence at the time. Twin City Amusement Corporation, the original developer, was formed by a group of black business owners. They approached local architect Harvey Johnson, who went on to help found what became Norfolk State University, to draw up the plans.

“Johnson always intended for the Attucks to be more than just a performance venue; in addition, it doubled as a silent movie house and contained 21 upstairs offices for African American businesses (Johnson himself set up shop there after its completion). They named the theater in honor of Crispus Attucks, a man of African and Native American descent who was the first person to die in the Revolutionary War, and depicted his death on its fire curtain. …

“The end of World War II brought changes that even the Attucks could not survive—at least, not in the same way. Young soldiers with money to spend returned to the city, and as Norfolk began to desegregate, the once-vibrant Church Street declined.

“Eventually, the curtain fell on the building’s time as a theater in 1953. … Denise Christian, project manager for the Attucks’ restoration, helped devise a three-phase approach. The first stage addressed the most pressing concerns: the blighted roof and the preservation of the historic curtain.

“Once pieces of the ceiling were no longer falling and the curtain had been cleaned and stored, the team moved on to the reconstruction of the auditorium seats, which had all been removed during the room’s years as a storage space. They decided to build around 700 new seats for comfort’s sake, though the theater originally squeezed in many more. Significant repairs also had to be made to the balcony and box seats.

“Finally, the Attucks was equipped with the modern trappings necessary for a multipurpose theater to succeed in the 21st century. A new three-story wing behind the building provides banquet rooms, dressing rooms, a green room, and a loading dock, transforming the Attucks into a place for events and arts classes, not just entertainment. …

“For Stockard, personally, being selected to co-chair Attucks100 by Norfolk mayor Kenny Alexander has felt like the culmination of a career-long dream, a ‘bucket-list moment. …

” ‘There was sort of a sense of nostalgia, of realizing these bricks were laid for and organized by African Americans,’ he says. ‘It was revolutionary for them to invest in the arts and entertainment that way—not just being the act, but being the producer and provider, and being able to control the place they had in the community.’ ”

More here.

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Photos: AFP/THOMAS COEX
Renovated mosaics and columns inside the Church of the Nativity in the occupied West Bank biblical city of Bethlehem.

Do you like mosaics? I relate to arts such as mosaics or collage because I love putting pieces of things together to make something new. As quilters do. And editors. And activists who change the world one by one.

This is a story from Bethlehem, in the Palestinian Territories, where restoration work has tapped the artistry of workers who can envision how small pieces together make a whole.

Clothilde Mraffko writes at Yahoo News, “Masked for centuries by the soot of candles and lately by scaffolding, the mosaics of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity have been restored. …

“Over the past 15 months, experts have cleaned and repaired surviving fragments of the 12th century masterworks, preserving 1,345 square feet (125 square metres) of what was once 21,528 square feet (2,000 square metres) of glittering gold and glass. The rest has been eaten away by wear, humidity, wars and earthquakes.

“Now the restored remains shine against the white walls above the heads of visitors to the church in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem that marks the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

“Overlooking the nave are seven angels framed in gold who appear to have landed on a carpet of vivid green grass. …

” ‘These mosaics are made of gold leaf placed between two glass plates,’ Marcello Piacenti, who supervises the work on behalf of his Italian family restoration firm Piacenti, told AFP [Agence France-Presse]. ‘Only faces and limbs are drawn with small pieces of stone.’

“One of the partially destroyed angel figures was restored using different materials to the original so as not to mislead future archaeologists. [!]

“Ibrahim Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian Authority (PA) engineer said the transformation caused by the restoration is striking. ‘When you entered the church before, you could not even make out that there were mosaics, it was so black,’ he said.

“In a rarity for the period, the works were signed by the craftsmen responsible, Abed Rabbo said. …

“Father Asbed Balian is the senior cleric of the Armenian church at the basilica, where property rights are shared with the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox faiths. After seeing the completed restoration, he said, he was ‘stunned. … Spiritually, we feel more exalted.’ …

“When the Palestinian Authority began renovations in 2013, ‘the basilica was in danger,’ PA restoration consultant Afif Tweme said. …

” ‘It’s very special, because of the location,’ said Piacenti. ‘Sometimes I have to force them (workers) to leave’ at the end of the day.” More here.

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Photo: Bobby Bascomb
The Grupo Vidas crew taking a break from their coral restoration work in Puerto Rico.

Perhaps inadvertently, media stories lead one to believe that all Puerto Ricans are passively waiting for the Mounties to rescue them from the destruction of Hurricane Maria. The Mounties surely better get their act together, but residents of the island are not counting on them. They’re taking matters into their own hands. I plan to post soon about the women who are rebuilding the island’s farming industry, but today the topic is restoring damaged coral reefs.

The National Public Radio (NPR) show Living on Earth has the story.

“Roughly 10 percent of Puerto Rico’s corals were broken and damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Corals are a first line of defense against storm surges and a critical habitat for juvenile fish but face an uphill battle against warming seas, ocean acidification and ship groundings. As Host Bobby Bascomb reports, Puerto Ricans are finding ways to give corals a fighting chance by reattaching healthy fragments. …

“BASCOMB: Chunks of coral were broken off by rough seas and ocean swells. But on a recent trip to Puerto Rico, I discovered there’s still hope for thousands of battered bits of coral lying around the sea floor.

“I’m standing on a tall dune near Vega Baja on Puerto Rico’s north coast. The ocean stretches out in shades of dark blue, turquoise, and pale aquamarine. But interspersed among the usual colors of a tropical ocean are patches of brownish orange – elkhorn coral.

“Salvador Loreano is a worker with the environmental NGO Grupo V.I.D.A.S. Their main task is coral restoration.

“S. LOREANO: Our goal right now is to plant coral fragments here because you know that Maria, Hurricane Maria, came here and devastated the island. This caused great damage to the coral reef because the first time we went to there after Maria, the reef was like destroyed, like we see big coral colonies upside down and a lot of dead coral.

“BASCOMB: As long as they remain submerged under water, these coral, which are colonies of tiny invertebrate animals, have a 20 percent chance of survival. But that increases to more than 90 percent if they are attached to a larger structure, not getting banged around by the surf or smothered with sand.

If a piece of coral is at least 2 inches long and 80 percent healthy, it can actually be reattached to an existing reef. …

“MARIOLA LOREANO: [Here’s] a slate where we write our tallies, basically, which is all of the fragments that we’ve successfully planted, a bag for any trash that we find inside the ocean, and a buoy so it floats. …

“BASCOMB: We put on our mask, snorkel, and fins and walk backwards into the bath-warm water, stepping over the sharp black sea urchins. … A rainbow of fish greets us – green fish with florescent blue heads, black fish with yellow stripes, green fish with pink stripes. They’re all juvenile fish, and the reef is a critical habitat for them. …

“A worker named Ernesto is already hard at work. He uses a wire brush to scrape algae off a piece of coral the size of a ping pong paddle and does the same to a suitable spot on the reef. Just like gluing two objects together, you need to start with a clean surface on both sides. Then he pulls a plastic zip tie out of his sleeve and uses it to attach the coral in place.

“He uses pliers with a florescent pink handle to pull the zip tie tight and cut off the excess plastic, which he sticks in his other sleeve. This piece of coral is now one of hundreds just like it pinned to the reef with zip ties. And in two to three weeks, it will grow onto the reef enough to stay put on its own. …

“BASCOMB: If hurricane damage was the only issue, this work wouldn’t be necessary. But much like the world’s coral reefs in general, this reef has a lot of challenges. Grupo V.I.D.A.S. worker Ernesto says one of the biggest problems is algae blooms from sewage runoff. In many places the coral is essentially smothered, leaving it a ghostly gray color. …

“E. VÉLEZ GANDÍA: It’s like Day of the Dead but under the water.

“BASCOMB: There is a very large dead coral at the entrance to the reef in the shallowest, warmest water. Ernesto believes that one died not from algae blooms but from stress of a warming ocean. … Ernesto talks about the death of that coral as one might talk about a member of the family passing away.

“VÉLEZ GANDÍA: And we got a lot of love for him. We saw him alive, very alive. He is one of the oldest in our reef, but he start dying. We saw the process of his death. So, we just admire him and remember him. It’s very sentimental, I don’t know, but it’s deep in the heart.”

More at Living on Earth, here. And you can read another article about ways to save reefs at Earther, here.

Photo: Sean Nash
Elk horn coral are part of a vital reef ecosystem that provide habitat for fish. In Puerto Rico, many were damaged after Hurricane Maria.

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When I was last in Manhattan, I took a photo of a putative Banksy stencil. It’s one that the gourmet food emporium Zabar’s helped to preserve in 2013, when the British street artist was said to be tagging all five New York City boroughs.

I have written often about Banksy — here, for instance. I get a real kick out of his ideas and the fact that he works by stealth. (Speaking of that, if you search on the word “stealth” at the blog, you will find all kinds of examples.)

Banksy’s art, like other street art, is not necessarily meant to last for the ages, but he has become such a phenomenon that there are now efforts to restore murals that have been painted over.

The BBC reports from Scotland, “Restoration work is under way on three early works by the artist Banksy which were accidentally painted over with grey emulsion in a Glasgow nightclub.

“The murals, which feature a gun-toting monkey in a tutu and a framed Mona Lisa, were created as part of an exhibition at The Arches in 2001. But they were mistakenly covered in 2007 then left after the club went into administration [bankruptcy] in 2015.

“A team of restorers are expected to take five months to uncover the works. … Banksy created the works, which also feature the words ‘Every time I hear the word culture I release the safety on my 9mm’ when he was beginning his career as a graffiti artist.

“They were shown as part of the ‘Peace is Tough‘ exhibition in March 2001, … but six years later, and long after Banksy had established himself as an international artist, the murals were covered with grey emulsion during refurbishment work at the nightclub.

“When the club went into administration in 2015, the then owners had considered restoring the murals and selling them to clear the club’s debts.

“Chris Bull, technical director at Fine Arts Restoration Co (Farco), which is carrying out the restoration, said the murals were the only known works by Banksy in Scotland with any provenance. …

“The new owners of the venue, Argyle Street Arches, say they now want to save the works for the nation. … Once complete the works will be put on permanent display.”

More at the BBC, here.

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Photo: The Stage
The cast of Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels at Liverpool’s restored Art Deco Royal Court theater has had six runs and has been seen by more than 175,000 people.

Before restoration began on a dilapidated theater in Liverpool, a decision was made to ensure the new venue was truly responsive to everyday Liverpudlians.

Catherine Jones writes at The Stage, “The Scouse Nativity broke attendance records at Liverpool’s Royal Court [in December] after 42,000 people flocked through the doors of the art deco building during the play’s run.

“It’s not a bad way to see in its 80th anniversary year for a venue that has gone from outsider status on the city’s art scene to ‘people’s theatre’ over the course of a decade. There has been a theatre on the site for almost 200 years.

Pablo Fanque, celebrated in Beatles song ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite,’ performed there in the Victorian era when circus acts and variety thrilled the crowds.

“The current [venue] has been through many incarnations since it opened with musical comedy Under Your Hat in 1938. … When the current team took over the city council-owned building in spring 2005 [there was] no heating, no stalls seating, and the floors were sticky.

“Royal Court executive producer Kevin Fearon recalls: ‘The building was horrible. We put a Lycra mesh across the top of the stalls, so you hid the circle. That kept some of the heat in. It was actually the biggest piece of Lycra in Europe at the time.’ …

“In the ensuing decade, Fearon says it was a struggle to be accepted by the local theatre scene. It was also a struggle to keep the business running, where receipts from a production paid for the next to be staged.

“But four key moments helped turn the Court’s fortunes around. It started with the ‘game-changing’ success of ribald Scouse comedy Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels. …

“Setting up the Royal Court Trust, headed by partner Gillian Miller, to drive the theatre’s redevelopment was another key stage, as was securing financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“Along with Heritage Lottery funding, the work has been paid for by grants from the European Regional Development Fund, a city council loan and, most recently, £2 million Arts Council funding, assisted by £630,000 from a ticket levy that was started in 2011. …

“Lindzi Germain, a regular face at the Royal Court, is also one of the actors given the chance to write their own play — her hospital-set disaster comedy — The Royal already having two successful runs. She says: ‘It was unbelievable, it really was, for them to give me a chance. And now also to be asked, “what else have you got? What else are you going to write?” ‘

“As for the audience, Germain adds: ‘They get so involved and so engrossed. In some shows, it’s like it’s just them watching a play on their own. They feel the need to shout out.’ ”  More.

Refreshing the audience pool is always a challenge for theaters. I hope the Royal Court has some cheap tickets for people who can’t regularly pay for full-price tickets with surcharges. And I always think, the more you can sort of roll out of bed and into the theater, the more likely people will attend. By which I mean — informal. My husband and I also favor 90-minutes and no intermission unless the theater is doing Angels in America or Nicholas Nickleby.

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Photo: Luke Spencer
Inside the main concourse of the abandoned art deco Buffalo, New York, train station. 

It seems everyone loves old art deco buildings, but no one knows how to preserve them. At least that is the feeling I get listening to the endless discussions of the future of Providence’s Superman Building, so-called because it looks like the Daily Planet building from the 1950s television series.

Meanwhile, as Luke Spencer writes at Atlas Obscura, preservationists in Buffalo, New York, are holding out hope for an art deco “train station, lying forlorn and mostly forgotten … the old Buffalo Central Terminal.

“Opened in 1929 for the New York Central Railroad, the Buffalo Central Terminal was every bit as grand and opulent as Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal, Philadelphia’s 30th Street station and Washington DC’s Union Station.

“These were the days when Buffalo was known as the Queen City, built on the strength of automobiles, livestock, steel, and other heavy industries prospering along the seam of the Erie Canal, connecting New York to the Great Lakes. Buffalo thrived to such an extent it was chosen to host the prestigious 1901 Pan American World’s Fair. At this point, Buffalo was the eighth-largest city in the United States. … In its heyday, Buffalo Central Terminal was servicing 200 trains a day.

“But the decline in Buffalo’s economic fortunes, and the rise of domestic airlines and automobiles, spelled the end of the grand Terminal. In the early hours of the morning of October 28, 1979, the last Lake Shore Limited train service heading west left Buffalo. The grand old Terminal was never used again.

“For decades, the building was left abandoned, silently falling apart, while the surrounding neighborhood similarly declined. But the spirit of the Nickel City is strong. No more so than in the recent efforts of the non-profit, Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC), which has been fighting to not only preserve the Terminal, but restore it to its original magnificence. …

“The building itself would need extensive repairs. Forty years of neglect have seen much of the original fixtures either stolen or stripped, particularly in the mid 1980s, when the Terminal was sold off in a foreclosure sale. …

“Perhaps the best chance for the Terminal’s rejuvenation lies with Canadian property developer Harry Stinson, who was named as the designated developer of the site by the City of Buffalo and the CTRC in 2016.” More at Atlas Obscura, here.

It’s a treat to see historic buildings saved and turned to new and profitable uses. Let’s keep tabs on this one.

Photo: Luke Spencer
Is this the prison staircase in the opening scene of Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens? Oh, guess not.

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For the longest time, it looked like nothing at all, this art installation of 10,000 sunflowers where route 195 once polluted the soil.

Adam E. Anderson, the brains behind the community-building project, writes on his website, “Ten Thousand Suns is a summer-long botanical performance in which over 10,000 sunflower seeds have been planted and being nurtured over the course of the summer months, on land that until recently sat under a highway, with high compaction, low-organic material, and embedded with toxicity.  …

“Rather than using high maintenance and energy intensive large swaths of turf grass, the installation uses the bio-accumulating (removes toxins) and habitat creating properties of Helioanthus (aka, Sunflower) planted in rows in a series of large circles, leaving paths in-between for intimate exploration.

“The project will create a spontaneous and unique cultural identity for the citizens of Providence and its visitors during the summer months.”

With little rain all summer, the project looked like a hopeless cause for many weeks. Until it didn’t.

In celebration of the cheery results, I want to share a few lines of a poem about a goldfinch loving a sunflower. Because who wouldn’t love a sunflower?

From poet Ross Gay‘s “Wedding Poem”

Friends I am here modestly to report
seeing in an orchard
in my town
a goldfinch kissing
a sunflower
again and again
dangling upside down
by its tiny claws
steadying itself by snapping open
like an old-timey fan
its wings
again and again
until swooning, it tumbled off
and swooped back to the very same perch …

Read more about the project at Adam Anderson’s site, here, and on Facebook, here. Click on my photos to check the dates.

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